Thai tea is a Thai drink (cha yen in Thai) traditionally made from strong black tea, milk, and sugar. However, Thai chefs that migrated to Western countries began to modify the recipe to appeal to different palates. These innovators added orange food coloring and a lot more sugar so that it would resemble popular coffee drinks found here. This version of Thai tea is what you typically see today.
Thai Tea in Thailand
People in Thailand typically do not make Thai tea at home. Similar to the ceremonial visit to your favorite coffee shop before work, people in Thailand love to stop by their favorite vendor or cafe first thing in the morning for hot or cold Thai tea before starting their day.
Originally, street vendors used strong black tea with various spices. Due to the large demand, vendors switched to a ready-to-brew mix of tea leaves and spices. When making Thai tea, street vendors place the tea blend in a pot lined with pantyhose, which act as a filter. The tea is brewed for several minutes.
When the tea is ready, it’s strained, and condensed milk and crushed ice are added. The finished Thai tea may be poured in a plastic cup with a domed lid and a straw. Alternatively, the tea is poured in a small plastic bag that is tied tightly to close with a straw puncturing the top.
Thai Tea Mix Recommendations
In this recipe I have decided to forgo the mixing of different varieties of tea leaves and instead offer this Thai tea recipe using only one type of strong tea. However, it is perfectly fine to use Thai tea mixes such as Taste Nirvana, Number One, One Hand Brand and Pantai. These brands have the tea leaves and spices included in the mix. You will still need to brew and add condensed milk and milk. These brands of tea mixes can be found at many Asian specialty stores or on Amazon.
If you decide to brew Thai tea by adding your own spices, I recommend using Ceylon tea, which you can find at many Asian specialty stores or on Amazon. I love the natural golden hue that Ceylon tea offers when brewed. If you do not have Ceylon tea, you can use English breakfast or Darjeeling tea.
Instead of adding the orange food coloring used in many Thai tea mixes, I recommend using a little turmeric powder to further enhance the iconic orange color associated with Thai tea. Turmeric does not overpower the flavor of the tea, while still providing a hint of orange hue. I also add anise, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and cardamom to give Thai tea a robust and complex flavor. A mixture of sweetened condensed milk and fresh milk is poured on top to complete the experience.
Loose Leaf Vs. Bagged Tea
Tea bags are made up of small pieces of low grade tea leaves. Loose leaf teas are carefully harvested whole tea leaves. Loose leaf teas tend to be more complex and have more depth of flavor than bagged tea leaves. On the other hand, bagged tea is more accessible and available.
I personally use bagged teas more often than loose leaf tea. Nonetheless, because exceptional Thai tea is known for its complex and rich flavor, I used loose leaf tea for this recipe. If you cannot find loose leaf tea, feel free to substitute with bagged tea. The leaves in one bag of bagged tea is equivalent to one teaspoon of loose leaf tea.
Large Batches and Storage
It’s very easy to make large batches of this recipe by multiplying the amount of ingredients on the number of serving desired. When making large batches, ensure that the Thai tea is filtered, with no remnants of tea or spices. The flavor can change throughout the week if this step is skipped. When you are ready to store your Thai tea, make sure to wait to add condensed milk or milk until you serve the tea.
You can refrigerate brewed Thai tea (without milk) in a pitcher or large container for up to 7 days. When you want to drink your Thai tea, add ice, condensed milk, and fresh milk floating on top.
More Tea Recipes
- How to Make Sun Tea
- Homemade Masala Chai
- Iced Chai Latte
- Arnold Palmer
- Agua de Jamaica
Brew the tea:
In a medium saucepan, add 4 cups of water, plus the tea leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamom, vanilla bean and scraped-out seeds, turmeric, and sugar.
Place the pan on the stove, stir to combine, turn the heat to medium-high, and cover. You can use a glass lid or peek under the lid carefully to see when the tea boils. Once you see rapid bubbles on the edges of the tea, turn off the heat. Allow the tea to brew with the lid on for 3 minutes. If you want a stronger tea, brew for a total of 5 minutes.
Strain and cool the tea:
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Using a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, strain the tea into a heat-proof pitcher or quart mason jar. Try to make sure there are not any small pieces of spices in the strained tea. Leave on the counter until room temperature, then place tea in the fridge.
Make the milk mix:
Mix the condensed milk and milk in a small bowl just until combined.
Pour over ice, add the milk mix, and serve:
When the tea is cooled, place lots of ice in a glass. Pour the cooled tea over the ice. Then top off the tea with the milk mixture to taste.
When you store your brewed Thai tea, make sure you do not add the milk mixture until you are ready to serve. Place Thai tea (without any milk) in a pitcher or large container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 7 days. Refrigerate the milk mix in a different container. When you want to drink your Thai tea, add ice, Thai tea, condensed milk and milk floating on top.
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