5 Best Loose Leaf Recipes for Making Sun Tea

Posted by Lauren Leese on

When summer hits and the sun is out, Southerners know it’s time for one thing: sun tea!

I love hot tea, but I also live in Texas, and I have to agree with my fellow Texans that there’s nothing better than sipping on a delicious glass of iced tea on a hot day. Sun tea, a kind of cold brew tea that you make by steeping tea out in the sun for a few hours, is a classic, traditional method of making iced tea that doesn’t even require a kettle - just a container and some tea to go in it!

In this post, I’ll be sharing:

  • The basic method for making loose leaf sun tea
  • Whether or not sun tea is safe to drink - and how to make sure it’s safe
  • How the sun tea cold-brew method affects the antioxidants in your tea
  • My 5 favorite teas and recipes for delicious sun tea
  • Notes about how to enjoy sun tea even on a keto or paleo diet, for each tea

Read on to take your iced tea to the next level!

 

Black and herbal sun tea

How Do You Make Sun Tea? My Recipe:

Making sun tea is super easy. All you need is a mason jar or similar container, some water, some loose leaf tea, and whatever other herbs you want to put in it (some people use tea bags, but I much prefer using loose leaf tea, since it results in a stronger and richer flavor).

  1. Choose your tea - I've given my 5 favorites below
  2. Measure out about 2-3 teaspoons of loose leaf tea for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, and fill the jar up with the water and tea.
  3. Add your fresh or dried herbs. See my tea-specific suggestions below! 
  4. Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
  5. Once the tea is brewed, add any honey or other sweetener to the jar, stirring well so that it dissolves fully.
  6. Strain out, pour over ice, and add any fresh fruit you want.

    And voila - a beautiful summer staple!

    But before we can flop onto our sunny porch with an Instagrammable jar of cold leaf water, I have to point out one very important caveat:

    Is Sun Tea Safe to Drink?

    It’s annoying, but I have to say it anyway: making tea by steeping it out in the sun is not super safe to drink.

    That’s right - this traditional Southern activity unfortunately has the potential to be quite dangerous to your health. One main reason why tea is usually made with boiling water is because the high temperature kills any bacteria, but a jar of tea left out in the sun won’t get hot enough to sterilize it.1

    Give it a few hours of stewing in a warm, wet environment, and that cute mason jar is a prime breeding ground for harmful bacteria - especially if you’re using an herbal tea, which doesn’t contain caffeine and therefore is more susceptible to bacteria growth.2 (Yes, caffeine is amazing!)

    How Can You Make Sun Tea Safely?

    Luckily, you can make sun tea without the sun. I know that sounds like an oxymoron - isn’t that the whole point of sun tea? - but the truth is that the tea’s mellow flavor has nothing to do with the sun.

    Sun tea’s distinctive taste comes from the fact that the tea is cold brewed for an extended period of time, not from the sun’s rays affecting the flavor. The location of the jar makes no difference to the way it tastes.3

    Because of this, I recommend making sun tea by placing it in the fridge to brew. This will ensure you don’t get any nasty bacteria growth, and as a bonus, your tea will be nice and cold right from the start! Plus, you can use this method for a lovely refreshing drink all year round.

    If you must make tea by placing it out in the sun, brew it with distilled water to cut down on the chances of bacteria appearing.4 And if your tea ends up looking thick or syrupy, do not drink it! That gross slime consists of bacteria growths that will make you sick.

    Personally, I prefer to avoid the risk by sticking with the good ol’ fridge method. Of course, once my sun tea is brewed, you can bet your boots I’m going to pour it into a pretty jar and go outside in the sun to take some Instagrammable photos!

     

    Loose leaf herbal tea for sun tea

    Can I Still Get Antioxidants from Sun Tea?

    While it's true that antioxidants degrade over time, cold brew lovers are in luck - the low temperature of cold-brew tea actually makes the antioxidants stick around for much longer than they would in hot tea.

    In a study analyzing the effects of different brewing methods on black, green, and oolong teas, a group of researchers discovered that cold brew tea steeped over 12 hours contains comparable amounts of antioxidants to hot brew. Furthermore, some antioxidants were actually found in higher levels in cold brew tea! 5

    In short, even if you steeped your sun tea in the fridge overnight, you'd still end up with an antioxidant-packed brew. Just don't leave it sitting around for a day or two - no matter what the brewing method, antioxidants will always degrade eventually. 

    Note that if you make your sun tea out in the sun, the temperature will end up being much closer to that of hot tea, so your antioxidant levels will likely be pretty low. Another great reason to make your sun tea in the fridge, right?

    Which Teas Should I Choose? “True” and Herbal Teas for Sun Tea

    Black tea is traditionally used to make sun tea, but it’s not my favorite for a refreshing cold brew. It’s true that cold brewing cuts down on some of black tea’s astringent flavor, since the water isn’t hot enough to release all the bitter-tasting tannins, but many people still have to dump loads of sugar in there to make it taste nice.

