Finished tea over ice in mason jar glasses with handles.

Growing up, I didn’t realize that a lot of the food traditions we had in my family were Midwestern regionalisms. (What do you mean everyone doesn’t make a sugar cream pie during the holidays?) It wasn’t until I married a Canadian that I started to realize that the things that I thought were standards in the kitchen weren’t really all that common for everyone.

I remember early on in our marriage—it had to have been the first nice day of spring right after we were married—I said something like, “Oooh! Today is a good day for sun tea.” Craig responded by looking at me like I had two heads! Apparently, this wasn’t a thing he did growing up in Northwestern Ontario.

But here in the Midwest? You’d be hard-pressed to find a house that doesn’t have a jar of sun tea steeping out on the porch on nice summer days. Logically, I understand that tea steeped by sitting in the sun is no different from tea you make with boiling water from a kettle, but I swear you can taste the sunshine! Nothing is better on a hot summer day than an ice-cold glass of sun tea on the porch.

Overhead of two glasses of sun tea garnished with lemons and mint.

What exactly is sun tea?

Sun tea is an iced tea that is steeped via the heat of the sun instead of using boiling water from a kettle or stove. It is typically made with standard black teas, but can also easily be made with green tea or herbal teas.

Is it safe to make sun tea?

Some folks will steer you away from sun tea because of a bacterial risk. We’re not going to lie—because you can’t control the temperature levels when using the sun, there is a chance for bacteria to grow in the tea. I personally have been making and consuming tea this way since I was little (and folks have been cooking with the sun for centuries), but if you are concerned about bacterial growth, you can avoid any risk by bringing the tea to a rapid boil after steeping.

Close view of brewed sun tea over ice with mint garnish and glass straw.

What kind of tea is good for sun tea?

Any tea will work, but for “standard” sun tea, you want an iced tea blend like Luzianne. Peppermint tea and green tea are also favorites in our house! For a half-gallon or eight cups of tea, you’ll need six tea bags.

Do I need a sun tea jar?

If you’ve never made sun tea before, it’s incredibly simple. All you need is a clear jar, some water, and tea. This time of year, in our area, you can pick up specific sun tea jars at pretty much every retail outlet on the planet (literally, you can find them at gas stations, grocery stores, or pharmacies). As any good Midwestern girl does, I’ve had my fair share of tea jars in my life, and I have managed to break every single one of them. One day, I’ll probably invest in a really nice, sturdy, heavy-duty jar for sun tea, but for now, I just use a half-gallon mason jar. And it works wonders.

Iced tea in a tall Ball jar with tea bags floating on top.

How do I make sweet sun tea?

I like my tea just a touch sweet, so I mix up a simple syrup and stir it in after steeping. Here’s how you make simple syrup:

  1. Combine equal parts water and granulated or cane sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat. 
  2. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

That’s it! You can now pour that mixture into your tea to sweeten to taste. I like my tea lightly sweet, so I use about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of simple syrup per half-gallon batch of tea. If you aren’t into sweetened tea, just skip this step completely.

Wholefully Protip

If you are used to the very sweet tea you’ll find standard in the Southern U.S., you’ll probably want closer to a 3/4 to a full cup of simple syrup per half-gallon batch.

Close-up of iced tea brew with a glass straw in a mason jar mug.

Okay, so tell me how to make sun tea!

Making sun tea couldn’t be easier. Just fill up your jar with water and the tea bags, and cap it off with the lid. Set it in a warm, sunny spot to steep. Then it’s just a matter of waiting!

How long should it steep?

Depending on the heat of the day, the strength of the sun and how strong you like your tea, it could be ready in as little as an hour, but I usually give it more like two or three out in the sunshine. It’s ready when it looks like…tea!

Pour it over ice in a mason jar (seriously, that’s the only proper way to drink sun tea—out of a canning jar) and enjoy! If you have some fresh mint or some lemon slices kicking around, put a few of those in there for a really nice, refreshing summer drink.

Finished sun tea in mason jar glasses with lemon wheels.

How do I store sun tea?

Once my tea is done steeping, I do store it in the fridge. That way, it’s super cold and ready for enjoying any time! I especially recommend it after you’ve spent all day working in the garden. Nothing tastes better.

 
Finished tea over ice in mason jar glasses with handles.

