Safely unleash the power of the sun
how to make sun tea
Credit: Photo by Paul Webster via Getty Images

While I’ve never successful fried an egg on the sidewalk, I’ve had lots of luck channeling the sun’s rays into a brewer for tea. While technically making sun tea isn’t a quick or wildly safe (heating water below 130ºF can breed bacteria than can make you sick) way to quench your thirst, it’s a cool experiment for a lazy weekend morning, so why not have a little fun? Sun tea is just that: tea brewed in sunlight instead of with pre-boiled water. While making sun tea feels very homesteady, like baking your own bread or growing herbs, it should only be done safely, and with the right equipment.

Grab a large clear glass jar that has a lid. If all you can find is blue plastic pitcher, you can’t make sun tea efficiently or safely because in order the properly absorb the sun’s rays, the glass must be clear. Plus, if the sun is particularly strong, the heat could activate chemicals in plastic containers, leaving you with sad, plastic-tasting tea. Plus, most pitchers don't create airtight seals, and those openings can become an accidental invitation to dirt and critters.

After obtaining a proper jar, wash it well with hot, soapy water, or run it through the dishwasher.

Fill the jar with 4 cups of cold, distilled water. It may seem annoying or wasteful to go out and buy distilled water instead of turning on the faucet in your kitchen, but this is the best way to avoid harmful bacterial growth in sun tea, as it's more likely to multiply in the warmth from tap water—obviously something you want to be aware of.

Toss 5 teabags into the jar—all the same flavor, or mix and match. Try chamomile, peppermint, and Green tea for a soothing and calming blend. or make your own variation on a spiced chai with ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, and black tea bags. If the tea bags have tags and strings, snip them off before tossing them into the water.

Cover the jar tightly with its lid and and place it outside on your patio, fire escape, or whatever outdoor space to which you have access. If your only option is to put the jar on the ground, place it on a plate or inside a larger container. Seriously worried about bacteria? I get it. Opt for cold-brewed tea made in a sunny corner of your kitchen or in the refrigerator instead. Simply use the same method, but don’t place the jar outside in the heat. Some tea bags are sold as cold brew specific, but I’ve found plenty of regular herbal, black, green, and white tea bags brew just fine in cold water.

Let the tea steep in the sun for 2 hours, making sure it stays in direct sunlight the entire time. (Ignore that last part if you’re simply cold-brewing.) Don’t let the tea steep for more than 2 hours if you’re brewing outside. After the tea is done steeping, remove the tea bags and check the jar for white spots of bacterial growth. If you see any, toss the tea, wash the jar well, and try the process again.

Immediately place the jar in the refrigerator and chill the tea for at least 2 hours. If you like you tea on the sweeter side, throw in a few spoonfuls of honey or granulated sugar, then serve over ice. It’s also best to finish a batch of sun tea the day you make it to further avoid bacterial growth.