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June 26, 2020 8 min read

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A Summer Brewing Guide for Himalayan White Tea

 

 

Personally, summer has always meant three things: family cookouts, lawn games, and copious amounts of sun tea. In fact, some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mother brewing a batch of tea on the porch and enjoying the chilled beverage on warm summer nights. Back then my family didn’t keep any special tea in the house. We used tea bags filled with CTC black tea and added fresh lemon as most Americans do. Since then, my sun tea game has evolved considerably. My mother and I still enjoy each other’s company over a tall glass of sun tea, though we have swapped out tea bags for Nepalese white tea.

Since I grew up on sun tea, I was under the impression that everyone has tried it or is at least familiar with the term. Speaking with friends, I’ve found this is not the case. For many it’s a foreign concept. If you’re not familiar, sun tea is the process of brewing tea in a glass jar and using the sun to slowly heat the water and infuse the tea leaves at a low temperature over the course of several hours. It’s a similar concept to cold brew, though the results are a bit different. Both brewing methods involve a low extraction temperature, which allows the fruity notes of the tea to shine through. In this post, we’ll compare the two processes in detail and review the results. Making sun tea is not difficult, though it’s not as simple as it sounds. There is an art to brewing a batch, as the environmental conditions are ever changing.

You can use any type of tea for both sun tea or cold brew. I’ve had good success with Himalayan black teas, spring green teas, and raw pu’er - to name a few. My favorite tea for a summer cold brew is different than my favorite tea to brew in the sun. For cold brew, I like to use Wanderlust, an early spring (pre-qingming) green tea from Yunnan, China. For sun tea, a personal favorite is Daydreamer – a second flush white tea from Ilam, Nepal. Daydreamer is a bit more oxidized than your typical white tea, so it brews up a bit darker and is more robust. Daydreamer has notes of apricot, peach and honey, which I believe work really well for sun tea.

We’ll dive into the process of making sun tea and cold brew, but first I would be remiss if I did not say a few words about the masterful tea maker behind Daydreamer. This is my favorite white tea for brewing sun tea because of the fruity notes that are present in the leaf, though I have more personal reasons for loving this tea. I had the pleasure of meeting the tea maker, Mr. Rai, when I spent the day at his tea garden and factory located in Ilam, Nepal. He is soft spoken, gentle mannered, and has a keen attention to detail – the evidence of which can be found in the cup.

Mr. Rai’s tea garden is located within a few hours’ drive of Darjeeling, India, which means the terroir of his garden is similar to that of a Darjeeling tea garden. That’s about where the similarities end. Not only does he make a handful of teas that deviate in style from orthodox Darjeeling teas, his operation also looks quite different. Unlike the large and vertically integrated Darjeeling estates, Mr. Rai’s estate is comparatively quite small and is largely a bought-leaf operation, meaning he relies on tea farmers located nearby his factory to supply him with green leaf. Speaking generally, bought-leaf operations help to ensure farmers are paid a fair price for their green leaf, as they have the option to sell to another local factory if they so choose. I’ll save the long-form explanation on bought-leaf vs. vertically integrated estates for a separate post; however, to categorize Mr. Rai’s estate as “another Darjeeling tea estate” would be a mistake.

Mr. Rai manages a 12-acre garden and oversees a small factory that employs a handful of people responsible for processing the tea. His garden supplies about half the green leaf, while the other half is bought from a group of approximately 40 smallholder farmers. His tea is organic in practice, though he does not hold a current organic certificate. He used to have the certification, but it became too costly for his small operation. Mr. Rai works closely with the farmers that supply him with green leaf, helping them to find organic solutions to pest problems they may be experiencing. In addition to Daydreamer, He is also the mastermind behind White Orchard, a phenomenal silver tips with peach notes and a silky texture.

With that, I’ll return to our main feature.

 

How to Brew Himalayan White Sun Tea

sun tea: DaydreamerWhile the process of making tea in the sun vs. cold brew appear very similar (both are infused at low temperatures for a long period of time), there are some key differences to note. First, with sun tea the water temperature starts off cold and is slowly heated, whereas a true cold brew process uses cold water the entire time. Second is the length of the infusion. Daydreamer, for example, requires a 3-hour infusion on a hot, sunny day. A cold infusion of the same tea requires about 12 hours. Third, sun tea requires a lower tea-to-water ratio compared to cold brew. Lastly, per its namesake, sun tea is brewed in the sun.

Each of these four factors has an impact on the end result. For example, infusing 10 grams of tea in a half gallon of water in the sun for 3 hours does not yield the same result as infusing the same amount of tea in 70°F water left to chill in the fridge for 6, 12, or 18 hours. The reason for this is due to the many chemical compounds found in tea. Certain compounds in tea such as catechins, a polyphenol more commonly known as “tannins”, are easily extracted from the leaves using high water temperatures. Tannins are responsible for the astringent character in tea. Fewer tannins are extracted from the leaf when infused at lower temperatures, which is why cold brew tea is less astringent. Infusing tea leaves at colder temperatures also reduces the amount of caffeine in the tea liquor (the beverage). Interestingly enough, one study found that infusing tea at cold vs. hot temperatures produced no significant  difference in the level of “antioxidant activity” present in the tea liquor,  except  in the case of white tea where a cold infusion resulted in significantly higher levels of antioxidant activity compared to a hot infusion. Health benefits aside, speaking to my countless experiments, I have been able to conclude with statistical significance that both sun tea and cold brew are delicious.

