What Is Sun Tea?

For many people, learning how to make sun tea was an essential part of growing up—but is this nostalgic method safe?

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Old-school recipes like sun tea let us journey into the past, to a time when modern conveniences weren’t readily available. This method of making iced tea doesn’t use a kettle. Instead, it uses the strength of the sun to brew the drink. However, there’s a catch if you’re looking to brew sun tea today. Like a handful of Grandma’s recipes, there is a food-safety risk to this nostalgic drink.

What Is Sun Tea?

Sun tea is brewed in a warm place, such as in the summer sun or on a kitchen counter. You don’t have to boil water like other iced tea methods require to make sun tea—simply add water and tea bags to a glass jar, let steep and the tea is ready to drink within hours. While the steps to make sun tea are fairly straightforward, some sun tea enthusiasts say the results are better tasting than when using cold brew tea bags.

Is Sun Tea Safe?

In some cases, no. The 130° Fahrenheit temperature that sun-brewed tea typically reaches, while excellent for extracting flavor, is not hot enough to kill bacteria. Foods kept between 40-140°F are in the “danger zone,” a temperature range where bacteria can flourish and make you sick.

If you still wish to make sun tea, be sure to thoroughly clean your container and sanitize your tea bags. To sanitize tea bags, add them to a shallow bowl or mug and cover them with boiling water, letting them sit for a couple of minutes. Then, continue on with the sun tea directions below.

The safest—and easiest—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.

What Tea Is Best for Sun Tea?

If you do decide to make sun tea, it’s best to use black tea, never herbal tea, because its caffeine may help inhibit the spreading of bacteria in your drink.

You can use black tea that’s loose-leaf or in tea bags. Keep in mind that loose-leaf tea will require the extra step of straining after the tea is brewed; bags simply require you to take them out. Here are a handful of tea brands I recommend:

How Do You Make Sun Tea?

First, sanitize your tea bags and thoroughly clean a 1-gallon glass jar. Fill the jar with hot water and add six individual tea bags. You can follow the nostalgic method of doing it outside on the porch in the summer or steep the tea indoors any time of year.

How long should you step sun tea? Let the sun tea sit on the counter for 3-4 hours. Then remove the tea bags and refrigerate the tea.

How Do You Sweeten Sun Tea?

You can sweeten sun tea any way you like. I recommend making simple syrup at home or using a natural store-bought sweetener, whether that’s traditional sugar, honey or stevia.

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Shanna Mallon
Shanna has been writing about food since 2008. She sold the first food blog she founded, and then started her current one, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Outside of recipe development and her own blog, Shanna has also written about health and wellness and general curiosity pieces for Taste of Home. Other brands she’s written for include Just a Pinch, Vitamix, Larabar, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kroger and Aldi. Shanna co-wrote a cookbook with her husband called "The Einkorn Cookbook," published in 2014. When she’s not writing, you can find Shanna making sourdough bread and exploring Nashville.