Experimenting With Sun Tea

Categories: Beverages, How To

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Sun Tea, Start.
There are some advantages to the unremitting sunshine during Texas summers. For me, fair-skinned and light-eyed, it's a great excuse to stay indoors in the AC to avoid carcinogenic exposure. I also like to use the intense solar presence to make sun tea.

I wasn't even aware of the existence of sun tea until I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line. I vaguely recall hearing in my youth a neighbor saying something like, "it's bright enough to make tea outside." I thought, however, that was just an expression, much like "it's so hot, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk," which actually I tried once to little success. Probably because it was Pennsylvania, where 80 degrees is considered a hot day.

I was reminded of sun tea recently when doing some research into planning menus for summertime fetes and decided to conduct my own little timed trial to see if solar brewing actually worked well.

Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Sun Tea, a few hours later.
What's funny (or perhaps incredibly idiotic) is that I was actually under the impression that "sun tea" described a process whereby you brewed tea indoors using hot water, then left it outside to, um, age. Not quite. The more popular method, of course, involves using the sun's energy to slow-steep the tea. Duh.

After reading tips from a number of websites (seriouseats was particularly helpful) I dropped an Irish Breakfast teabag into a large glass mug filled with filtered water and placed it on my patio. As per suggestion, I covered the top of the mug with saran wrap. In an ideal world, I would have used a glass pitcher with a top, but unfortunately the one we used to own did not survive our most recent move.

Food scientists and doctors caution that brewing sun tea can also produce harmful bacteria since the water never will actually reach boiling point. Most advise only leaving the tea outside for a maximum of four hours; ever the hypochondriac, I decided to take mine in after three hours.

I poured about six ounces in a glass filled with ice and added a squeeze of lemon. Allowing for the fact that the tea could have been more robust had I left it out the full four hours, I was nevertheless pleased with the flavor. With the strong taste of blended assam but lacking that headache-inducing caffeine edge that comes from oversteeping, the Irish Breakfast sun tea was, in fact, the perfect late afternoon refresher.

This week, I'll brew another cup, but this time skip the lemon and add just a spot of very cold milk for some extra sweetness and cream.

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Bruce_Are topcommenter

I heard that tea producing regions tend to be regions that also have poor sanitation and that human sewage is frequently found in the irrigation system.  So you might have human shit it tea and all the goodies that come with it.  Sure, the amount of shite in your tea is measured in parts per million but boiling is recommended nonetheless.

BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

Why not brew a bigger batch? I filled an old bottle of titos with 3-4 teabags and put it outside for 4-5 hours. Brought it inside and let it cool down then stick in the fridge. Get a few cups out of it.


@Bruce_Are Boiling is only recommended if you don't like the taste of well-brewed tea. It's just too hot for the leaves. If you're worried about shit in your beverages, drink distilled water.

@Joanna - You should only worry about bacteria counts in your sun tea if you're using dirty water, a dirty pitcher, or have an immune disorder. And the majority of caffeine in tea leaves is released in the first 10 seconds of steeping, since it's one of the more volatile compounds. (You can make your own decaf tea by steeping it for 10 seconds, throwing the water out, and re-steeping the leaves for the proper time. Yes, there's still a little residual caffeine, but even decaf isn't 100% decaffeinated.) The bitterness that you don't like from over-steeping is not caffeine, but excessive tannins being released, usually from overheated water. Sun tea brews colder, so it can get stronger without all the nasty stuff that gets released at higher temperatures. Go ahead and set it out for 6-8 hours. It should have a stronger taste without being bitter.

On the other hand, if you don't like strong tea, don't use Irish Breakfast. English Breakfast blends are usually a little lighter, but you may not notice the difference. If it's still too heavy, use a blend with more Oolong (or straight Oolong) as those are less fermented & lighter. Darjeeling is generally lighter still. For sun tea, you can use jasmine or other floral teas, but I wouldn't recommend Earl Grey or Lapsang souchong.

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