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If you are a coffee fanatic like us, you will sip the black brew wherever and whenever possible. Obviously, the first cup is instilled straight after rolling out of bed, followed by one after another to get you through the day. There is nothing that could replace this essential potion of life, right!? That’s what we thought until our recent trip to the land of smiles.

It was a happy chance right as we arrived in Bangkok. In order to pay for a train ticket from the airport into town, we were looking to buy something to get small change. Right opposite the ticket vending machine, was a booth of ChaTraMue. And there we had it for the first time: Thai Iced Tea. It was love at first sip. And it has lasted until today. Even back home we still prepare and enjoy this delicious summer drink frequently to remind us of the good days when we were strolling along Thailand’s beaches with a cup of ice-cold Thai Iced Tea in our hands.

What Is Thai Iced Tea Made Of?

Our new favorite summer drink, known as Cha Yen (ชาเย็น) in Thai, is a luscious mix of four main ingredients. Thai tea, condensed milk, sugar and ice make for a rather simple composition – but with a heavenly flavor.

Thai tea is a blend of strongly-brewed black tea with a range of spices that give it a distinct flavor. Ceylon or Bai Miang, a local landrace of Assam, are the preferred types. Additions such as star anise, crushed tamarind, orange blossom water or cardamom make for the special aroma. Sounds somewhat familiar? Well, if you are a fan of Masala Chai, listen up.

This brew then gets a dash of sweetened condensed milk and a generous helping of sugar before it is poured over a full glass of crushed ice. Another splash of evaporated milk over the chilled blend and the Thai Iced Tea is ready to make your day.

Now you might wonder what makes this mix so special? What does Thai Iced Tea taste like? Let us tell you that this beverage is so much more than a simple black tea with milk on ice. Starting with its appearance, Thai Iced Tea already lures you in with its distinct orange color. There is nothing like it out there. Not to forget about its special flavor. You can taste a clear hint of the black tea base which coalesces perfectly with the sweetness and creaminess of the condensed milk. Thai Iced Tea simply ticks all the right boxes.

More To Discover

If you aren’t digging such colossal doses of condensed milk or are on a non-dairy diet, there are two delicious alternatives for you. Dark Thai Iced Tea (cha dam yen) is sweetened Thai tea served on ice with no milk content at all. Lime Thai Tea (cha manau) is similar to Dark Thai Iced Tea with an additional dash of lime and sometimes mint.

Still not really convinced to give up your beloved cup of coffee? The try Oliang. The traditional Thai Iced Coffee is a wonderful variation from the classic with special aromas that will get you right into that vacation mood in a smiliar way.

A Perfect Blend Of East And West

Now, if you have had Thai Iced Tea before and love it just as much as we do, don’t let the following disappoint you. After all, it is all about that amazing taste. Here it comes: the drink is actually not very typically Thai. Today’s popular version is an adaptation of original Thai tea with influences of Western elements. Adding ice to beverages does not have a proper history in the tropical country. It is a modern concept to cater to today’s cravings for refreshments in the scorching heat.

Tea, in general, is actually a rather recent concept in the land of smiles. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have as long a tradition in Thailand as it does in many other Asian cultures. In fact, the Chinese were the first to bring tea into the country as late as the 1980s. At that time, the main purpose of the plant was to reduce drug traffic by replacing opium as a cash crop.

While it isn’t entirely resolved how Cha Yen came about, Field Marshall Pibul Songkram’s affinity to Western culture often plays a role in the story. Allegedly, milk and ice – common in many other Occidental drinks – were added to the traditional tea under his influence. But whoever was the true inventor, they created a beverage that turned into a staple of Thai street food culture.

Where To Get Typical Iced Tea In Thailand

Thai Iced Tea can be found on every street corner in the land of smiles. Especially in touristy areas, you are never far away from your next dose. Though, it may not always be as apparent. On menus, you can sometimes find the Thai classic rather under “Thai Milk Tea” where you then have the options of hot, iced, and occasionally Frappé. While street vendors often brew the tea with a traditional Thai filter, we saw many cafés use their professional Espresso machines. A great and practical idea that we took home with us. More to that, further down.

