As far as I can tell, we can thank 60’s Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith for the persistence of the idea that the sun performs some magical transmutation in the creation of sun tea. At least we could thank him, if it wasn’t for the fact that he died last December. As much as he was famous for his role in pro football (he retired from playing before I was born), he is known for being a spokesman for Lipton Tea in the 1980s. And perhaps because I watched him on TV at such an impressionable age, I distinctly remember at least one commercial (though I can’t find it online) where he talked about how sun tea gets “mellowed by the sun.”
For this reason, I — and I think a lot of people — have planted deep in their brain the idea that there is something in the sun’s rays that makes iced tea better. I’ve done extensive research on the topic as well as studying empirical data, and am convinced that the only role of the sun is making the water get slightly warmer than it would normally be, which makes the tea darker and stronger.
So this weekend while it was raining here in Boston, I resorted to my “Rain” Sun Tea recipe which I use when I require great quantities of plain old black tea. Here’s the recipe:
1. Fill up the jar you use for making sun tea about halfway with cold water.
2. Heat up a kettle or pot of water on the stove.
3. When the water is pretty hot, not boiling, pour it into the jar and fill it up the rest of the way.
4. Add a bunch of teabags.
5. Let it sit for a couple hours on the kitchen counter. Or else put it out in the rain to get that special “rain mellowed” taste.
This way of making iced tea has often actually come out better than the normal sun tea method. The water starts out hotter that it will ever get out in the sun, but not as hot as if you made it using boiling water. That makes the tea strong and “tea-y” tasting more than sun tea, but isn’t hot enough to release the tannins, which is what makes it bitter and is I think one of the factors in making it cloudy, though I have yet to figure out the whole cloudy iced tea phenomenon.