Sun Tea: Solar Brew

Do you have any good tips for making sun tea?

In 1904 at the summer St. Louis World's Fair, the Commissioner of Tea for India could not interest the crowd in tasting his beverage. So he added ice to the glass and created a distinct way for Americans to take our tea. Tea follows water as the second most consumed beverage in the world. And cold tea served over ice, one time reserved as summertime pleasure, is now a standard beverage choice all year long.

But summer is still reserved for sun tea.

Carol Blonder
Sun Tea

​Sun tea is tea that is "brewed" using direct sunlight. Although associated with summer, it can be made in any outdoor temperature as long as the sun shines. Essentials: the intensity of the sun, water and tea. The water in a clear container blocks and absorbs the sun's rays, creating radiant heat in the container to "brew" the tea.

Follow the jump for brewing information and tips

The Center for Disease Control cautions against the popular backyard brew.
Alcaligenes viscolactis, bacteria that can be found in tap water or soil (read tea leaves) can be found in brewed tea. Sun tea can reach a temperature of 130 F, not enough to kill the bacteria, if present, with the potential to make you sick.

Follow the tips below to avoid bacteria growth. Toss any tea, sun or boiled water brew, that appears cloudy, thick, syrupy or has ropey looking strands. If the fear of bacteria growth freaks you out, refrigerator tea can be made as easily as sun tea. Follow the same method, placing the container in the refrigerator instead of outside, and let it sit overnight.

Sun tea can be made using any type of tea. Simple syrup (2 parts granulated sugar plus 1 part water, heated to a boil until sugar dissolves) agave nectar, and honey are all delicious sweeteners. Add the sweetener after the tea has brewed; sugar added prior to brewing can increase bacterial growth.

Macerated fruits, (sprinkle fruit with sugar or liqueur and allow to sit for 30 minutes), citrus slices or peel, fresh mint, sliced ginger root and cinnamon sticks are popular flavor additions. Experiment with pairing different types of tea with flavorings.

Use some of the tea to make ice cubes. The tea cubes will maintain rather than dilute your iced beverage as they melt in the glass. Other cool cubes can be made with 1.5 cups orange or grapefruit juice plus 2 tablespoons citrus (lemon or lime) juice and 1 teaspoon of citrus zest. Our fruity favorite is ¾ cup fresh berries plus 1-tablespoon agave nectar dissolved in 1-cup water and 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice.

Tips for Tea:
1. Vessel: Use a clear glass container or jar. Clean the container with soapy water and dry thoroughly. If it has a spigot make sure the spigot is clean too. For additional protection against contamination, sanitize with bleach water solution. (A solution of lemon juice or vinegar and water can be used instead of bleach solution.)
2. H2O: Fill the container with cool water, leave 1 inch at the top of the container unfilled. Filtered water or bottled water is the best for clean flavor and to guard against chemicals added to city water supplies as well as micro- organisms that may form bacteria. Note: we fearlessly use water from the tap.
3. Tea Time: Choose your favorite bagged or loose tea, for every quart of water add 4-6 tea bags, for loose tea 1 level teaspoon per cup of water. (4-6 level teaspoons per quart)
4. Here comes the sun: Cover the container with lid or cheesecloth to protect from insects and dust. Place the container outdoors in direct sunlight for 2-3 hours, no longer than 4 hours maximum. The strength of the tea is dependent on the amount of tea added to the container and the amount of "brewing" time.
5. Customize: Remove tea bags. If using loose tea or tisanes (dried herbs or blooming tea) strain out the leaves. Add sweetener, herbs, spices, or macerated fruit.
6. Be green: Use the discarded tea, bag and all, for composting or to add to soil of potted plants.
7. Cool down: refrigerate tea. Serve over ice.

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Carol Blonder