A quick Instagram search for #suntea turns up more than 36,000 results confirming that the summer months are prime time for this classic tea beverage. Add in the untold number of sun tea worshippers out there who aren’t into hashtags and social media and the results are clear: There’s a lot of love for sun tea.
But what is sun tea, exactly, and why do more than a few health experts warn1 it may be dangerous? Making homemade sun tea (tea brewed by leaving it to steep in sunlight) can be dangerous because it can facilitate the growth of bacteria.
Does that mean you should abandon your favorite method of making home-brewed iced tea? Not necessarily. What it means is that you need to know how to do this safely.
REDUCE THE RISK
Tea steeped in a jar on your porch won’t get any hotter than 130 F, about the temperature of a really hot bath and not nearly hot enough to kill nasties lurking either in the water or on the tea itself. For that, water needs to be heated to 195 F for three to five minutes.
So, does that mean sun tea will make you sick? No, it probably won’t, but the risk is there. It’s up to you to evaluate that.
The easiest and safest way to make iced tea is to make cold brew tea. Combine the water and tea bags and let steep in the refrigerator overnight instead of in the sun. This eliminates the threat of contamination.
If you decide to go ahead and make sun tea, use regular black tea, not herbal tea. Why? Because caffeine aids in prohibiting the growth of bacteria.
SAFETY RULES TO FOLLOW
The following guidelines are recommended for those who choose to brew sun tea:
— Use regular black tea, never herbal tea. There is some thought that caffeine prohibits the growth of bacteria.
— Use a container that has been washed well in soap and water and then rinsed or dipped into a bleach solution of 1-1/2 teaspoons liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. If your sun tea container has a spigot, take it apart and clean it well with the bleach solution. If you can’t get it apart to clean, find another vessel for your sun tea.
— Do not leave the tea to brew in the sun for longer than four hours.
— Prepare only the amount of tea you plan to use in one day.
— Refrigerate the tea as soon as you bring it into the house and keep it refrigerated.
— If the tea appears to be thick or you see “ropey” strands, that’s bacteria. Discard it immediately.
— If your love for sun tea is waning about now, consider “refrigerator tea.” To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags and refrigerate it for at least six hours or overnight.
HOW TO SAFELY STORE SUN TEA
Ideally you should consume iced tea on the same day it is brewed. If you’ve made more than that, you can safely keep iced tea in the refrigerator for up to two days.