When you cannot seem to find a cart or café selling the delicious sweet beverage around you, you can always rely on 7 Eleven. The chain of kiosks is ubiquitous all over Thailand and you are never far from the next one. But stay away from the ready-mixed liquid that they keep in containers at the back of the stores. The offer may be ridiculously cheap but it is simply sweet while lacking the distinct tea flavor of the original. Instead, ask at the coffee counter next to the cashier where they freshly prepare Thai Iced Tea for you. At 30 Baht it is still very affordable and although they use an instant powder, the taste is really decent and will satisfy your craving for sure.

Depending on the location and type of vendor, Thai Iced Tea usually costs between 30 and 50 Baht . If you get it from street stalls that is. At proper cafés you may easily pay triple the price. Especially if you get some fancy version that may contain extras like Tapioca pearls which you might know from Bubble Tea. Though, if you prefer your sweet treat in a proper glass in a nice surrounding, you might not mind paying a little surcharge. On the street, you will have to expect a plastic cup or even just a plastic bag with a straw. Of course, this has a charm of its own and we actually prefer the more authentic experience. After having tried many different variations, let us tell you that the cheapest were often the best.

How To Make Thai Iced Tea At Home

It may not be very common in Thailand to make iced milk tea at home. But how else would you be able to enjoy the chilled treat once you leave the beautiful country behind? Fortunately, making Thai Iced Tea isn’t that difficult after all – with the right ingredients.

There are basically three ways to prepare Thai Iced Tea. With the base being typical Thai tea, you can either brew a strong black tea and infuse it with the according spices from scratch or start with a pre-made blend that already includes the condiments. Independent of the method you choose, the tea is then mixed with condensed milk, sugar and ice.

For the lazybones among you, the third option comes as an instant powder that already contains all the necessary ingredients and only needs to be dissolved in water and poured over ice. Surprisingly, the instant version makes for a very delicious drink as well and is especially practical if you need a quick fix without the effort.

Best local thai tea brand: ChaTraMue or Number One Hand BrandSo, we have travelled through Thailand and sacrificed ourselves by drinking gallons of the luscious beverage in order to present our ultimately favorite recipe. We have sampled ALL the different alternatives. Having finally found the best flavor, we spared no effort to perfectly resemble it. For the result, check out our heavenly Thai Iced Tea recipe below.

A little side note to our Thai tea mix of choice: we bought several packs of our favorite brand ChaTraMue (Number One Hand Brand) to bridge a couple months after our trip. It is the most popular local brand in Thailand. Their blend incorporates a light amount of crushed spices in addition to tea leaves. ChaTraMue is a chain that sells all kinds of hot and cold tea beverages. Along with Iced Thai Tea, their offering ranges from Oolong to Plum Red Tea, Matcha or Honey Jiaogulan Tea, among many others. The special creations sometimes come with milk or as frappés. They have small booths all over Thailand, so make sure to stop by when you are there.

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Is Thai Iced Tea Good For You?

We wish, right!? That would definitely help justify the litres of the orange-y brew we want to drink every day. In fact, the caffeine and antioxidants in Thai tea – like in any black tea – do boost your metabolism. This means that you would, for instance, burn calories more easily when hitting the gym. Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends already.

While the total calories in Thai Iced Tea depend on the recipe, they can easily exceed 250 calories per glass. After all, the original flavor requires a generous amount of refined sugar. On top, the evaporated milk is sweetend as well and boasts a rather high fat content. Of course, you can reduce both according to your liking. But let’s be honest: it will just not be the real deal. So, if you are on a strict diet, Thai Iced Tea might be a good treat for a cheat day.

Why Is Thai Iced Tea Orange?

The beautiful orange color is one of the drink’s most distinct features. However, you don’t get it from simply mixing conventional black tea with milk. But what is the special ingredient if the tea leaves themselves aren’t anything out of the ordinary? I have to admit that we were a little disappointed at first when we found out. Get ready: it is red and yellow food coloring that gets added to the Thai tea mix. Blending the initially dark red brew with milk finally turns the color into a creamy orange.

So, the looks are rather a Marketing stunt than anything else. But if that helps us recognize the drink from afar and leads us to our next cup of Thai Iced Tea, we are definitely cool with it.



Images by SunnySideCircus