Sun-Brewed Darjeeling Iced Tea — Pros and Cons

While visiting in Germany last week, I discovered that folks there don’t drink iced tea. It’s not on restaurant menus, there was no instant ice tea mix or family sized ice tea-bags in grocery stores. Missing a glass of ice tea, my son and I bought tea bags and brewed our own. We randomly selected Darjeeling tea and it was actually the best iced tea I’d had in quite some time. After returning back home to Louisiana, I decided to attempt to make sun-brewed iced tea using Darjeeling tea bags.

There’s something soothing about ice tea when it is made properly. It relaxes and  calms my stomach after eating all my favorite spicy foods. Darjeeling tea is a black tea which is very aromatic and smooth. When brewed properly it yields a thin-bodied, light-colored infusion with a floral aroma.  With the sun brewing method, the bitterness and astringent taste is minimized.  Much better than any commercial bottled ice tea or instant ice tea mix!While iced tea is associated with summertime, I drink iced tea year around and always have a pitcher in the refrigerator. I remember years ago of having a glass of sun tea made by a neighbor–she was so proud of her innovative tea making process. The tea made a lasting impression on me — a perfect glass and it reminded me of the tea my son brewed. So I decided to try the sun brewed method with my Darjeeling tea bags.

Sun-Brewed Tea

Sun tea is an easy way to brew tea. The heat of the sun rays extracts the aromatic flavors from the tea leaves slowly. To make the tea, you need a glass container and bright sunlight. Place tea bags in water in the glass container, loosely cover and let the container set in direct sun from 2 to 4 hours. The flavors of the tea infuse into the water slowly. Then remove the tea bags, add sweetener (if desired) and chill.

Actually aromatic substances in tea leaves are diffused into water no matter the temperature of the water — hot and boiling temperatures just cause the aromatic substances to be extracted quickly. To steep tea at these temperatures, you only need to leave tea bags in the water from 3 to 5 minutes; otherwise bitter tannin is extracted.

How many tea bags do you need? I found that, just for hot tea, you need a tea bag for about 1 cup to 1-1/2 cups of water. For my 6 cup (1-1/2 quart flask) I used 4 tea bags. How long do you brew the tea? I actually made my sun tea in the late afternoon; it brewed for 2 hours. The aroma was fine. When I tried a batch in the mid-day for 3 hours, the tea was too strong and astringent. So, I recommend starting out at 2 hours for brewing. You will need to experiment.

Sun Tea Warning

Like my neighbor, I was pleased with my sun tea. Then I read further on the internet and found one issue of concern. Brewing tea in the sun only raises the temperature of the water to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not hot enough to kill bacteria which may be present in the tea leaves or tap water. Hum. The Center of Diseases Control (CDC) does not report any cases of food poisoning but several years ago they did issue a warning about making sun tea. Since the tea is only brewed at these intermediate temperatures for several hours, I think the possibility of bacterial growth is small. However, this is an issue to be aware of.

To minimize problems, use a clean (preferably sterilized) glass container. I suggest a container such as a mason jar or glass container without a spigot–which cannot easily be cleaned/sanitized. Add sugar after brewing is finished and the tea bags are removed (bacteria likes sugar). Refrigerate immediately. Only brew enough tea to use within 24 to 48 hours. References which discuss the problems with sun tea are given at the end of this post.

I like my sun tea and probably will continue to make it from time to time when I want a special glass of tea. As an alternate method, make iced tea in the traditional manner: bring water to almost boiling, pour over the tea bags; steep for 3 to 5 minutes, then dilute with cold water.

An Note About Darjeeling Tea

My son and I picked Darjeeling tea bags by chance. It made a wonderful glass of brewed ice tea. I decided to read up on this tea variety. I learned that Darjeeling tea, according to the Tea Board of India, can only refer to tea that has been cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in tea gardens in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India. This picturesque, high-altitude Himalayan foothills region of India is home to 87 tea estates. Tea from these estates carries a certification symbol on the box — see the German brand of tea box at the top of the blog — to distinguish it from impostors.

Darjeeling tea is grown from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia Sinensis, rather than the large-leaved Assam (C. sinensisvar. assamica). Darjeeling tea is typically sold as a black tea, however oolong teas (from incomplete oxidation), white and green teas are also marketed. There are four harvesting cycles for Darjeeling tea from March to October: a first flush, second flush, summer flush and autumn flush, which lead to different characteristics in the tea. (The summer flush gives the most prized tea.)

It is important to remember that teas come from the orient and tea production is not without a variety of problems. The Darjeeling district of West Bengal is home to Gorkhas—Nepali-speaking Indians. Low wages, incredibaly poor living conditions and a desire to have their own district have led to labor strikes by the Gorkhas, stopping the harvesting of Darjeeling tea in 2017.

In addition, landslides, drought and insects have lowered the harvest. Many of the tea bushes are over 150 years old (hard to believe) and need replacing. So Darjeeling tea, first introduced to India from China in the 1840’s by British surgeon Dr. Campbell as a plantation trial, may soon become rare.

And it is not easy to find Darjeeling tea in stores. Of all the brands of tea in our local grocery store, only one –Twining’s — carried Darjeeling. Let’s hope that the problems with growing and harvesting this tea can be resolved — it is a soothing and aromatic tea. In the meantime, I’ll cherish my Darjeeling tea.

Sun Brewed Ice Tea

  • Servings: 1-1/2 quart (6 servings)
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 Darjeeling tea bags
  • 1-1/2 quart glass water container
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • ice cubes

Method and Steps:

  1. Place the Darjeeling tea bags in glass container, making sure the tags dangle over the top side edge of the container.
  2. Add 1-1/2 quarts water and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  3. Place in direct sun light for 2 to 4 hours. Remove from sun when the tea turns medium brown.
  4. Remove tea bags, add sugar and stir.
  5. Refrigerate, use within 24 to 48 hours.
  6. When ready to serve, fill tea glass with ice cubes and pour ice tea over.

References

Here are two references which discuss the bacterial problems of sun brewed tea.

https://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/07/the-food-lab-the-truth-about-sun-tea-forget-the-sun-cold-brew-tea-is-better.html

https://livesmartohio.osu.edu/uncategorized/miller-59osu-edu/is-sun-tea-safe/

Here are references about the labor problems and drought in the Darjeeling tea district:

https://modernfarmer.com/2017/07/ethnic-conflict-wipes-prized-darjeeling-tea-harvest/

https://worldteadirectory.com/problems-facing-darjeeling-tea-2017/

https://specialtyteaalliance.org/world-of-tea/darjeeling-tea-crisis-brewing/

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