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Can Sun Tea Actually Make You Sick?

June 06, 2022

iced tea, cupcakes, and flowers

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Sun tea — tea that is brewed outside in the sun rather than hot water — is a popular summertime favorite. Sun tea preparation is different than the traditional method of making iced tea, which involves brewing tea leaves in hot water and then pouring it over ice. Sun tea is a popular trend because it involves no electricity, and is virtually dummy-proof.

However, there are two potential risks that come with this summertime tradition.

iced tea

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Sun Tea Can Be A Perfect Breeding Ground For Bacteria

Sun tea is prepared by pouring cool water over tea leaves in a gallon jar, then placing outside to infuse in the sunlight. What makes sun tea unsafe is that the water simply doesn’t reach a high enough temperature during the steeping process to kill any bacteria that might be in the water, on the tea leaves, or inside the sun tea jar itself. Even on a bright hot sunny day, the temperature is unlikely to exceed 130°F, not nearly hot enough to kill any nasty bacteria such as E. coli. Even worse is a bacteria called Alcaligenes viscolactis, which can turn your tea thick, syrupy, and stringy, causing severe nausea and digestive distress if you happen to drink it. Yuck!


The Problem With Plastic

The other potential health risk comes from the jar itself. If you have been using a plastic sun tea jar, the bright light of the sun will activate the chemicals in the plastic, causing them to leach into your tea, which can cause endocrine disruption and hormone imbalances. Chemicals from plastic can eventually lead to other health problems, including inflammation, obesity, neurological disorders, and even cancer. 

iced tea and reflection

But I Love Sun Tea. Is There A Safe Way To Make It?

If you’re a sun tea lover, the answer is yes, you can lessen the risk of bacterial contamination in your sun tea as long as you follow a few simple (but important!) guidelines.

  1. First, ditch any plastic jars and switch to clear glass with a well-fitting lid, like this style of jar right here.
  2. Before using, thoroughly wash the jar with hot soapy water.
  3. If the jar has a spigot like this one, the spigot must be sanitized between uses. If you can’t do that for some reason, then get rid of the jar and replace it with a glass jar that doesn’t have a spigot. The narrow and hard-to-clean parts of a spigot make an ideal breeding ground for bacteria that you definitely do not want in your tea.
  4. Use only purified or distilled water. Do not use water from the tap, even if you live in a region with good water.
  5. Use high quality loose leaf tea leaves.
  6. Make only what you will consume in one day. You can use a smaller glass jar like this cute square style if a whole gallon is more than you can drink in a day.
  7. Do not leave the tea out in the sun for longer than four hours. Set an alarm, if you need to.
  8. As soon as you bring the tea inside, strain out the tea leaves and immediately store it in the refrigerator.
  9. If you want to add a sweetener or garnish, add after the tea has finished brewing.
  10. Discard any leftover tea at the end of the day. Tea has no natural preservatives, and can grow bacteria even in the refrigerator if stored for too long. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

large jars of iced tea

If all that sounds like too much work, a safe and simple solution is to cold brew your tea in the refrigerator. You can read more about the benefits of cold brewing right here.

Click here for an easy cold brew recipe that you will love

Happy, healthy sipping!


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