Is sun tea safe?

July 22, 2009|By JUDY LARKIN / Special to The Herald-Mail

Editor's note: This column is in response to a story that ran on the Food page on July 15 about different ways to brew tea.

Using the natural rays of the sun to make tea seems like a healthful and energy conscious way to make a zero-calorie beverage. However, using such a method to make tea is highly discouraged.

Sun tea is the perfect medium for the growth of harmful bacteria that can make you very ill. Alcaligenes viscolactis, a ropy bacteria commonly found in soil and water, frequently turns up in sun tea giving the drink a thick or syrupy appearance.

Sun Tea is not recommended by the Tea Association of the USA as an acceptable means of steeping tea for either the food service industry or by individual consumers. The reasons concern both taste and safety.


According to the Tea Association of the USA, tea, being an agricultural crop is subject to contamination by bacteria, as is virtually every other food or beverage item that is consumed. While careful attention is exercised during the processing of the tea leaves there is always the risk of post production contamination, the association said.Tea brewed in a glass jar out on your deck only reaches the temperature of a hot bath, 130 degrees. This will not destroy the bacteria that is either in the water, glass jar or on the tea leaves. In order to do that, the water needs to reach at least 195 degrees and remain at that temperature for at least three to five minutes.

Contrary to information found on the Internet, there is no evidence that the caffeine in black tea will stop the development of microbes.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Tea Association of the USA recommend the following procedures when preparing iced tea:

Wash in hot, soapy water, rinse and sanitize tea-making equipment regularly. To sanitize, dip the container in a solution made with 1-1/2 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water.

  • If the container has a spigot, clean it out after each use. If it is impossible to clean inside the spigot, don't brew tea in that vessel.

  • Boil the water and brew the tea leaves or bags at a temperature of at least 195 degrees for three to five minutes.

  • Brew only enough teas that can be consumed with a few hours.

  • Never keep brewed tea for more than eight hours at room temperature. Throw away any unused tea after eight hours.

  • If the tea liquid is not clear, discard immediately.

  • It is best to keep the drink in the refrigerator.

  • Instead of sun tea, prepare "moon tea." Brew tea overnight in the refrigerator as you would in the sun. In blind taste tests conducted by Prevention Magazine, "moon tea" was actually preferred. It was thought perhaps every time the door opened and closed, the tea was agitated more and the agitation might have increased the amount of antioxidants released.

  • Store tea bags in a dark, cool place away from strong odors and moisture. Do not store in the refrigerator.

    Judy Larkin of Falling Waters, W.Va., is a tea expert. Visit her Web site at

The Herald-Mail Articles