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Nothing says “beating the heat” quite like sitting in the shade on the porch rocker with the condensation on a glass of homemade iced tea trickling down to the patio table beside you. When the summer gets to rolling, iced tea is a godsend, and none tastes better than naturally brewed, energy-efficient sun tea.

Sun tea, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, isn’t some sort of catchy brand name. Rather, it is tea that is brewed from the heat of the sunshine, and there is something magical about what happens in that process. The slow, simple pleasure of letting a jug of tea have the time to percolate and permeate with patience produces the most pleasing iced tea on the planet.

What’s more is that it doesn’t have to just stop with black tea, as so often is the case. There is the potential to infuse with flavor, to ferment with probiotic power, this basic and benevolent treat we can so easily have for cents on the cup.

Source: Kellie/Flickr

The Ridiculously Easy How-to

It begins with a large, clear, glass container. This can be a huge jar, at least a quart or more, or a two-gallon drink dispenser. It needs to hold water, and it needs to have a lid to keep out the creatures and creepy crawlies. Then, for every pint of water, there should be one teabag, or the loose-leaf equivalent tossed into the container. Finally, the prepared container should be set out in a sunny spot for a few hours, a morning or an afternoon is enough. Once it’s out of the sun, it should cool down a little and go in the fridge. It’s poured over ice. It makes you smile.

Cool Environmental Features

Sun tea tastes better than the hardboiled stuff, and there is a smidgen of greenness to the process to crow about as well.

  • Making sun tea at home equates to not buying plastic, or even glass, bottles of single-serving iced tea. Less waste, even recyclable waste, is better for the planet. Iced tea aficionados can make this at home, pour it into a reusable bottle before heading out, and have a ready supply of the good stuff.
  • The obvious environmental benefit is that sun tea is completely brewed via passive energy. There is no boiling of water. Thus, no grid-power is necessary to brew the perfect glass of iced tea. And, the fridge is running anyway, so that’s no extra power expended to cool it, either.
  • The less obvious aspect of the energy quotient is that, by not boiling water, we are not adding extra heat into the house that the air condition will have to cool down again. ACs are working hard enough in the summer without the added burden—however small that may be—of us brewing tea on the stovetop.

Source: Randall Chancellor/Flickr

Some Fun Variations

With this process, there is much more to be had than the basic black iced tea of yesteryear. No, no! We can infuse, ferment, flavor, and savor tea in all sorts of ways.

  • Sweet tea – Brewed sweet tea is a wonderful thing. It’s much better than a sweetener or sugar in unsweetened iced tea. For those that go with sugar, it’s as simple as adding whatever amount you would to a glass (say a tablespoon) for every pint in the container. For those steering clear of sugar, a few leaves of fresh stevia from the garden is ideal (if you aren’t growing it, try it). This works with whatever flavor of sun tea we are brewing.
  • Ginger-lemon – Ginger and lemon combine into a delightful and medicinal wonder-flavor that is easy to drink. Figuring about one or two slices per glass, cut up a lemon and some ginger into rounds, and stick them in with the brewing sun tea.
  • Fresh herb-infusion – Undeniably, mint is the summertime favorite for flavored tea. It has its own special cool, refreshing effect to add to the brew, but many other herbs work wonders as well. Sage, lavender, and lemongrass all make a pleasant impression. Using medicinal leaves like raspberry leaves and lemon balm is also good.
  • Fruity flavors – Possibly, the easiest way to make fruity iced teas is to just use fruit-flavored tea bags, but for those looking to experiment, adding dehydrated fruit, juices or pieces of fresh fruit can up to the stakes a bit. Plus, it can be combined with herbs for awesome combos: think sage-blackberry tea.
  • Fermented sun tea: Sun tea can also be fermented to provide fizz and probiotics. To do this, brew two quarts of sun tea, whichever flavor, until it begins to bubble. Once bubbling, filter the tea into a screw-top, two-liter plastic bottle, and add a quarter-cup of sugar and a quarter cup of yeast starter before screwing the cap on. When the bottles are firm (from the gas released but trapped), the fermented tea is ready. Refrigerate it and drink within a couple of days.

Get Inventive

Sun tea is really simple to make and can be a healthy summer libation to make weekends wonderful. It also allows for a lot of creativity. It can be done with green teas, herbs, fruits, and whatever else seems interesting. As soon as we get out in the garden, we can be brewing sun teas to enjoy when we are done. How awesome is that?

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