Friday, July 23, 2010

Southern Sweet Sun Tea

Sun tea is a method of slow, cold water brewing tea in direct sunlight. This technique produces a gentle smoother iced tea.
Sun tea is really simple to brew and a delicious way to enjoy summer. If you're not familiar with it sun tea is a method of brewing tea slowly, using the heat of the sun to draw out the flavors from dry tea leaves.

Sun Tea is a nostalgic beverage from childhood that brings back so many good memories. My dad was in the air force (air force brat), so we moved a quite a bit. When I was four or five we were stationed on Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

It wasn't long after, that my mother remarried and we were relocated to (Hickam AFB) in Oahu, Hawaii. Hawaii was one of the longest places I lived growing up. We were stationed there a total of 9 years and it really was one of the most beautiful places a kid could call home. Hawaii is like summertime all year round.

I remember my mother putting a big gallon size glass jar full of water and tea bags out on the Lanai (porch in Hawaiian) every other day. My mother always took advantage of the hot sun to brew her tea. Did you know that Sun Tea is also a southern favorite?

My mom learned how to make it when she lived in Alabama. That is also where she learned to cook all the great southern classics I adore today. I can honestly say I think we were the only kids in Hawaii that drank Sun Tea and ate Buttermilk Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy.

You see just because we lived in Hawaii didn't mean we had to give up our southern favorites. My mother continued to cook southern classics while we lived there. Sun tea was something that mom made all the time. 

Lately there has been some recent controversy regarding sun tea being unsafe. It has been stated that bacteria can grow because the water doesn't reach a temperature of 190 degrees or more. The Snopes article I read says the bacteria found in sun tea comes from the water used to make it, not the tea itself. That would mean that the water is the real issue. 

If the water is a big issue you can use distilled water. I myself use filtered tap water and haven't had a problem. All I can say is I have consumed Sun Tea for over 40 years and I have never gotten sick. I also do not know of anyone actually getting sick from the consumption of sun tea. 

It's all up to you whether you want to drink sun tea or not. So if you're feeling a bit adventurous and want to give sun tea a try I have included some important steps at the end of this post. As for me I will continue to steep, sip and enjoy one of my favorite summer beverages.
This is how I make my Sun Tea. Place tea bags into a clean 3 quart clear glass jar. Make sure to leave the paper tags on the outside of the jar. Add the water and screw on the lid. 

Let the jar of tea stand in direct sunlight for 4-5 hours or until the tea reaches the desired strength. Remove and throw away the tea bags. Add sugar to suit your taste, then serve over ice. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Sun tea is milder than regular brewed ice tea. For a nice change you can add fresh lemon or orange slices and mint leaves. Also if you don't want to add sugar, you can boil together 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup water and add it in place of the sugar.

Sweet Southern Style Sun Tea

4 - 6 - regular sized tea bags
10 - cups filtered or distilled water (2 1/2 quarts)
1 - cup granulated sugar or your preference
ice cubes
1 - hot sunny day
lemon slices, orange slices & fresh mint, optional

  1. Place tea bags into a clean 3 quart clear glass jar. Make sure to leave the paper tags on the outside of the jar. 
  2. Add the water and screw on the lid. Let the jar of tea stand in direct sunlight for 4-5 hours or until the tea reaches the desired strength.
  3. Remove the tea bags and discard. Add sugar to suit your taste, then serve over ice. Refrigerate any leftover tea. 
  4. Use within 2 days. The longer you let the tea sit outside the darker it will steep. Your preference will tell you exactly when to bring it in. Keep in mind sun tea is not as strong but more mellow than regular iced tea.

The best choice is a glass sun tea jar with a metal screw-top lid (metal attracts heat). Gallon size glass jars can be hard to find. If you cant find a gallon glass jar, a variety of glass jars will work to make sun tea.

Any recycled juice or food jar, a large Mason jar, or any other jar that can be closed securely will work. I used a pickle jar I purchased from Walmart. It's a Mt. Olives 80 oz Jar.

I just cleaned it really good with hot soapy water. Then I ran it through the dishwasher on the sterilize cycle. Works great! I found it in the over sized food section for $3.78.

