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 loose-leaf 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 the amount of time the tea is exposed to the sunlight can impact the final quality and flavor. Experimenting until you find your perfect mix is the key to a successful brew, but you can save some R&D time by checking out our sun tea recipe below.
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, but 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 entirely understand (but that scientists do), sun tea creates a brew that allows the 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 turning it into a novel: you get all the same characters, just with many more details.
How long should I brew sun tea?
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. It’s also worth noting that different teas have different steep times, so we encourage experimentation! Play around with what steep times pair well with the tea you’re making. It’s best to brew your tea by placing it in direct sunlight, though any partially sunlit room will do.
Can sun tea go bad?
Many people want to know if it's safe to make sun tea. From a flavor perspective, we don't like the taste of a sun tea that's steeped in the sunshine for too long. But, it's also important from a food safety perspective to not leave your tea at room temperature for more than a couple hours. That's why in our sun tea recipe below, you'll see we recommend refrigerating it as soon as you're finished making the tea.
To be sure we don't lead you astray, we checked with the experts at Oregon State University (OSU).
"There is unlikely to be enough nutrients in the tea extract for much to grow," said Joy Waite-Cusic, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Food Safety Systems and Statewide Specialist for the Home Food Preservation Program at OSU. "But even if there was, you have provided instructions that keep the room temperature storage to less than 2 hours which agrees with our most strict recommendations to prevent Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin production."
If you want to err on the even safer side, scrub your sun tea container thoroughly with warm soapy water before filling it with loose-leaf, or use a solution of 1.5 teaspoons - 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water when cleaning it.
What containers are best for making sun tea?
We prefer a simple, glass Mason jar for sun tea making—a glass pitcher or any other glass container will do just fine. If you want to get fancy, this glass teapot has a handy infuser that will make for mess-free sun tea prep. If you use it, just be sure to halve our sun tea recipe, as the teapot only holds 25 ounces of liquid. We generally steer clear of plastic containers for making sun tea, to keep any chemicals from the plastic from leaching into our tea while it steeps.
Sun Tea Recipe
Makes six 8-oz. servings
I’m excited to share a family recipe for how to make tea in the sun. It uses one of my favorites, Nilgiri Platinum Needle. (Although you can't go wrong with any of the teas in our Sun Tea Bundle.) Sipping this delicate tea 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 Platinum Needle.
With just a few simple steps, you'll 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:
- 48 ounces water
- 10 grams loose-leaf tea of your choice (we used Nilgiri Platinum Needle)
- Tools: Two 48-oz. glass containers and one strainer
- Fill one 48-oz container with cool, filtered water. Let sit until water reaches room temperature.
- Add loose-leaf tea to second 48-oz glass container, pour in room temperature water, and cover with lid. It's best to put tea leaves in before water, so leaves become fully submerged more quickly.
- Place glass container in direct sunlight or on sunny windowsill.
- Let tea steep for 30-60 minutes, tasting until desired strength is reached.
- Using straining method of choice, decant into first container. A handheld strainer is easiest. Sans strainer, hold fork against mouth of glass jar. With whole-leaf teas, after two hours of steeping, leaves will typically stick to sides of glass container, so straining may be unnecessary.
- Add finished tea leaves to compost or directly to garden (added nutrients!).
- Store sun tea in fridge until ready to drink. Consume within 2-3 days.
Pro tip: For more complex flavors, remove only half the water in Step 5 and set removed tea aside. Then replace the amount poured out with fresh water and re-steep for another 60 minutes. This layers the sun tea so both the stronger and lighter characteristics of the leaf shine through. If you like to drink your sun tea cold, make ice cubes out of the tea that's removed halfway through. Then, when you pour it on ice, the ice won't dilute its nuanced flavors.
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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.