Happy Independence Day, America!
One of my favorite treats for summertime (and 4th of July barbeques, naturally) is suntea. The gentle warmth of the sunlight coaxes the flavor from even the cheapest Lipton's knock-off, without drawing out the bitter taste that boiling water stews from the leaves. Plus, there's something so relaxing about setting the jar of cool water and tea bags out, finding just the right sunny spot, then going about my business for an hour or two. With hot-brewed iced tea, I always worry that the container is going to either melt or break when I'm pouring hot tea over the ice, and it takes so long to cool to drinking temperature. Somehow, I associate the act of boiling the water for the tea with being in a hurry, and then the hurry is frustrated by the cooling time. Suntea never gets hot enough to threaten the pitcher or jar, and will often cool enough for drinking just in from the sun by pouring it over ice in your glass.
So, why am I talking about sun tea in a craft blog? Well, food can certainly be craft or art, completely aside from decorating or garnishing. Any foodie will tell you that. It's how the food tastes that really makes it art. Sculpting mashed potatoes into a bust of Beethoven would certainly be impressive, but if the potatoes taste like paste when they're served up, the dish is really a "bust."
While simple black tea makes a perfectly satisfying iced drink, I like to enhance the flavor by including a few bags of a flavored tea blend in the jar. Most often I choose Earl Grey, which is my favorite flavor of tea for drinking hot in cooler weather, but sometimes I fancy mint instead. (I also sun brew mint alone from time to time. Mint and black tea together are a wonderful hot drink, as well.) There are both peach and pear flavored herbal teas that are lovely added to a black suntea. If you like the flavors of flowers (some don't), try adding rose petals, lavender buds, or jasmine flowers. Just make certain the flowers are food grade, or from a garden that doesn't use chemical pesticides. Muslin bags for loose teas are available at most whole foods stores with the bulk teas, so you don't have to strain your tea to remove the flowers. If your black tea is loose as well, you can use a muslin spice bag, which is made to hold herbs and spices for flavoring a clear stock. The flowers or loose flavored tea and the black tea can go in the same bag.
My basic "recipe" for suntea is this:
1 gallon of drinking water (some folks get good water from the kitchen tap, some don't.)
8-10 bags of black tea (or 8-10 teaspoons of loose black tea in a muslin spice bag)
2-4 bags of flavored tea (or 2-4 teaspoons of loose flavored tea in a muslin bag)
Your jar or pitcher can be glass or plastic, and should be clear or translucent. A decorative print on the container is fine, as long as it still lets the sunlight through.
Fill the container up with the drinking water, and add the bag(s) of tea. If the cover for the container is screw-on (like a jar lid), try draping any strings from the bags over the edge of the container opening, making sure that the bags can still hang down into the water deep enough to submerge them. You should still be able to screw the lid on, and this will keep you from having to fish the sodden bags (and paper tags!) from the bottom of the container later.
Find a spot outside (or in a window sill) that will receive bright sunlight for at least a couple hours, and set your container there. Find something else to do for those couple hours until the tea is nicely colored. Remove the teabags and serve over ice.
I don't sweeten my tea in the jar anymore because I want others to be able to drink the tea with the sweetener of their choice, or with no sweetener at all if they prefer. Most manufactured stevia-based or artificial sweeteners dissolve pretty readily in a cold drink with just a couple stirs. Good old-fashioned sugar, on the other hand, likes to settle in a gritty, too-sweet pile on the bottom of the glass.
If natural sweetness is your preference, make a simple syrup. Combine a cup of granulated sugar and a cup of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to just over a simmer, and stir for a minute until the sugar all dissolves. Take the syrup off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. You can either stir this directly into your jar of tea to sweeten the whole gallon, or keep it in a syrup pitcher for folks to sweeten their own glasses of tea.
Ahhhh. Tea. :)