Everywhere I go, people are always asking me: “Don, how can I ensure that my sun tea doesn’t get skunked?” I know exactly what you mean. That bitter smell, a little moldy almost, when you open up a jar with water and a bunch of tea bags that you’ve left outside all afternoon. Or else, that same jar if you put it in the fridge overnight. “Skunked.” That’s the only way to describe it. If it’s happened to you, you know what I’m talking about.
There have been stories about the hidden dangers of sun tea. So for sake of the Don Seiffert WordPress Legal Department, here’s a warning: If you’re really old, or really young, or really sick or in some other way closer to death than the rest of us, don’t make sun tea. It might kill you.
For the rest of us, who are willing to risk life and health for the enormous ease sun tea offers for making huge amounts of tea, it’s not too hard to do it right. I struggled for years, adding sugar, lemon or mint before, and then after, putting the jar out in the sun. No doubt, waiting until after it’s brewed to add sugar or lemon cuts down on the frequency of skunked tea. But then there were times when I used just plain Lipton tea bags and cold water, nothing else, and still it happened. That horrible, deadly smell.
Finally, after years of trial and error, I hit on it. Wash the jar with soap and water in between. A lot of times when I was feeling lazy, I used to figure that tea is basically water, so there’s no need to wash the jar. I’d rinse it out and start the next batch, or sometimes, I wouldn’t even do that. If there’s an inch of tea left on the bottom, why not just fill the rest up with cold water, throw in the tea bags, and give yourself a head start on the brewing process?
Here’s why: The warm water and moist air in the sun tea jar is fertile breeding ground for bacteria. You can’t get rid of all of it, but too much of it causes the skunky smell and taste (and, for those who or old/young/sick, ups the likelihood you’ll die if you drink it). By getting rid of as much bacteria as possible before making sun tea (and filling it up as close to the top of the jar as possible to leave little room for bacteria-laden air), you can cut way down on the skunk factor. Also, when you’re ready to take it in, put it right in the fridge, or better yet, pour it into something else (i.e., a pitcher) and then put it in the fridge.