Ah...sunshine. It’s the number one key to a summer filled with outdoor adventures, Vitamin D, and awkward tan lines. One of my favorite ways to take advantage of the abundant sunlight, besides basking in it with a good book, is to use its rays to steep our tea.
What is sun tea?
It’s exactly what it sounds like! This tea is made by using heat from the sun’s rays to warm its leaves, rather than steeping in pre-warmed hot water. I love a good sun tea, not only for the simplicity of its prep, but for the complexity of its flavor. Making sun tea is more than tossing some tea leaves into water and forgetting about them while the sun does all the work. The temperature of the room and prolonged exposure to the sunlight can impact the final quality and flavor. Experimentation until you find your perfect mix is the key to a successful brew.
How is sun tea different from hot and iced tea?
Hot tea is brewed with pre-warmed hot water. Iced tea can be brewed like hot tea but poured on ice or refrigerated to chill it. Or, some people like to cold-steep their iced tea (though that's not my preferred method). Each brew will create a different experience, even though the ingredients are the same: tea leaves and water. While there's a time and a place for all three methods--sun, hot, and iced--I've really been on a sun tea kick lately.
For reasons I don’t understand (but that scientists do), sun tea creates a brew that allows different flavors in each tea to really pop. Steeping the tea at room temperature, for a longer period of time, and with light exposure, allows the flavors to be more elongated than when brewed hot. I even notice a lingering finish with my sun tea that I just don't taste with hot or iced tea. It’s a smoother, gentler experience. It’s like taking a short story and getting the long version: you get all the same characters, just with many more details.
How long should I brew sun tea for?
Our loose-leaf tea is best when brewed by the sun for one to two hours. Not enough time, and the oxygenation process doesn’t fully complete. Too much time, and the tea can be “overcooked,” giving it a slightly moldy aftertaste. Plus, it’s important from a food safety perspective to not leave your tea unrefrigerated for too long. It’s also worth noting that different teas have different steep times, so we encourage experimentation! Play around with what steep times pair with the tea you’re making. It’s best to brew your tea by placing it in a direct ray of sunlight, though any partially sunlit room will do.
Sun Tea Recipe
Makes 6 8-oz. Servings
I’m excited to share one a sun tea recipe I've perfected over the years, which uses one of our most popular black loose-leaf teas, Nilgiri Gold. Sipping Nilgiri Gold always takes me back to the beautiful Nilgiri foothills of rural southern India, to a town called Coonoor. It’s here where Indi and Muskan, the father-daughter team that runs Tea Studio, craft unique teas in small batches, like Nilgiri Gold.
With just a few simple steps, you will be one “steep” closer to having a deeper and more complex tea tasting experience. Now it’s your turn to relax, sit back, and enjoy yet another benefit of the summertime sun.
Watch the video below to see how I make sun tea at home:
- Fill a container with 48 oz. of water.
- Let water sit at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes.
- Add loose-leaf tea to a 48-oz. glass jar or other lidded container, pour in the room temperature water, and cover with lid. Pro tip: it's best to put the tea leaves in before the water, so the leaves are fully submerged. If you add the water first and then toss in the leaves, they'll stay near the surface for much longer.
- Place glass container in direct sunlight or on sunny windowsill. Let tea steep.
- After the first hour, pour out half the water and reserve it to drink later. Replace the amount poured out with fresh water.
- Let it steep for up to one hour longer, until desired flavor is reached.
- Using your straining method of choice, decant into a pitcher. To strain, a hand-held strainer is easiest. If you don’t have a strainer, a fork held against the mouth of the glass jar works well. With whole-leaf teas, after two hours of steeping, the leaves will typically be stuck to the glass container, so this straining step may not be necessary.
- Add finished tea leaves to your compost or directly to your garden (added nutrients!).
- Store sun tea in fridge until ready to drink. Consume within 2-3 days of steeping.
Pro tip: if you like to drink your sun tea cold, make ice cubes out of the tea that you remove in step 5. Then, when you pour it on ice, the ice won't dilute its complex flavors.
Raj Vable, Founder
He has been confounded by the leaf since his first transcendental encounter with white tea in 2010. Three years later, he started Young Mountain Tea to bridge his budding tea obsession with his interest in traveling in the mountains and previous experience creating job opportunities in rural India. He revels in working across cultures and can be regularly found trying to get the rest of the team on board with another outlandish tea project. His favorite teas remain white, and he’s always searching for the next cup of magic.