Sun Tea Recipe

Yield: 1 half gallon of tea
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Let the sun do all the work with our how-to for making sun tea! This classic summer drink is refreshing, easy, and reminds us of a time gone by.

Ingredients

  • 6 tea bags (see notes about tea bag size if using tea blend for iced tea)
  • 7 cups water
  • Simple syrup, to taste (see notes for instructions on how to make)
  • Ice
  • Mint leaves and lemon slices, optional

Instructions

  1. Fill a clear sun tea jar or half-gallon mason jar with the water.
  2. Add in the tea bags, and close the lid to the jar, securing the tags on the outside of the jar to hold the tea bags in place.
  3. Place the tea in a very sunny, warm spot for at least an hour, but preferably closer to three hours. The warmth of the day will impact how quickly the tea is done. You’ll know it’s ready when it is dark and rich in color and flavor. Remove the tea bags and discard.
  4. When the tea steeping time is up, sweeten to taste with the simple syrup. Serve over ice with fresh mint leaves and lemon slices, if desired.

Notes

  • If you choose to use specific “iced tea” tea (i.e. Luzianne) you might find that your tea bags are larger than normal-sized tea bags. These are called “family size” tea bags, and are roughly double the size of a regular tea bag. If you are using the family size bags, reduce the number to three bags.
  • To make simple syrup: combine equal parts granulated sugar or cane sugar with water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until dissolved. Add to the tea to sweeten to taste. Simple syrup will stay good in the fridge indefinitely.
  • Caffeine should be regulated if you are drinking this sun tea while on AIP or SCD.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 78Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 9mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 0gSugar: 19gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

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24 Comments

  1. Sun tea has always been a staple for us in Iowa too! And we always made it when visiting my Grandma in the summertime in Kansas. It’s definitely nostalgic having a jar of tea sitting out in the sun on a hot summer day! Love it!!

  2. I grew up on sun tea, too! I make it here in a big mason jar that is 1/2 gallon, too. I make it pretty much the same as you.

    I like to toss in a few berries or sliced peaches when it is done, and I stick it in the fridge. My favourite are raspberries and blackberries. Mmmmm. I have a big jar in the fridge now! 🙂

  3. Totally a midwestern thing 🙂 I grew up in South Dakota, and my mom did this every single summer. I have never done it as an adult, though – I should give it a whirl sometime!

  4. Yes- having grown up in the midwest- Sun Tea was part of our summer. Then as an adult I moved to Washington State… cue the sad face. With the exception of THIS summer- it’s never hot enough or sunny long enough to make sun tea. 🙁 NOTHING beats sun brewed tea… nothing. The pee water that’s served in restaurants out here is horrible (yes I know they wouldn’t be serving sun tea anyway) but it’s absolutely horrible. The tea is brewed so weak! Strong coffee, but weak tea. lol The only place I get decent strong tea is through the McD’s drive-thru! It’s the only place I bother with tea and that’s all I get there. lol If I don’t make a giant pitcher at home on the stove old style.

  5. Born and raised on the East Coast and my mom’s been making sun tea for as long as I can remember. But come to think of it, I can’t really recall any friends’ families having it at their homes so maybe it was something my grandfather taught her (he was from Colorado)… now I’m curious – time to ask my mom some family history questions 🙂

  6. Growing up in northern Minnesota, my mom and several families we knew made sun tea and lived to tell about it. I’m in Atlanta now and I still know a lot of people who make sun tea but most of them are midwestern transplants. So I guess that makes sense. 🙂

  7. This is such a fun post! I love making sun tea. And I definitely agree, sun tea tastes better. It takes like a combination of sunshine and Grandma’s house. I grew up in southern Wisconsin and Grandma always made sun tea, and then so did my parents. I don’t recall anyone else I knew making sun tea though, so maybe it was an us thing rather than a Wisconsin thing. I love your picture of the half-transformed tea. All your photography is gorgeous, and I always liked watching the change from water to tea. 🙂

  8. I’ve wanted to try making sun tea for a while now. I live in the sunny South lands, but I think I’ll just stick with your half cup sugar rec. I never liked that too-sweet tea.

  9. Up here in Michigan, my mom used to make it when I was growing up. Then she stopped, due to “they” saying it’s not good for you. I might have to try it again sometime though.