This recipe for Thai tea is perfect for hot days and sweet tooths.
In Thailand, iced tea isn’t served unsweetened with a lemon wedge. Known as cha yen, it’s more of a caffeinated dessert: a mixture of black tea, sweetened condensed milk and ice. I’m a fan. I mean how can you not have Thai iced tea when in Thailand? I enjoy it so much, I hunted down the recipe so I could have it even when I’m not in Thailand!
The exact origins of Thai tea remain a mystery, but some historians believe it to be a lingering influence from Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, a former prime minister of Thailand with a penchant for Western culture. The tea became a staple of Thai street food culture, sometimes spiced with star anise and orange blossom water, but more often than not, served without any additional flavorings.
As the climate in Thailand tends to be hot and humid, tea is often drunk cold with ice. Sweetened condensed milk was most likely introduced during the Colonial era and grew in popularity since it keeps without refrigeration.
Many Thai restaurants in the U.S. use an instant mix that contains the artificial food coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6 in the mix, also known as sunset yellow. It’s derived from crude oil, which gives it that bright orange hue, and incidentally, it’s the same dye that gives Kraft Mac & Cheese its trademark color. No thank you.
This version has a distinctively floral and spicy flavor, sweetened by a blend of condensed and evaporated milk. The sum of the parts isn’t overly sweet but quite rich, ideal in small doses. It’s one of those recipes that’s surprisingly easy to make, and once you get the basics down, you can adjust the flavors and concentration the way you like. The tea base and spiced syrup can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.
Cheers, or chai yo, as they say in Thailand! –Duke
- Measuring spoons
- Small bowl
Yield: 8 servings
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: Chill for 8 hours to overnight
- 8 cups water
- 10 bags black tea (preferably ceylon)
- 4 star anise pods
- 1 teaspoon decorticated cardamom seeds
- 4 whole cloves
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ cup half & half
- ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring sugar and 1 cup of water and to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Remove the pan from heat and add star anise, cardamom seeds and cloves. Let sit for 20 minutes until flavors are infused.
Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Put in fridge.
Add 10 black tea bags and 7 cups cold water to a large pitcher.
Chill for 8 hours to overnight.
Discard tea bags.
Pour chilled syrup into pitcher.
In a small bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk and half & half. Add ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract. Add to the tea in pitcher.
Serve over ice.