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Sun Tea – Brew Iced Tea without the Stove!

I’m a Southerner, so iced tea is one of life’s necessities. I’m spending this summer in Hawaii where the weather is, evidently, hot and humid, but air conditioning is rare. It’s typically in the upper 80s to mid 90s, and actually a bit dyer than lots of the South with strong Trade Winds to get things moving. It can get a little warm indoors at midday, though, so boiling up a big pot of water isn’t really high on my to-do list. There is a perfect alternative, though, and one Hawaii is perfectly suited to: sun tea.

How to Make Sun Tea

I’m sure you’ve all been warned about the dangers of sun tea. Yes, you set a jar of water in the sun for a few hours and it gets nice and incubation temperature. Yes, there is some risk of growing bacteria and making yourself ill. This is why it is absolutely crucial you use only glass containers for sun tea, not plastic, and thoroughly clean the container before brewing your tea. Plastic is easily scratched and can harbor bacteria that is virtually impossible to remove with normal cleaning methods. Ideally, you’d want to use a brewing-style sanitation solution or bleach solution (just make sure to wash all the residue off!) on your container, but some good, old-fashioned hot soap and water should do the trick. As long as you use safe drinking water and a clean container, you should be fine. I’ve never personally gotten sick from sun tea and don’t know anyone who has. In my opinion, you probably consumed something more dangerous at the last company cookout, but I thought I’d let you know. If the remote possibility of maybe making yourself sick upsets you, just make refrigerator tea by placing your clean jug of water and tea bags in the fridge for about 24 hours. Just…try to make sure your fridge is clean so it doesn’t end up tasting really fridge-y from the very beginning!

flower divider

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to sun tea business! Here’s what you need to make it:

  • A glass pitcher, carafe, etc. A lot of people make sun tea in an old pickle jar! You can use something ceramic, instead, just please don’t use plastic! If your vessel doesn’t have a lid, you’ll need to find a glass or ceramic plate, glass, or bowl to use as a makeshift cover, too
  • Water
  • Tea bags
  • A sunny spot

To Make Sun Tea

First, really, really thoroughly clean your vessel and its lid. Like, boiling water kind of clean, if your container can withstand it. Give its lid (or makeshift lid) the same treatment.

Next, fill the container most of the way with water. You can use tap water or bottled water, whichever you prefer. Either should be fine (unless you live in an area with notoriously bad water).


Add your tea bags, according to taste and the size of your container. Three or four ‘family’ bags should be fine for a gallon, so one or two work for a half gallon. As you can see, I used a simple half gallon carafe because I was making the tea for just me! If you’re using regular size tea bags, 5 or so should be fine for a half gallon and 10-ish should work for a full gallon. It really depends on how strong you want the tea to be! Of course, you can always mix up the teas. I love making iced tea with a few regular bags, a couple green tea bags, and a couple flavored ones thrown in for good measure. Peach and mint seem to make particularly delicious iced tea.

sun tea

Cover the container and set in full sunlight. This can be outside or in a window, as long as it will get continuous light for 3-5 hours. It will start to darken fairly quickly, but it won’t be ready for quite some time!


Check the tea occasionally and, when you’re satisfied, pour over ice and enjoy!

iced tea

Because sugar needs to be mixed in really hot water/tea in order to dissolve, sun tea is not ideal for making sweat tea. You could add sugar in and try to dissolve it, but I feel like letting a big pitcher of sugar water sit in the sun is definitely upping the potential for unsafe growth. You can mix it in later, if you’d like, but it won’t be authentic southern sweat tea. That’s okay, though – even I, a native South Carolinian, recognize the need to occasionally make iced tea that isn’t a ticket to diabetes.

Do you drink iced tea? What extra ingredients do you add to make it super tasty?



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{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Kathryn Stratford June 9, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Fantastic! I like your instruction to use very clean dishes, and NOT plastic. It’s something I may not have thought of!
    Your photos are so pretty, especially the one with the flower in it.
    When I want to sweeten tea, I usually heat up a very small amount of water, add sweetener (I don’t actually use sugar, and it doesn’t require much sweetener), let it dissolve, cool it down with a couple of ice cubes, and then add it to my pitcher. But, like you said, it’s not necessary to have sweet tea every time!
    I just had iced tea today, although the quick kind. This seems like it would be great for when you have time, and an ideal place out in the sun.

