Experimenting With Sun Tea

There are some advantages to the unremitting sunshine during Texas summers. For me, fair-skinned and light-eyed, it's a great excuse to stay indoors in the AC to avoid carcinogenic exposure. I also like to use the intense solar presence to make sun tea.

I wasn't even aware of the existence of sun tea until I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line. I vaguely recall hearing in my youth a neighbor saying something like, "it's bright enough to make tea outside." I thought, however, that was just an expression, much like "it's so hot, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk," which actually I tried once to little success. Probably because it was Pennsylvania, where 80 degrees is considered a hot day.

I was reminded of sun tea recently when doing some research into planning menus for summertime fetes and decided to conduct my own little timed trial to see if solar brewing actually worked well.

What's funny (or perhaps incredibly idiotic) is that I was actually under the impression that "sun tea" described a process whereby you brewed tea indoors using hot water, then left it outside to, um, age. Not quite. The more popular method, of course, involves using the sun's energy to slow-steep the tea. Duh.

After reading tips from a number of websites (seriouseats was particularly helpful) I dropped an Irish Breakfast teabag into a large glass mug filled with filtered water and placed it on my patio. As per suggestion, I covered the top of the mug with saran wrap. In an ideal world, I would have used a glass pitcher with a top, but unfortunately the one we used to own did not survive our most recent move.

Food scientists and doctors caution that brewing sun tea can also produce harmful bacteria since the water never will actually reach boiling point. Most advise only leaving the tea outside for a maximum of four hours; ever the hypochondriac, I decided to take mine in after three hours.

I poured about six ounces in a glass filled with ice and added a squeeze of lemon. Allowing for the fact that the tea could have been more robust had I left it out the full four hours, I was nevertheless pleased with the flavor. With the strong taste of blended assam but lacking that headache-inducing caffeine edge that comes from oversteeping, the Irish Breakfast sun tea was, in fact, the perfect late afternoon refresher.

This week, I'll brew another cup, but this time skip the lemon and add just a spot of very cold milk for some extra sweetness and cream.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joanna O'Leary