    Luckily, you can make sun tea with green tea, herbal tea, or any other kind of tea you like - many of which taste great with no sugar at all! Since sun tea involves cold brewing the tea for a long time, the best options are teas that don’t become bitter if you steep them too long. Many of these teas are delicate blends that are at risk of burning if you leave them lying around in boiling water for too long, making them ideal for cold brew.

    Here are some of my tried-and-tested favorite teas to use for sun tea, along with serving suggestions. As a bonus, these teas all have way more antioxidants than black tea! (If you want to find out which teas have the most antioxidant action, check out our post about ORAC scores for a handy-dandy table!)

    I have also included notes for each tea about whether it’s suitable for various diets. This information is only about the tea itself, and not about any added flavorings you might decide to include.

    If you’re concerned in particular about whether your sun tea is keto friendly, avoid adding any fruits or sweeteners, and only pick the types of teas that I’ve marked as suitable for keto. For more guidance about which teas are suitable for the keto and paleo diets, click here.

    1. Pretty in Purple Lavender Chamomile

    I love drinking floral teas in the summertime, and this gorgeous blend is one of my favorite herbal sun teas! When cold brewed, it turns out super fragrant, yet still bursting with flavor.

    • Measure 2-3 tsp of chamomile for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, then fill the jar up with the water and loose tea.
    • Add fresh mint leaves for extra sweetness and a little zing
    • Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
    • Once the tea is brewed, add 1 tsp honey per cup and stir until it dissolves. The honey really brings out the floral taste if you want to lean into the Southern sweet tea angle! This blend is so lovely and sweet on its own that I prefer to take it without any sweetener at all.
    • Strain out, pour over ice, and add fresh fruit.

     

    Chamomile also has a ridiculous number of health benefits, so if you want to learn more about what this tea is doing to your body as you sip it in the sun, check out our post about chamomile’s effects.

    Matcha Alternatives’ Pretty in Purple Lavender Chamomile is vegan, caffeine-free, and allowed on both the keto and paleo diets.

     

    Loose leaf lavender chamomile sun tea

    2. Keep Calm Lavender Rose Rooibos

    If you’re someone who loves a sugary summer treat but would prefer to cut back on, you know, actual sugar, Matcha Alternatives’ Lavender Rose Rooibos has you covered! This blend creates a VERY sweet and fruity drink, courtesy of the currants and lavender.

    • Measure 2-3 tsp of rooibos for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, then fill the jar up with the water and loose tea.
    • Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
    • You don’t even need to add sweetener, but if you want to amp up the sugary taste even more, honey complements the floral undertones very nicely.
    • Strain out, pour over ice, and add fresh fruit.

    Matcha Alternatives’ Lavender Rose Rooibos is vegan, caffeine-free, and allowed on the paleo diet. It is not suitable for keto diets, due to the added fruit.

     

    Loose leaf lavender rose rooibos sun tea

    3. "The Purist" Rare Purple Tea

    Purple tea creates a fragrant, mellow cold brew, with a subtle taste that will appeal to you if you’re not one for super strong flavors. It tastes a lot like green tea, but just a little bit sweeter. In fact, purple tea is prepared very similarly to green tea, but it’s made with a special genetic variant of the Camellia sinensis tea plant and is mainly grown in Kenya. To learn more about purple tea and its benefits, check out our spotlight post.

    Contrary to its name, purple tea doesn't actually result in a purple liquid when cold brewed, but the greenish liquor turns a little pink when you add lemon, as you can see in my photo below!

    • Measure 2-3 tsp of purple tea for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, then fill the jar up with the water and loose tea.
    • Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
    • Once the tea is brewed, strain out, pour over ice, and add a twist of lemon.

    Matcha Alternatives’ “The Purist” Rare Purple Tea is vegan and allowed on both the keto and paleo diets.

     

    Loose leaf purple sun tea

    4. Zing in Your Step Lemon Yerba Mate

    Yerba mate is one of the teas I mentioned that can burn in boiling water, making it ideal for a super refreshing cold brew blend. I’m a huge fan of yerba mate’s herbaceous taste, and the added lemongrass and lemon peel gives it an extra zing. Plus, yerba mate is packed with antioxidants - to learn more about which antioxidants it contains and what they do, check out this post!

    It also takes well to extra herbs and fruits:

    • Measure 2-3 tsp of mate for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, then fill the jar up with the water and loose tea.
    • Add fresh sage, mint, and rosemary
    • Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
    • Once the tea is brewed, strain out, pour over ice, and pop in a wedge of orange. Muddle as desired to make the orange stronger. Pure refreshing bliss...

