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The Dangers of Sun Tea and Great Iced Tea Alternatives!

June is Iced Tea Month! To celebrate, we'll be featuring some of our favourite iced tea ideas on our social media accounts and blog. Be sure to follow us if you'd like to see more ways to make your own tasty iced tea at home.


Sun tea was really popular a few years ago. What is it, you ask? It’s making iced tea by placing a jar filled with tea leaves in the sun. Traditionally, black tea is the top choice for a strong, sweet iced tea, but black tea can be bitter if boiled and then iced. Sun tea solved this problem because the water warmed but didn’t boil, so the tea steeped without the bitterness.

Our Hibiscus Lemonade herbal tea is one of my favourites iced.

The biggest issue with sun tea is bacteria. Warm, damp spots, like a jar filled with water and tea leaves and placed in the sun, can be a breeding ground for unhealthy bacteria – especially if sugar is added to the sun tea while it is steeping. Temperature changes only encourage this growth, and the sun can’t heat the water hot enough to stop it. While I’ve never heard of anyone dying from a bad case of sun tea bacteria (though there was that one guy who almost died of kidney failure from drinking too much iced tea...but that was caused by something else entirely), there are better, safer ways to make iced tea.

The first is to steep your tea as usual and pour it over ice. This creates great, instant iced tea, and will make sure your drink is free of any bacterial nasties. To make iced tea this way, steep your tea twice as strong as usual (e.g., 2 teaspoons per 6 oz. or about 175 ml of water) as the ice will dilute the flavour. Add sugar to taste to the hot tea and dissolve it before pouring over a full glass of ice.

My favourite way to make iced tea is the cold brewing method (also known as “refrigerator tea”). No bitterness, no unnecessary temperature changes... and most importantly, no unhealthy bacteria. The fridge keeps the water cold, so the bacteria can’t propagate, and we don’t sweeten it until we serve it to you, so they’d have nothing to eat anyway.

If you are making refrigerator tea, add 2 teaspoons of leaves for every 6 oz. (about 175 ml) of water in your jar. This is based on how much ice you will use when serving - if you intend to drink it cold out of the fridge with no ice, you could brew it with 1 teaspoon of leaves instead. I make large batches and use 4 teaspoons of tea per litre of water. Seal the jar up tight and put it in the fridge overnight or for at least 4-6 hours for best results. I like to leave the tea leaves to float freely in the jar rather than containing them in a bag, but if quick clean up is important, you can buy large disposable tea bags created just for this purpose. Strain your tea or remove the bag before serving, or after you have finished steeping if you don't intend to serve right away. 

iced teaPicture by Liz Mc on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons

Refrigerator teas are best sweetened with liquid sweeteners as they dissolve easiest in cold liquids. A simple syrup like you might use in cocktails works great, as does a commercially-available syrup from your favourite coffee shop. You can sweeten an entire pitcher of iced tea if you wish, but you’ll get an extra day or two out of your brew (if it lasts that long) if you sweeten it right before serving.

Iced tea brewed in the refrigerator will last approximately 4-5 days, although I recommend straining it after no more than 12 hours so the leaves don't get slimy. If it’s sweetened, consume it within 1-2 days at the most. Always keep this tea refrigerated and discard it if the taste changes or if you don’t drink it all within a few days.

Refrigerator tea is a tasty and safe way to make tons of iced tea easily this summer. Enjoy!