Tea is the world’s second most consumed beverage after water and is popular in almost every country on Earth. Made from the leaves of a plant called Camellia sinensis, which is native to East Asia and invented by the Chinese, tea is now grown all around the world.
As we have seen in our previous articles on tea, the process of turning the tea leaves into a tea powder includes boiling down to oxidation. However, the duration of oxidising the leaves is what creates the tea varieties.
Black tea is the most famous and most consumed tea type. It is the darkest, sweetest, and the one used in almost all other blended tea drinks, whether hot or iced.
In India, for instance, masala tea, the country’s national drink, is made by combining tea, milk, and a unique mixture of spices typically known as masala, green cardamom, and ginger make up the base of masala.
While ‘savoury’ tea might sound odd to some, trying a cup of masala tea is quite a worthwhile experience. Thanks to its strong, rich, and spicy flavour that is blended with creaminess and sweetness, masala tea will make your taste buds dance. So, if there is any Indian restaurant nearby, they most probably serve Masala tea, so consider giving it a try.
Another country that has a special spiced tea drink is Thailand. While Thai tea is a mixture of tea, milk, and spices, it is entirely different from its Indian opponent in terms of the types of tea and milk used, as well as the spice mixture, the way tea is served, and even its colour.
Thai tea is distinct for its bright orange colour, rich, creamy, spicy taste, and thick texture. It is made using a special kind of black tea grown and produced in Thailand called Ceylon tea.
Strongly brewed Ceylon tea is used to make Thai tea. It is blended with whole milk and sweetened with either sugar or honey. Then that mixture is, again, combined with condensed milk to provide extra sweetness and spiced with cardamom, tamarind, star anise, and turmeric to give it a distinctive orange colour.
Interestingly, it is said that chefs in the past added turmeric to the tea to turn it orange and fascinate people to try it. Nowadays, many restaurants use artificial colouring to make the tea more fascinatingly orange!
The way Thai tea is served in restaurants and street tea stalls is also very distinct. Usually, the condensed milk is added to the bottom of the cup and topped with the orange blend of the rest of the ingredients. This creates beautiful, eye-striking layers.
Thai Herbal Tea
Thai tea is traditionally made hot and consumed in the morning. Yet, it can also be served cold, usually poured over ice cubes, which makes the perfect treat on a hot summer day. Both teas taste best, especially after a tasty, spicy Thai meal.
The term herbal tea is used in the West to refer to herbs and spices infused in water without having any tea in it. And yet, they are still called tea. Well, Thai tea may also refer to other drinks.
For instance, Thai herbal teas, if made according to the Thai traditional medicine formula, are called Thai tea even though they do not contain any milk! Thai oolong tea (oolong is a type of tea obtained by not fully oxidising the tea leaves) made with oolong tea and blended with ginger and celery is also referred to as just Thai tea.
In other words, you need to make sure you are ordering the traditional orange-coloured Thai tea.
The thing with drinks or dishes native to certain countries is that they use ingredients that may be hard to obtain overseas. This is when alternatives step in to allow as many people as possible in the world to try that drink or dish, but of course, at the expense of being a little different from the original ones.
And Thai tea is flexible enough to account for all types of tea drinkers. So, let’s look into some alternatives to Thai tea ingredients.
Ceylon tea is required to make Thai tea. This is a black tea type grown in both Thailand and Sri Lanka. In fact, Ceylon is also the brand name of the Sri Lankan company that produces this kind of tea. If that is unavailable, Ceylon tea produced by other tea brands will work, too, such as that made by Ahmed Tea.
Thanks to the wide popularity of Thai tea, tea companies now offer quick-to-make, three-in-one Thai tea sachets that contain tea and spices and just need to be brewed in water and mixed with condensed milk.
If none of these options is available, then any good quality black tea will do.
The original Thai tea recipe uses dairy milk. Yet, people can adjust it according to their own preferences. For instance, vegans can still enjoy Thai tea by substituting dairy milk with any other non-dairy type, such as almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, or oat milk.
These milk types will work, too, yet they will not give the tea the same richness and creaminess as dairy milk. But if someone is to choose, it is better to go with coconut milk since it is more flavoured and has a tropical taste.
As for the sweetener, any option, from white sugar or brown sugar to Stevia and honey, will do.
How to Make Thai Tea
Making Thai tea at home can never be easier. The only thing you need to do beforehand is to check your options. See if Ceylon tea is accessible for you or whether or not the spiced Thai tea powder is easier to get from a nearby supermarket or online.
If you end up using regular black tea, you will still need to prepare the spice mix at home. For that, you will need turmeric to give your tea the distinct orange colour, anise, ground cardamom, and cinnamon.
You can still play a little with the spices and exchange some for others. Some people like to add cloves or nutmeg, which give the tea an even stronger taste.
Condensed milk is the only indispensable ingredient in this recipe. And in this recipe, we will use regular black tea and some evaporated milk to add on top. You will also learn how to make hot and cold versions of Thai tea. So, follow along.
In a cooking pot, place four tablespoons of black or Ceylon tea and the spices, then pour two cups of water. Place the pot on medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the tea and spices soak for 10 minutes at maximum. You can make your tea stronger by adding a little extra black tea.
Now let’s move on to preparing the milk.
In a large cup, add three tablespoons of condensed milk, two tablespoons of white sugar, and a pinch of salt to equalise the sweetness. Stir to mix all the ingredients. You can always make your tea more or less sweet by increasing or decreasing the sugar.
Once the tea and spices have been brewed, pour them into the condensed milk through a strainer. Stir well until all the ingredients are well blended. Place your Thai tea in a different cup and add two tablespoons of evaporated milk on top. And your tea is ready.
Making iced Thai tea is no different, except that you pour the tea into a glass filled with ice and add a quarter cup of milk instead of the evaporated milk.
To have a strong tea and spice flavour, you can brew them in cold water overnight or for at least two hours before making the tea. This will work best with iced Thai tea as well.
Thai Tea Frappé
As Thai tea has become especially popular in the West, many new variations have popped up, such as the Thai tea frappé.
Frappé is an iced drink that blends espresso, sugar, milk, and ice. It is usually made with different flavours, of which the most famous is caramel, and topped with whipped cream—Frappuccino is the exact same drink but is a Starbucks trademark.
To make a Thai tea frappé, you will still need to brew the tea and spices in hot water for 10 minutes and mix them with the condensed milk and sugar. However, brewing the tea and spices in cold water would be much better here for at least two hours.
After that, add the Thai tea to a strong blender and blend it with ice cubes a few times until the ice is crushed. Pour your Thai tea frappé into a large glass, then top it with whipped cream.
Thai Tea Latte
Another way to enjoy Thai tea is to make it into a latte.
So basically, a latte is an espresso-based coffee type that uses a coffee-to-steamed milk ratio of 1:3. That means when using one espresso shot, triple that weight of steamed milk is used. Latte is always served topped with a little bit of evaporated milk.
To make a Thai tea latte, the hot brewed tea and spices, which substitute for the coffee, are mixed with condensed milk and steamed milk and finally topped with evaporated milk.
And There You Have it…
This article discussed Thailand’s most famous spiced tea, Thai tea. Though it might sound a little similar to India’s Masala tea, Thai tea is quite distinct for using Ceylon tea, condensed milk, and a unique spice mix which gives it a distinctive bright orange colour.
Then, we looked into some ingredient alternatives that allow the making of Thai tea without being limited to the original ones. After that, we demonstrated the recipes for making hot and iced Thai tea and two western varieties, the Thai tea frappe and Thai tea latte.