Information for Sun Tea Brewers:

1. Always us a clean glass jar and not a plastic jar. Make sure you choose a jar that has a metal lid and not a plastic one. Always place your sun tea jar in direct sun light.

2. Scrub your sun tea container with hot soapy water after every use I always clean mine by hand and run it through the dishwasher after each use.

3. If you want you can use distilled water instead of tap water if that is a big issue.
4. Don’t leave the sun tea to brew for more than 4 hours.

5. The key is not allowing sun tea to sit out and come to room temperature. Refrigerate and drink as soon as possible. Don’t prepare more than you can drink in a day or two. Throw out the leftovers after day two.

6. Also throw away any tea that has turned thick and syrupy. 


hIWTHI said... #

I love Sun Tea!

Anonymous said... #

So glad you posted this! I just made sun tea the other day. I never hear of a lot of people making it anymore, and I hadn't done it in awhile myself, but I just love it.

Pam aka BoredCook

DessertForTwo said... #

I'm so glad you reminded me of this! I haven't made sun tea in ages!

But I have never heard of all the safety/bacteria issues. It seems so natural to me? Is it not just like leaving a glass of water on the counter for a few hours? I think you're right-the issue is the water not the tea.
I'm going to make a batch and enjoy it tonight! Thanks for the reminder :)

Tina Butler said... #

Your welcome everyone. Isn't great how food and memories go hand in hand. I miss my childhood and all the great foods I remember having. I am so glad i can recreate all that with my kids.

Unknown said... #

Oh yum! Sweet sun tea with EXTRA lemon! Doesn't get any better!

Unknown said... #

I love sun tea too... and after drinking it for all these years I am still alive... People just like something to scare about....Of course you should drink it within a couple days also...or it turns a funky color while in the fridge... Thanks for sharing. I think I will go and have me a glass of tea now!! Mica/The Child's Paper

~ Mona said... #

This brings back so many good summertime memories as a kid. Thanks for the smile and idea.

Mona : )

MRS.BANN said... #

Aloha! How cool, youre from Hawaii! So am I...born and raised on the island of Oahu. So where did you live in Hawaii?

Tina Butler said... #

Mrs.Bann it has been so long since I was in Hawaii. As I stated in my post I grew up there and dearly miss it. As a air force brat my dad was stationed at Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu. We stayed 9 years and I hated leaving but we had orders for a new place. I went to Nimitz Elem. School and Aliamanu Middle School. I left Hawaii in 1981 seems like so long ago. I miss the beach the weather, the food and the beautiful scenery.

Sarah said... #

Love it! My mom made sun tea often growing up, but I have never made it myself. It sounds like it would hit the spot.

Cookin' Canuck said... #

I had never heard of sun tea until I married my Californian husband. My mother-in-law makes this all the time and sits her jar of tea on their diving board, in the full sun, to steep. It's such a wonderful summer treat!

Sheri said... #

Love the tea pictures! It's one of my favorite summer drinks. It's a sunny day....think I'll make up a gallon!

Christine said... #

Hi you inspired me to make sun tea! I wrote a blog post and linked your site as my inspiration. I hope you don't mind!

Rachelle S said... #

I'm not a tea drinker (actually can't stand it) but Mr. sure is!

Where in Hawaii were you at? I grew up Navy and we were there in 87-91 at Aliamanu Crater. Cool to know you were in HI also!

Rachelle S said... #

holy moly!! I saw you Hawaii comment from earlier!! WOW, I went to Aliamanu Inter too!! How cool!

Tina Butler said... #

Rachelle its a small world isnt it? I was there before you were and then I left. I remember Aliamanu middle school like it was yesterday. My older sisiter and brother went to Radford High School.

Rachelle S said... #

Yes! I went to Radford too, for 2 years. Cool!

I wish facebook would allow middle schools to be listed in their school directories, I've been looking for a friend from there since.

the country cook said... #

We made it all the time growing up! Thanks for bringing back memories.

Kylee said... #

How did I miss this post?! My daddy used to make this all the time, good childhood memories. He lives out in Corsicana not far from your neck of the woods!

Allison said... #

My mother always made sun tea growing up in the Midwest. My favorite is using several regular tea bags and add one or two of the Constant Comment Orange Spice tea bags. It just gives a nice hint of Orange flavor to the tea!

