Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sun Tea Debacle

For those of you who are not familiar, sun tea is just like normal tea only the brewing occurs (drum roll) in a pitcher facing direct sunlight over a period of a few hours, instead of in boiling water over a few minutes.

I decided to make some, partly because green tea has tons of health benefits, partly because I was a little tired of drinking plain old water all the time, but mostly because using the sun’s unforgiving heat to brew myself a cool beverage seemed like some sort of indirect victory over nature. So I bought a small box of green tea from Ralph’s for three bucks, and a large glass jar from a nearby Goodwill for about the same. I’ve always liked a fairly strong cup of tea, so I estimated that about three tea bags would do the trick. I found a spot on a table in the sun, and placed a note instructing my roommates to not mess with my tea nearby. Nature would take care of the rest, so I left to run some errands.

I returned to something very strange. My tea was much more viscous than I anticipated, somewhere between water and thick orange juice. A little disappointed in myself for messing up something that seemed so simple, I googled ‘sun tea’ to see where I could have went wrong. But it turns out that my brewing methods were just fine. The problem was bacteria.

You see, direct sunlight will only heat a jug, including my container, to a measly 130 degrees Farenheit. This is warm enough for tea to brew, but not warm enough to kill off Alacligenes Viscolactis, a ropy bacteria that apparently survives on this planet by eating small bits of processed green tea leaves. My sun tea was food poisoning in a jug.

Of course this won’t happen to every batch of sun tea; people do drink it all the time. But bacteria thrive in lukewarm liquids, so drink with caution. After seeing how mine turned out I think I may just stick with the instant variety.

Nature 1, Me 0.
—Sam Leonard