    • natashalh June 9, 2013, 5:09 pm

      Yes, you certainly could make up a little sugar syrup type creation and add it in! I actually kind of like putting raw sugar crystals on top of ice and then pouring in the tea. It sort of makes for a fun, crunchy texture and raw sugar has actual flavor! If you’ve never made sweet tea with raw sugar cane crystals, I highly recommend it!
      I’m so lucky – I just went over to another part of the yard, picked that hibiscus, and had at picture taking. Being in Hawaii is making me really spoiled!

  • Kim @ Soliloquy Of Food & Such June 9, 2013, 8:51 pm

    I love sun tea! I am glad to see someone else making it too (bacteria-free). 🙂
    Saw this on Sweet & Savory Sunday!

    • natashalh June 9, 2013, 9:03 pm

      Glad to know I’m not the only person still making it! I’ve gotten sick from a lot of foods and drinks over the years, but I’ve now had that entire carafe of tea with no ill effects. =) Thanks for stopping by!

  • Bekah June 9, 2013, 9:17 pm

    danger schmanger. Sweet tea is my childhood! Glad to see this posted. And you’re right, many things are much riskier than some good ol’ sun tea!

    • natashalh June 9, 2013, 9:29 pm

      Woohoo! I was actually really nervous about publishing this because I was afraid people would jump all over me for it! I’m really glad that hasn’t happened yet. Thank you =)

  • Susan Zutautas June 10, 2013, 8:14 am

    I’ve always wanted to try making sun tea. I remember one of my relatives making it years ago and I’d forgotten about it. Will have to try this.

    • natashalh June 10, 2013, 12:57 pm

      I hope you have at it and enjoy! It is pretty cool to make something using the power of the sun.

  • Mary at Sweetwater Style June 11, 2013, 8:42 pm

    I love sun tea….it is the ONLY tea that tastes just right!!! I make some simple sugar with lemon juice and keep that in the refrigerator for those silly people who want to “spoil” the real taste of this best of all summer drinks!
    Great post….I never even thought about getting sick from it and I have been making it for more years than I want to share!

    • natashalh June 11, 2013, 8:46 pm

      Awesome! Yes, if you look up sun tea online, you’ll see lots of people decrying it as the worst thing ever. They must be from some place cold and crabby…

  • Tammy/Our Neck of the Woods June 14, 2013, 12:11 pm

    This brings back so many happy memories of my grandma making sun tea when I was younger! I still remember her special sun tea pitcher with lemons on it. The pitcher was plastic (gasp!) and we never got sick from the tea. I haven’t done this yet in my adult life, so I’ll have to try it this summer!

    Visiting from What To Do Weekends 🙂

    • natashalh June 14, 2013, 12:42 pm

      Honestly, the only danger in plastic is from when it gets scratches on its interior (like from stirring something with a metal utensils inside it) and then bacteria can hide out in these cracks. I used to brew beer and it’s a big concern in brewing. I’m happy I was able to help bring back some memories! Thanks for stopping in.

  • Elizabeth Gregoire June 21, 2013, 1:20 am

    My husband and I love sun tea!! I buy a bottle of Torani sugar free strawberry flavored syrup ( the kind used in Italian sodas) I make a pitcher of lemonade. I add a little of the strawberry syrup to a glass, about 1/4 cup of lemonade and then I fill it up with the tea. Add a lemon wedge and ice and you have a delicious strawberry lemonade ice tea!! So easy and super yummy!

    • natashalh June 21, 2013, 1:24 am

      That sounds great! Adding a syrup would be a really easy way to sweeten sun tea, too! I’ll have to give you idea a try because it sounds fantastic. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • Bevin June 24, 2013, 4:14 am

    We love sun tea year round! Thank you for sharing at Who Needs a Cape? ‘s Super Sunday linky!


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