Monday, June 23, 2014

Sun Tea - Bringing the Taste of Summer to Your Glass

Sun Tea. The name hearkens back to the first stirrings of healthy living.  I grew up in the meat, potatoes and frozen vegetable followed by dessert world when small. In my teens it grew to include the occasional birthday night out for pizza and the Campbell's Soup casserole recipe selection. Pot roast on Sunday was staple throughout.  Pretty standard for the lower middle class American family.

Then came the first stirrings of a more healthy lifestyle. Vegetarian recipes - although with way too much fat via cheese and sour cream - and home grown sprouts of all genres crept in. It was the hippie generation in it's last throws. A few people I knew even moved to communes. One of the best outcomes of this era was Sun Tea.  Back then it was usually made with black tea, but already the stirrings of herbal varieties were being heard.

Why this tradition is not more common in today's generation is something I often ponder.  It's simple, easy and so much less bitter than regular options. Then there is the chance to try all those favourite herbal blends or create unique flavors with the addition herbs/fruit. Served over ice, what better way to wet your whistle on those hot summer days.  Okay, maybe in Vancouver, British Columbia, we don't have many of those, but it's still a great choice of non-alcoholic drinking options.

Love this pic from Life's Natural Book Craft as it shows making flavoured waters and teas
side by side in smaller amounts.  What a great selection to have in the fridge waiting.
I tried to look through the Internet to see if there was a magic formula and the answer is no.  It depends,,,,,.  The options include black tea, high end blends, green tea or herbal. It also varies depending on how strong you want the taste, how long you leave it in the sun and how hot the day is.  In the end, making sun tea is a trial by error process that ends up producing something you personally love. The benefit - it is never bitter. There is a more subtle flavour to sun tea that makes it the best of the best.

The basics -

8 liter beverage container I snagged on sale at London Drugs.
1.  A glass container - This is not optional. Plastic is a very bad choice for so many reasons, but that only takes an Internet search to realize. It also needs a lid so that you don't loose liquid to evaporation and so that insects don't end up in your tea. I scored this great 8 liter glass beverage container on sale at London Drugs for only $14.99 plus tax.  You could use quart canning jars as well if you want to do a variety of different kinds of tea.

2.  Water -  This is the easy one for me. Where I am, the tap water is the best, so there is no need for bottled or filtered. You might not be so lucky. The water you use - tap, bottled, filtered, distilled - should be guided by what you normally drink.

3.  Tea - This can include any variety you want - herbal, blends, green, herb - and the range I saw was 8-12 tea bags per gallon of water. Type of tea, strength of that variety (black is stronger than chamomile), how much flavor you want and if you are including any herbs or fruits will all make a difference.

4.  Sun - It's FREE!!!  Set that lidded glass container right out in direct sunlight to soak up the rays. Here is where the magic happens.  How long you leave it there depends on how strong you want it, what type of tea you are using and the heat. Watch the colour as that is a great indicator. Personally I leave it out in the morning and take it in at night.  If it's too strong, more water can always be added.

One gallon Monarch Mason Jar Drink Dispensers
from Classic Hostess.
5. Options - Don't forget you can spice any tea up whether herbal or regular.  Just tuck in some citrus slices, a spring of mint, lilac, etc. Let you taste imagination run wild, experimentation is fully encouraged.  I tend to leave it as is and add extra notes later, but there is something to be said for adding it during the brewing process, especially citrus rinds or mint leaves.

6. Sweetener - This is something I NEVER add. I don't like my summer drinks sweetened as I do find that refreshing.  I did see one Southern US recipe that indicated you could take out 25% of the water, add the appropriate amount of sugar, dissolve completely and then add the water back in with the tea bags.  As it's an option some may prefer, I list it here. A better choice is to let sweeteners be added later. With the bitter notes gone, you may find the unnecessary.

7. The process - You set the lidded jars out in the sun and let the magic happen. How long you leave them to brew depends on how hot it is that day, how many tea bags you used, how strong you like it, the kind of tea and what additions you included. Experimentation is the best way to figure out what works for you. When the colour looks right, remove the tea bags and store in the refrigerator. Serve over ice.



8.  The warning - I only remember one disaster making sun tea as overall it's pretty brainless.  I had finished a jar of dill pickles and carefully washed it with soap, rinsed and dried. Obviously the vinegar was harder to get out than I thought as the sun tea I made in it had a distinction acidic taste that was not pleasant.  WHY? I have no idea as glass should not have absorbed anything, but there you go.

Summer is here, so drag out those old canning jars or head out to find your favourite glass beverage container and let your instincts be your guide.

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