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Sun tea describes a method of brewing tea, usually for iced tea, by using exposure to the sun. Water is poured over tea bags, tea leafs, or occasionally just sprigs of mint and left to sit in the sun. Many people enjoy this method because it means not having to heat the house in order to boil up water for a large batch of tea. Yet there are some concerns about this tea that must be addressed.
Sun tea can harbor bacteria, especially alcaligenes viscolactis. When water is allowed to sit out for several hours, this bacterium can grow, and the heat provided by the sun, which may get the water up to a temperature of 130 F (54.44 C), will not kill the bacteria. Caffeine can help keep the bacteria at bay for a few hours at most. Decaffeinated and herbal teas are actually great for growing the bacteria, which can result in abdominal illness and infection.
There are a few ways to make sun tea that won’t make you ill. The first is to boil the water needed for the tea for at least three to five minutes. This will kill alcaligenes viscolactis. Some tea companies also feature no heat sun tea, which actually isn’t made in the sun, but is made in the refrigerator. Since the water never reaches room temperature, the bacterium doesn’t have a chance to grow.
The key is not allowing this tea to sit out and come to room temperature, and if you do use mint or other herbs, these should be washed thoroughly. In fact you may want to boil any herbs or seasoning for 3-5 minutes to avoid any harmful bacteria. Once you've made safe tea, there are plenty of ways to serve delicious variants.
Consider an herbal tea with citrus essences and garnish with lemon slices, or use a couple of different herbal blends for sun tea. Mix berry with citrus, orange with cinnamon, or any black tea with mint. Green tea has a very mild flavor, which will adapt very well to other flavors. It’s also lower in caffeine and high in antioxidants.
In the southern US, many people blend fruit juice with sun tea or iced tea. Consider tea blended with citrus juices, pineapple juice or berry juice. This can be very refreshing, while cutting down on the sugar of the juice and blending nicely with tealeaf flavors.
Hibiscus is a really nice tea to make as a sweet sun tea. It has a dark red color and tastes a little bit like cranberry juice. It is a bit tart, so you might want to sweeten it with a little bit of sugar or apple juice.
It's also good for you as it can help to lower blood pressure.
But mostly it just tastes good.
My mother used to make sun tea in big glass sun tea jugs. I don't remember it taking hours to make, I think maybe an hour at the most, so I don't suppose there was enough time for bacteria to grow. I think she also kept ice cubes and lemon slices in it the whole time.
As children we would mix it with cold milk and sugar, or add a little bit of fruit juice.