To make a refreshing sun tea using Daydreamer, one of our Himalayan white teas, I suggest using 9-10 grams of tea per half-gallon of water (about 4 tablespoons of tea). For hot days with full sun (above 80°F), start with cool filtered water (about 70°F) and infuse in the mid-day sun for 3 hours. Infusing the leaves beyond 3 hours may result in a more astringent brew. Strain the leaves and chill in the fridge for several hours before consuming. In terms of water, I recommend using filtered water if your tap water is chlorinated or if you have hard water. Moderate levels of levels of chlorine and calcium will adversely influence the taste.

 

Hourly temperature readings for a half-gallon jar of sun tea.

 

As shown in the chart above, the water did not heat evenly throughout the glass jar. Temperature readings were taken using the top inch of water in the jar, at both the center and edge of the jar. During the infusion most all the leaves stayed at the surface, though a smaller portion settled on the bottom. By hour two the water temperature on the surface was 10 degrees higher around the parameter of the jar compared to the center.  

An alternative to sun tea is a cold infusion. For Daydreamer, I found cold infusions required a higher tea-to-water ratio. Whereas 9 grams was used per half-gallon of water for sun tea, I recommend using 12-15 grams for cold brew and infusing for about 12 hours. The initial water temperature should be about room temperature (68-70°F). The result was an enjoyable tea with little astringency.

Personally, I enjoyed the sun tea over the cold brew. The reason being that I found the sun tea had the right balance between sweet and fruity, and slightly astringent. The sun tea had more body, higher complexity, and produced a more desirable mouth-feel compared to the cold brew. I tried numerous times to recreate the flavor profile and mouth-feel of the sun tea through cold infusions, but was unsatisfied with the results. Lengthening the infusion time from 6 hours to 12 hours got me closer the desired profile, though it lacked the body and mouth-feel I was after. An 18-hour infusion time made for a stronger tea, though perhaps a bit too astringent. At this point, I began taking temperature readings every hour and comparing the data with the resulting flavor profile.

I began with infusing the leaves at a starting water temperature of 110°F and placed the tea directly in the fridge for 3 hours. I took temperature readings every hour and found the rate at which the water cooled in the fridge was roughly the same as the rate at which the tea warmed in the sun. After straining the leaves, I allowed the tea to chill for another couple hours before sampling.
 

Hourly temperature readings for a half-gallon jar of cold brew.
 
The results were very promising. The body and mouth-feel was much closer to the sun tea. When adding ice, I found this cold brew to be a little on the weak side. I tried another infusion, this time using 12 grams of tea. I accidentally let the tea infuse for 3.5 hours instead of 3.0 and was, though I was quite satisfied with the results. Once again, I continued to chill the tea after straining the leaves. I found this particular cold brew tastes best when chilled below 50°F. At last, I had found the cold brew recipe that I was after.

 

Tea

Daydreamer

Daydreamer

Wanderlust

Type

Nepalese white

Nepalese white

Chinese green

Brew Method

Sun Tea

Cold Brew

Cold Brew

Grams (TBSP)

9 g (3 TBSP)

12 g (4 TBSP)

8 grams

Water Volume

Half-gallon (1900 ml)

Half-gallon (1900 ml)

Half-gallon (1900 ml)

Starting Temp.

70°F (20°C)

110°F (44°C)

100°F (38°C)

Infusion Time (Hrs.)

3 hrs

3.5 hrs

12 hrs

 

Sun Tea Best Practices

While researching sun tea, I came across a number of articles that provided recipes along with a disclaimer about the potential risks of brewing tea at low temperatures in the sun. It’s important to recognize that infusing tea in the sun heats the water, though the water does not reach a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. It’s also good to note that caffeine, which is naturally occurring in tea, helps to prevent bacteria growth. For this reason, it is best to use tea leaves and not herbal tea when making sun tea. All of the articles I found noted that the risk of getting sick from sun tea is low and that there are no reported cases of people becoming sick as a result of consuming sun tea. Foods such as sushi, raw shellfish, and rare meat pose a higher food safety risk compared to sun tea. That said, there are a few best practices for making sun tea:
  1. Use potable water. This should go without saying.
  2. Use a clean glass jar that has been washed out with soap and water.
  3. Do not use caffeine-free herbal tea. Use tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis).
  4. Keep the infusion time to 3 hours and then strain the leaves. Do not leave the tea sitting in the sun all day.
  5. Refrigerate the tea and consume within 24-48 hours.

 



I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it informative. I’m off to make another batch of sun tea. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below.
 
Until next time,
Joe


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