I also love a good sweet tea from time to time. I found the best way to make it sweet (if you didn't brew it hot and add the sugar), is to make a simple syrup. I just dissolve 1 part sugar in 1 part water on the stovetop. I have a cute little mini-pitcher with a spout and a cork stopper that allows it to stay fresh in the rerigerator for a week or so. I just add as much simple syrup to my regular tea as I want.

Heather said... #

I grew up watching my mommy make sun tea! I've been a little homesick for her today ~ thanks for taking me back to this memory! :)


Anonymous said... #

I'm 47, I have been drinking Sun Tea every summer since I can remember...I think the "risk" points that have been added about bacteria's is interesting, it actually makes me wonder who writes these or (under writes) these "WARNINGS" could it be the companys who make ready to go tea. Much more expensive, THINK ABOUT IT

Anonymous said... #

Love Sun tea, and like many of the comments here, I have never heard of the bacteria issues. I would say for anyone who might have concerns, just boil your water for five minutes, then let it cool down to room temperature, and you're off and running. Thanks for the additional tips at the end, as I probably make too much and have it long after the two days. That explains a lot. )-:

Anonymous said... #

why is it necessary to use a metal lid instead of plastic?

Ruby said... #

love sun tea, my mom was a southern lady who also cooked and taught us to cook southern. She is gone, but I am on my great grand children cooking for them, especially chocolate gravy and biscuits. Keep up the good cooking. Ruby

I Play Outside The Box said... #

When I had a deck off my kitchen I always made sun tea...the gallon I would be making was always for the following day...that way I never had to rush it. I love Luzianne tea the best too....and here in our SC home, sweet is the only way to serve it.

judygold said... #

I think the two key issues with Sun Tea are:
1. Refrigerate it (if you leave it out on the counter overnight, it starts tasting pretty funky)
2. Discard what's left after 2 days.

Tina Butler said... #

I agree you must refrigerate any leftovers. Really that is how it is with regular brewed ice tea, so it is kind of common sense. I have never had any issues drinking sun tea.

Melissa said... #

We drank gallons of it in the summers when we were kids. I have noticed the few times I've made it as an adult that it doesn't keep very long and will develop an off taste if not left long enough in VERY hot sun. I actually thought the scalding summer sun here in Oregon inhibited the bacteria growth.

Anonymous said... #

wooohooo my hubby grew up in mt olive,nc love the jar i have one also

Fernanda said... #

Does the wáter have to be hot or cold in order to brew

Anonymous said... #

I love sun tea. My mom used to make it when I was a kid too. Since we live in Oregon I like to take advantage of the 90 days of sunshine while I can. Interesting about the controversy. I hadn't heard that yet. Thanks for the post. - Carol

Sarah | Nurse Loves Farmer said... #

Thanks for the recipe! I'm a virgin sun tea maker from Alberta, Canada...hope this goes well!

Stephanie Foster said... #

I love sun tea! It reminds me of my childhood.

David said... #

What I do is first bring my water to a boil then cover it with a paper towel for around 30 minutes and then pour it into the glass container I'm going to use to brew the sun tea with. By the next day it's cooled to room temperature so all you do is put in your tea bags and set it outside. Boiling the water first should kill all the bacteria and make it safer to drink.

Lanie said... #

Thanks!!! I'm trying this for the first time today when we are supposed to have sun all day long; the jar is on my porch, off to one side where hopefully the mail carrier won't brush against it. I'm using my fave, Constant Comment. I switched to all iced tea all the time last summer to cut ice cream (and some more fat) out of my eating plan; making sun tea will save some electricity boiling the water every week. Glad to see all the comments from people taking up new ideas.

summer said... #

I lost my mom last summer and she loved making sun tea. I haven't made it myself but i will her memory..I used to very much enjoy drinking hers :)

Anonymous said... #

Mmm.. you said chocolate gravy. ...

Unknown said... #

Hi! I live in RI. but my grandparents are from N. Carolina. I've tried sharing my memories of Sun tea with my co workers. They give me a confused look!! finally I said, "OMG Am I The ONLY person who knows what sun tea is?" the response I got was "Yes Tracy, I think it's a southern thing". LOL Well I'm going to whip up a batch and let them discover true bliss!