Real Thai Iced Tea Recipe

Thai iced tea
Janelle/Flickr/Creative Commons
    10 min
Ratings (5)

No powders or syrups in this recipe! Although Thai Iced Tea is often made with a low-grade powder or syrup, in this recipe it gets its flavor from good quality black tea and spices, without any of the added colorants you'll find in most instant Thai Iced Tea mixes (yikes!). Bonus: It's easy to make and customize, plus it's far cheaper to make than it is to buy at restaurants.

This recipe is for the creamy style of Thai Iced Tea that most Thai restaurants in America serve (ชาเย็น, a.k.a. "Cha Yen", "Cha Nom Yen" or "Cha Yen Sai Nom"). Similar to hot Thai Tea, real Thai Iced Tea is a mix of black tea, spices, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. It's a great drink for fans of masala chai and other spiced or milky black teas.

If you don't have every one of the spices in this recipe on hand, that's okay--you can skip one or two. But if you want the full flavor, seek out the somewhat unusual ingredients (such as tamarind powder) at your local Southeast Asian or Indian market.

Although you can use teabags to make Thai Iced Tea at home, I prefer to make my Thai Iced Tea with loose-leaf tea. Loose-leaf tea is better quality than teabags. It's also easier to buy organic and it gives you a richer, more complex flavor. (Besides, if you wanted quick and convenient, you'd just make your Thai Iced Tea from a mix, right?)

What You'll Need

  • 2 tablespoons strong, loose-leaf black tea, such as Ceylon, Assam or Keemun (Alternatively, you can use 4 teabags of strong black tea, or you can make a caffeine-free Thai Iced Tea with 4 tablespoons of rooibos)
  • 1 piece star anise
  • 2 pods cardamom
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1/8 vanilla bean (optional)
  • Ground tamarind, to taste (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
  • Ice cubes or crushed ice
  • 2 teaspoons evaporated milk (or coconut milk or whole milk)
  • Mint leaves for garnish (optional)
  • Note: You can easily make this recipe vegan by replacing the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk with cream of coconut and coconut milk.

How to Make It

  1. Steep the tea and spices in boiling water for five minutes.
  2. Strain the tea.
  3. Stir in the sugar and sweetened condensed milk until both are completely dissolved.
  4. Fill two tall glasses with ice.
  5. Pour the tea over the ice, leaving an inch or so of space at the top for the evaporated milk.
  6. Top up with more ice if needed, and then drizzle with evaporated milk (or coconut milk or whole milk). If using mint leaves for garnish, add them now.
  7. Pop in straws if desired. Serve immediately.

If you like this Cha Yen style of Thai Iced Tea, you might also enjoy Cha Manao Thai Iced Tea, which replaces the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk with lime juice and jasmine essence. I find it to be especially refreshing in summer.

And if you're a coffee drinker, be sure to try Thai Iced Coffee, which has the same spiciness and creaminess, with a coffee base instead of tea.