    If you’re the kind of person who drinks tea for the caffeine, yerba mate is for you - it contains comparable amounts of caffeine to a cup of coffee, but without the dreaded “coffee jitters.” To learn more about yerba mate and what it does, check out our spotlight post.

    Note, though, that caffeine levels (in any food or drink) are higher the hotter the brew temperature is, so cold brewed mate will have lower caffeine levels than hot brewed mate. Our blog on caffeine explains why!

    Matcha Alternatives’ Zing in Your Step Lemon Yerba Mate is vegan and allowed on the paleo diet. It is not suitable for keto diets, due to the lemon peel (however, Matcha Alternatives’ “The Purist” Green Yerba Mate is suitable for keto diets, and also works great as a cold-brewed tea!).

     

    Lemon yerba mate loose leaf sun tea

    5. Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi

    This beautiful blend of red Rooibos and Tulsi Holy Basil has a smooth, calming, herbaceous taste that takes well to cold brew.

    • Measure 2-3 tsp of rooibos-tulsi for every 8 oz (1 cup) of water, then fill the jar up with the water and loose tea.
    • Add fresh mint leaves
    • Close the jar and leave the contents to brew for 3-5 hours (traditionally, the jar is left out in the sun for this part).
    • Once the tea is brewed, strain out, pour over ice, and add lemon wedges to taste. The result was totally delicious!

    Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries - and while I’m not going to make any wild claims about its ability to make you live longer, there’s no denying that it has a ton of health benefits. Check out our Tulsi spotlight post to learn more about its properties. We even have a customer who uses it to manage her allergies, and swears by it!

    Matcha Alternatives’ Deep Breath Rooibos Tulsi is vegan, caffeine-free, and allowed on both the keto and paleo diets.

     

    Rooibos tulsi loose leaf sun tea 

    A Note from Lauren

    For many of us, so far this summer hasn’t felt much like summer. However, that doesn’t mean we have to get rid of all our fun in the sun!

    I hope these blends gave you some fun new sun tea ideas to try. When you make your own, be sure to post your creations on Instagram so we can see them. Tag @matchaalternatives and use the hashtag #matchaalternatives, and you might get a feature!

    Artisan Cold Brew loose leaf Iced Tea Bundle

    Artisan Cold Brew Iced Tea Bundle

    Can't decide between the yummy teas I mentioned in this post? You can get them all in this sweet bundle.
    Plus, save $15 off the regular price on the 4oz bundle!

    Orange Lemon Citrus Burst loose leaf Green Tea

    Summer and Iced Tea Collection

    Craving even more sun tea ideas? Check out our collection of teas that we love over ice!

    Candied Pineapple Ginger Green Rooibos loose leaf tea

    Fruity and Dessert Tea Collection

    If you want the sweet tea without the artificial flavors or crazy amounts of sugar, check out our collection of delicious, naturally sweet teas.

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    Disclaimer

    All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.

    References for Making Loose Leaf Sun Tea

    1. "Is Sun Tea Safe?" Live Smart Ohio, Ohio State University, Aug. 19, 2011. https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/uncategorized/miller-59osu-edu/is-sun-tea-safe/

    2. Mikkelson, David. "Bacteria in Sun Tea Risk." Snopes, 21 July, 2014. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/steep-risk/

    3. Kenji López-Alt, J. "The Food Lab: For The Best Sun Tea, Forget The Sun." Serious Eats, Aug. 9, 2018. https://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/07/the-food-lab-the-truth-about-sun-tea-forget-the-sun-cold-brew-tea-is-better.html

    4. "How To Make Sun Tea For Hydrating Herbal Wellness This Summer." The Well Essentialshttps://www.thewellessentials.com/blog/how-to-make-sun-tea-this-summer-herbal-wellness

    5. Lantano, Claudia et. al. "Effects of alternative steeping methods on composition, antioxidant property and colour of green, black and oolong tea infusions." Journal of Food Science and Technology, Jul. 29, 2015. DOI: 10.1007/s13197-015-1971-4

    Further Reading Related to Making Loose Leaf Sun Tea

    3 Easy Tea Mocktail Recipes for Summer by a Mixologist

    Caffeine in Coffee and Tea: All You Need to Know

    The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Tea and Tisanes

    Why You Actually Like Tea (Even Though You Think You Don't)

    Antioxidants in Green vs Black Teas: What's the Difference?

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      2 comments

      • These look delicious! I’m very excited to make a purple tea cold brew using Lauren’s recipe (especially after Alison’s good review :-D ). I’m also buying the Lavender Rose Rooibos for a friend and will send her these recipes!

        Cayley DeLancey on

      • I just made the Rare Purple Tea via the cold brew method (safely, in my fridge!). It is delicious- almost sweet and very refreshing. Thank you for sharing these ideas.

        Alison Harada on


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