And no, I don’t mean a trip to the Caribbean, although I’m sure that’s fantastic. I mean iced tea.
I’ve wanted to make sun-brewed iced tea for a while now. I did it a few times as a kid, but as a kid (and young adult) my taste in tea was pretty much either piping hot with a lot of sugar and milk when I had a cold or it was wintertime, or iced cold Snapple or AriZona iced tea right from 7-11’s refrigerator case in the summer. Homemade iced tea just didn’t do it for me. It was either too bland, not sweet enough, or didn’t taste right. Now that I’m an adult, with a (slightly) more discerning palate & a penchant for all things tea… I wanted to give it a shot again. While we’re on the subject, you know what annoys me? People who say “ice tea.” It’s not ICE tea, you moron, it’s iced tea.
So anyway, I went on a mission to find out everything I could about making delicious sun tea. However, the internet will make you insane. Everywhere on the internet there were either blogs & websites encouraging you to make it, or ones telling you you’ll get sick and die if you make it. And I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere in the middle, probably closer to the former than the latter. Now, let me just say that I’m far from a hypochondriac. I don’t run to the doctor the minute my nose runs. I’m not even a germophobe. I don’t care about touching door handles or knobs or how many other hands have touched it. I don’t get skeeved that easily- that’s not to say nothing skeeves me, plenty of things do, but I’m not one of these people dousing everything in bleach all the time. I think honestly we’ve become so germ-phobic that we’re making ourselves sick. We’re killing our abilities to fight bacteria naturally by over-cleaning and over-sanitizing every damn thing & pumping our bodies full of antibiotics and medicines before our system even has a chance to do anything on it’s own. All of that said: I always follow proper canning procedures, and I always follow proper cleaning methods when cooking chicken, etc. I don’t take those things lightly. I don’t at all scoff at food safety, not in the least. It’s definitely important, particularly if you’re dealing with babies, young children, pregnant women or the elderly.
But sun-tea? Really? You expect me to worry about brewing a jar of tea in the sun? Seriously?
I had an experience a few years ago that I’d like to share, speaking of this topic. So sit down, squat down or lie down because it’s story time. You see, I used to be super into iced tea- see the first paragraph- and my absolute favorite, hands down, was Dairy Barn‘s own iced tea. Dairy Barn is a drive-thru convenience store- meaning you can go in your pajamas because you don’t have to get out of your car. Every summer they had amazing iced coffee, lemonade and iced tea. I was borderline obsessed. When I was much younger, they came in a waxed cardboard container just like milk, and had a drawing of tea leaves (or lemons, or coffee beans) and splashes on it, colored to indicate the contents. However they stopped making the iced coffee, and changed the iced tea & lemonade to big plastic jugs at some point, much to my chagrin. The taste remained the same, though, so I bought gallon after gallon. Until one summer when we had a wicked storm that knocked out power for a bit, maybe a day tops. I ventured out the next day after the power came back to get some iced tea, buying my usual gallon jug from Dairy Barn. I put in the fridge and when I went to drink some later it had a terrible taste. I looked at the jug and there was a white, cloudy stuff floating in the tea. I was immediately grossed out and took it back. They replaced it (obviously!) but that was the turning point for me. I gave up on iced tea for a long time after that. I totally lost my taste for it. I came back around to drinking iced tea a few years later when I tried Honest Tea & Gold Peak & they kick-started my taste for it again. I couldn’t deny my love any longer. But basically, my point is I came to find out years later that white stuff was bacteria that had probably began to grow once the refrigeration was off, or was perhaps growing long before that, when the jug was in a hot truck or warehouse. Or, if you believe a lot of people’s theories, the fact that the tea was now in relatively clear plastic jugs allowed the heat from the sun to grow bacteria in the sweetened tea at some point during it’s no doubt at least partially unrefrigerated journey to me. Gross, right?
Yeah, whatever, it was gross. But you know what? That bacteria, apparently known as Alcaligenes viscolactis, is found in TAP WATER. And not just tap water, but also milk. Not tea, not plastic, not the sun and not glass jars. So the water was the culprit. And I drink water constantly, milk too, mostly without a thought, and sometimes… *gasp* …right from the tap! No filtration! And I’m still alive! You ingest more bacteria every day than you even realize. In food, on glasses & plates, in the air… And besides, that jug was one jug of iced tea out of the 6 gazillion bottles, cans, jugs and glasses of it I’ve had in my 31 years of life. I’ve been exposed to worse, surely. Okay, so the idea that this bacteria grows rapidly in the low-ish temperatures (around 130º F) sun-tea commonly reaches, and that the sugar might feed it, that could be disconcerting. I get that. And if you have a compromised immune system or a chronic illness,or if you’re pregnant, then maybe you shouldn’t chance it. But really… I had to ask myself, how many people have I heard of dying from sun tea? None. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and make myself some sun-brewed tea. This way I can utilize all this crazy sun/heat and get something good out of it! Besides, if sun-tea really killed people, half the South would’ve been dead as door nails years ago.
