Keep cool and stay safe when brewing tea this summer. Brewing your own tea is one of the easiest ways to save money and cut your energy costs. Try my thrifty trick for flavoring a whole pitcher of iced tea with one bag of herbal tea.
Is brewing sun tea dangerous?
Probably not. In 1996, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote a memo [PDF here] to health officials saying that there were essentially no reported cases of sickness from iced tea but that brewing tea slowly in the sun had a "higher theoretical risk than brewing tea at higher temperatures." Why take any risk when you can get more robust flavor by brewing sun tea in hotter water using a simple solar cooker?
- Make as much tea as you'll drink in a day or two, not more
- Use easy-to-clean containers and keep them clean
- Heat just enough water to extract flavor from your tea bags
- Use a simple solar cooker to heat water quickly
- Add tea bags after water is hot
- Remove tea bags, then add ice or cold water to dilute
- Cool tea quickly
- Throw out tea that becomes cloudy or that has ropey strands in it
My experiments brewing solar sun tea
- Big glass jug. I tried brewing a full gallon glass container of tea using my wind-screen solar cooker. Even after six hours of full sun exposure on a bright, 80°F day, the water never got above 125°F. Problem? I was trying to heat too much water. And as my Taster pointed out, the tea darkened the water nearly immediately but the liquid was still translucent. Most of the sun's energy passed right on through. The teabags floated for hours in the most dangerous part of the temperature danger-zone: between 70° and 117°F. This bacteria-encouraging warm bath would let any microorganisms on the tea bags multiply, multiply, and multiply again. Cooling so much water was also going to take time and energy. Verdict: why risk it?
- Small black casserole. Next, I tried heating just six cups of water in a little black metal casserole. I used the wind-screen solar cooker this time too. The black casserole captured the sun's energy efficiently, heating the water from 80°F to 162°F in just two hours. Temperatures over 140°F are hot enough to kill micro-organisms lurking on the tea bags. I added the tea bags to the hot water, let them steep for 10 minutes, and then removed the bags. I poured the warm tea into a half-gallon container and added two cups of ice. The ice melted quickly, producing tea at a perfect strength to pour over more ice to serve immediately or to refrigerate. Verdict: success!
Safer Solar Sun Tea
Active time: 10 minutes. Total time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, depending on the weather. Yield: 8 cups or 6 servings.
- 6 cups water
- 3 family-sized tea bags
- 1 herbal tea bag, such as Mandarin Orange Spice or Red Zinger
- 2 cups ice or water
- sugar or agave syrup as a sweetener (if you must)
- fresh mint sprigs or lemon slices as garnish (optional)
- Heat water in a dark container until at least 150 degrees.
- Add tea bags and steep for at least six minutes or up to two hours. Remove tea bags. They make dandy compost.
- If you add sugar or other sweeteners to your tea, stir them in now. (I don't recommend using sugar, but you will probably add less sugar than makers of bottled tea. Adding it to warm liquid will allow it to dissolve.)
- Pour tea into a jar or pitcher. Add ice or water. Serve tea over ice, garnished with mint sprigs or lemon slices if desired.
- Read more on the health benefits of tea
- Get my traditional recipe for brewing tea in boiling water
- Learn about the "information drift" in the sun-tea story in Michael J. Coffey's post on Tea Geek