Sun Tea: To Brew or Not to Brew
That is the question... or is it?
We can all breathe in a collective sigh of relief that the weather is beginning to get warmer and the sun has finally graced us with its glorious presence. For many, this means “time to brew sun tea!”. While we might love the feeling of the sun on our face, our tea may have other ideas on the matter. So, before you pull out your pitchers and head out onto the deck, let’s take minute to talk about what is really going on when you’re brewing this summertime treat.
You may have some sense of nostalgia for a certain TV commercial that rode the airwaves promoting the idea of “Sun Tea”. Sounds like a great idea, right? Simply add your tea leaves to a large clear pitcher and allow nature’s energy to turn that clear water into a delicious batch of liquid gold. Magic! But here in lies the problem, this practice can actually be a bit of risky business.
When we brew tea the conventional way, by first boiling water on the stove, the water is allowed to reach the high temperatures required to kill off any bacteria that may be present. Sun tea is brewed by leaving tea leaves and water in the sun for hours at a time, effectively replacing the need for a stove. However, even on the hottest of mid-summer afternoons, water that has been sitting in direct sunlight maxes out at temperatures of between 102 and 130 degrees. This is relatively far from the 170 to 212 degrees needed for most teas. The other issue at hand is that sun brewing technique requires that you leave the tea sitting around for a longer period of time, which gives the bacteria more time to multiply (yikes!).
These lower temperature simply aren’t hot enough to purify the water. In fact, it creates the perfect comfy, cozy environment for them to thrive (think incubator/microbe party time!). Just like in that old commercial, we hate to rain on the sun tea parade; never fear though, there is a rainbow at the end of this cloud.
You may be asking yourself, what alternatives do you have now to easily brew large batches of your favorite beverage. Look no further than your own fridge! Cold brewing is an excellent option, which only requires one simple change… place your pitcher in the refrigerator for about eight to twelve hours, instead of leaving it in the sun. By doing this, you are keeping your tea cold at every stage of brewing, thereby inhibiting the growth of any unwanted cooties. (circle circle, dot dot)
To make 1 gallon of cold brewed iced tea
Note: Cold brewing tea is not an exact science. You have to experiment a little with brewing times and tea quantity. Much of this depends on the type of tea you are brewing. So steep what you love. Lighter teas like green, white and oolong will take less time than black tea. Select a tea that you enjoy unsweetened. Cold brewed tea is difficult to get the sweetener fully incorporated into the infusion. Flavored teas make nice cold brewed infusions.
If your pitcher is a little smaller, at Adagio, we offer our convenient Iced Tea Pouches which allow you to brew up 1 quart sized pitcher at a time.
While it is true that many people brew sun tea every year without issue, it is still best to take precautions. If your heart is set on whipping up a batch of this time-honored tradition of sun kissed tea, we have a few recommendations for you. First, make sure to boil your water ahead of time. Next, sterilize the glass container you are going to use and make sure it has a secure lid to seal it while it “basks”. By taking these extra steps you are vastly decreasing your risk of contamination.
According to the Adagio Teas Tea Guru, “While tea itself is naturally antimicrobial for the most part, sitting in the warm sun for hours at a time is pushing it past its tolerance.” So, while we strongly recommend switching to cold-brewing or traditional hot methods, if you absolutely insist on making sun tea, our tea guru suggests following our safe practices recommendations and using Green Pekoe for best results.