If you didn’t already notice, these pictures are the progression of the sun tea as it brewed during the day. To make the tea the way I did, follow this little tutorial:
- Get two quart-sized Mason jars. Boil water and wash/sterilize the jars and lids thoroughly. Dry them and get your stuff ready.
- I did two different types of tea- Lipton Black Iced Tea bags and STASH Peach Black Tea bags. I put a different one in each jar, but of course you can use one jar of just one kind of tea if you like. Add between 1/4 cup & 1/2 cup sugar and 4 cups of water to each jar, then stir (If you’re very concerned about the bacteria, boil your water first- you can use it hot or let it cool, or use filtered water or bottled water; and if you’re super worried, add the sugar after it’s brewed). Add two tea bags to each jar: I set it up so the tags were hanging out from the lid/band and it was easier to remove them once the brewing is finished. For the plain black tea, I added a few lemon slices, but I added nothing to the peach tea.
- Let it sit in a place where it will get constant sun for 4-5 hours, preferably after 12 noon on a day when the temperature is well above 85-88º F. The day I made it, the temperature was roughly 96º F and you could’ve fried an egg on the sidewalk.
- When you bring the jars inside, remove the tea bags & put them in the fridge right away. Once it’s really cold, about 6-8 hours later, pour it into a glass with ice and enjoy!
(It’s recommended by the CDC that you toss the tea after 24 hours, and then thoroughly clean the jars or vessels with a bleach solution. Some people say they keep it until it turns cloudy and then toss it. I leave it up to you. All I’ll say is no matter what you do, when in doubt, throw it out! If it looks, smells or tastes funky… adios amigo.)
The best part? You can use a terrace, a fire escape, a deck, a front porch, front steps, etc. It can be made anywhere there’s strong sunlight. And if you prefer your tea with honey, I don’t see why you can’t use that instead of sugar. Or make it unsweetened. What-evs. Like I said above I used quart-sized jars, but if you’d rather make individual single serve jars, pint jars work too. Just lessen the amount of sugar and use one tea bag instead of two. Same goes for increasing the amount for a gallon jar: double the amount of sugar and use four tea bags. And you can experiment with the sugar amounts; I found 1/2 cup per quart was perfect. It might be too sweet (or not sweet enough!) for you. You can always add more once it’s brewed, but ya can’t take any out once it’s done. So its best to err on the side of the lesser amount unless you’re sure.
If you’re STILL worried, then by all means, make iced tea cold-brewed refrigerator way. It’s the same premise as sun tea, just.. well.. without the sun. Just for shits & giggles I tried a cold brew jar as well. I figured I could compare the taste. I think the cold brew tea actually had a better pure tea taste.
It was very clear tasting; that’s really the only way I can describe it. As this website says:
The other method of preparation is cold brewing. With this method, the cold water draws out or pulls the flavor from the leaf as opposed to hot water, used in traditional brewing, which pushes the flavor from the leaf. Subsequently, cold infusion is a much slower, gentle method that results in a smooth, more subtle, naturally sweet tasting tea.
They make specially made tea bags just for cold-brewing, Twinings makes a TON of them, but I used regular Lipton iced tea bags (just as I did for the sun tea). And it was such a success, I made a few more jars! The peach STASH tea made this way was divine.
ERMAHGERDS. So refreshing.
Alright, so here’s how you do it.
COLD-BREWED (OR REFRIGERATOR) TEA:
- Thoroughly clean a quart Mason jar (& it’s lid) and let it dry.
- Again, like above, add 1/4-1/2 cup of sugar (or some honey, or Splenda, or Xylitol, etc… that is if you want to use any sweetener at all- which you don’t have to- but if you do now is the time to add it) and fill with water. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
- Add lemon slices, peach slices, mango slices, lime slices or any fruit, if desired. Otherwise just add two tea bags of whatever tea you’re using. Push them down in the water with the spoon until they’re saturated and place the lid on the jar & close it.
- Put the jar in the fridge for 8-10 hours. It’s ready to drink! If it isn’t strong enough, you can let it brew a little while longer.
- Toss the tea after three days and clean the jar again if you’re ready for another batch.
You still have to keep your eyes on it, even though it’s kept cold. They recommend that after three days you throw it out, even if it looks fine. Of course if it looks cloudy before then, you should toss it ASAP.
While I thought that the cold brew tea had a superior tea flavor, the sun tea was much more fun to make, to be honest, just because of the whole “sun brewing” thing. If I had kids, they’d probably be far more interested in watching that brew than opening the fridge every five minutes. And if after all that, you’re still scared, then just make some homemade iced tea by brewing it the boiling water way. Ain’t no shame in it! As always, use your discretion. If it bothers you, don’t make it. If it excites you, then go brew up some tea. It’s really so much better than the store-bought kind, or even the instant powdered mix kind. This is the real thing. And it’s so freakin’ easy you’ll wonder why you never did it before (or stopped doing it). Give it a shot you’ll see.
Either way… enjoy the sun.