What is Milk Tea?

From a Splash to Entire Recipes, Milk Tea's a Hit Worldwide

An image of Creamy Milk Tea, a.k.a.
A sort of caricature of British-style milk tea, Hong Kong Milk Tea is made with evaporated milk or sweetened, condensed milk rather than regular milk. Lindsey Goodwin

Do you enjoy a little milk in your tea? Then you're one of the many tea drinkers throughout the world that love to sip on a 'milk tea.' This is a perfect way to mellow and smooth out the flavors of tea, particularly some of the bitter notes found in black tea.

Milk tea can take on many forms. It can be as simple as a splash of milk in your Assam or English Breakfast tea, or it can be a complex recipe like masala chai or bubble tea.

The milk teas of the world are fun to explore, so let's get started.

What is Milk Tea?

Milk tea is, quite simply, tea with milk added. This creates a smoother flavor and slightly sweetens the tea. It's a popular way to serve tea in many parts of the world and it is an easy way to dress up your average cup of tea.

There are many regions in the world where milk tea is the default type of tea. This is most apparent in certain parts of India where 'tea' usually refers to milk tea. To ask for tea without milk, request a 'black tea' or simply 'tea without.' 

Milk tea is also commonly consumed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong.

There are many variations on milk tea, including:

  • Cream Tea - Prepared with heavy cream, this tea is commonly found in East Friesland, Germany. It is often called 'East Friesian Tea.'
  • Hong Kong Milk Tea - Also called Pantyhose Milk Tea, this is the most popular version of tea prepared with evaporated milk.
  • Tea Latte - A very popular tea drink found in North America, parts of Europe, and beyond.
  • Cow, Buffalo, or Yak Milk - Made by boiling tea with the animal's milk. This drink is found in many parts of India and a few surrounding countries.

Why Add Milk to Your Tea?

Milk tea is usually prepared with a strong black tea.

The addition of milk results in a less astringent, less bitter flavor. Not only does milk cover up the flavor of the tea, it also binds to some of the bitter chemical compounds found in tea.

  • Some of these bitter compounds are very beneficial to health. Because of this, if you're drinking tea for health reasons, tea without milk is a better choice.
  • Some teas, such as Assam teas from India, are almost always served with milk to reduce the bitterness. Assam milk tea also makes a regular appearance British afternoon teas.
  • Many milk teas do quite well with a dairy substitute. If you like, use soy, almond, or rice milk. Coconut milk is not quite as versatile, but you can certainly develop a taste for it with the right tea.

How Much Milk Should You Add?

There is really no set guidelines or suggestions about how much milk you should add to any particular tea. It depends, more than anything, on your personal taste and the type of tea you brew. However, most tea should not require a lot of milk.

In general, begin with a splash or a tablespoon of milk.

Stir this in and taste your tea. If needed, add another tablespoon until it is to your taste.

Some milk tea recipes do use quite a bit of milk. For instance, a homemade masala chai requires equal parts of milk and water.

While how much milk is a personal preference, there are recommendations for teas that are best with milk.

Popular Milk Tea Recipes

Milk tea goes beyond simply adding a splash of milk to a cup of tea. There are many milk tea recipes found around the world.