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.
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!
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
- 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.
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!
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?