The following rules have been recommended for those who brew sun tea:
- Use a container that has been scrubbed in warm, soapy water. As an additional precaution, dip the container in a bleach solution made with 1-1/2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
- If the container has a spigot, clean it carefully after each use, preferably by taking it apart. If you can't clean inside the spigot, don't brew sun tea in that vessel — find yourself something else to use.
- Do not leave tea to brew in the sunlight for more than three to four hours.
- Do not prepare more tea than you plan to use that day.
- Refrigerate the drink as soon as it is ready and keep it refrigerated.
- Discard tea if it appears thick or syrupy. Those ropy strands are bacteria.
A safer alternative to "sun tea" is "refrigerator tea." To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags, and refrigerate it at least six hours or overnight. Squeeze and remove the tea bags, and serve the tea over ice.
Or brew tea the more usual way with boiling water. Water needs to be heated to 195° for three to five minutes. Refrigerate and serve over ice.
While using the rays of the sun to make tea is popular in the summer, sun tea — with its combination of warm (but not hot) water and organic matter — is the perfect medium for potentially dangerous bacteria.
Instances have been reported of people’s falling ill after drinking tainted iced tea. In one situation in Washington state, investigators found that the tea had been made with water heated only to 130 degrees F. and left at room temperature for over 24 hours. The Centers for Disease Control and the National Tea Association recommend the following when making tea.
- Brew tea bags at 195 degrees F for three to five minutes.
- Never maintain brewed tea for more than eight hours at room temperature and discard any unused, unrefrigerated tea after eight hours.
- Wash, rinse, and sanitize tea-making equipment regularly.
- Instead of making "sun tea," brew tea overnight in the refrigerator.
- Store tea bags and loose tea in a dark, cool, dry place away from odors and moisture, but not in the refrigerator.