Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: "Sun tea" (tea brewed by being left to steep in sunlight) can harbor dangerous bacteria.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2006]
Origins: As the weather warms up, people look for ways to cool off. One of the methods habitually resorted to is making alterations in their choices of beverage, with most folks tending to reduce their
Sales of iced tea and sodas can be counted upon to increase in the summer. So too does interest in "sun tea" grow as the mercury rises, prompting folks to look for less costly hot weather replacements for their more usual coffee and tea. Sodas and juices are expensive, after all, and there is only so much water one can drink without becoming heartily sick of it. At first glance, sun tea appears a viable and healthful alternative, harnessing as it does the energy of the sun to produce a zero-calorie drink one would presume contains all the benefits of tea brewed in the more usual fashion.
Yet therein lies the rub. Tea made by placing loose or bagged tea leaves in glass jars of water which are then left in direct sunlight can harbor bacteria that can make you ill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, using the sun's rays to make tea can facilitate the growth of bacteria. Tea steeped in a jar on your porch won't get any hotter than
Alcaligenes viscolactis, a bacteria commonly found in water, consequently turns up in sun tea. While the caffeine in black tea will help prevent that microbe from flourishing for a few hours, its effects won't last beyond that. Herbal teas are an even worse bet for brewing in sunlight because they tend to lack caffeine, which means even that barrier to Alcaligenes viscolactis turning your summertime drink into its own breeding ground is missing.
Better to brew tea the more usual way with boiling water than to risk giving up any of your summer to illness caused by what you drank.
The following rules have been recommended for those who brew sun tea:
Barbara "stripped teas" Mikkelson
Last updated: 10 June 2006
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