The strong sunlight of summer means it’s time to store the teakettle and let golden rays serve as your heat source of choice. You can salvage commercial sun tea containers, add a few tea bags and chill the resulting brew over ice or in the fridge — enjoying sun tea for pennies a glass. Grow a container of lemon balm near your brewing spot to provide a natural flavor for an added dose of summer bliss.
A super-simple approach starts with filling a glass or plastic container — you can also wash and reuse a grapefruit or orange juice bottle — with cold, fresh water. Submerge three to six of your favorite tea bags for each half-gallon — 64 ounces — of water for a flavorful but not too strong, too stewed flavor. For a gallon, just double your quantities of water and tea. Adjust the number of bags to taste as summer rolls along. Hold on to the tea bag labels and screw on the top of the container, so the strings are caught in the screw-top threads and to provide a way to remove the bags after brewing.
Set the container out in the sun where it can receive full-strength sunlight for at least four hours. Within about 10 minutes, you’ll begin to see a brewed tea color releasing from the bags. In strong sun, the tea may be ready in three hours, and in weaker sun, five hours. In a clear-sided container, you’ll be able to see clearly the steeped, rich brown steeped tea from strong leaves such as Earl Grey. If you are using green tea bags or leaves, the steeped tea may be quite light in color. Pairing a green tea container with a second container of oolong or black-leafed tea, such as bags of Lipton,allow you to track both sun teas simultaneously and bring the containers indoors when the darker-hued container looks ready.
Variations and Serving
If you prefer loose tea, add 2 tablespoons to replace every six tea bags to the water. You can also brew sun tea with strips of lemon zest and add a tablespoon of lemon juice before chilling. Add leaves of lemon balm if you don’t have lemon juice, or a spring of fresh mint or basil. Orange juice and sliced orange segments also make worthy additions.
Pour the warm sun tea right over ice. For preference, you can also mix sun tea with lemonade.
Refrigerator Sun Tea
You have a tiny, tiny risk of bacteria growing in sun tea, federal and state health officials note. A report by the state of Virginia acknowledges that this risk, which attends any tea brewed for under three to five minutes at 195 degrees Fahrenheit or above, is more theoretical than actual. Even so, as an alternative, you can put your container of cold water and tea bags into the fridge, instead of the sun, to make “refrigerator tea.” Leave the pitcher in the refrigerator for five hours before sampling the tea and consume within three days.
References and ResourcesMother Earth News: Sun Brewed Tea
Serious Eats: How to Brew the Ultimate Sun Tea
The Clever Cook’s Kitchen; David Joachim
The New Tea Book: A Guide to Black, Green, Herbal and Chai Teas; Sara Perry
Serious Eats: The Food Lab: For The Best Sun Tea, Forget The Sun