Thai Tea | made from scratch

A super popular Thai drink is Thai tea. This iced Thai tea is a delicious beverage with black tea, spices, vegan sweetened condensed milk, and a sweetener. This iced tea is a perfectly sweet and milky drink. 

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The first time I saw this tea being prepared by a vendor on the street in Thailand, I was mesmerized by the presentation. The iced tea was served in a plastic bag. The tea was poured into a plastic bag with ice cubes; she then tied up one end of the bag and stuck a straw in the plastic bag before placing it in a paper bag with handles.

Traditional Thai iced tea can be a very sweet beverage (almost like dessert). This recipe is an adapted version of the much sweeter vegan versions I have tried. 

Why you will love this tea:

  • It’s the most popular non-alcohol Thai drink.
  • You can adjust the sweetness, so give it a try if you find the restaurant version too sweet.
  • It’s refreshing, earthy, smooth, and sweet.
  • Chances are that if you like masala chai tea or milky black tea, you will also love Thai tea. It’s sweet, milk, and a delicious iced tea.
  • If you are vegan or can’t tolerate dairy, you can still enjoy this iced tea. For this recipe, I’m using homemade vegan condensed milk and an alternative for evaporated milk. 

Bright orange colored Thai tea on a white marble cutting board in a tall glass with ice cubes and a glass straw with white tiles in the background.

ORIGINS OF THAI ICED TEA

According to a few sources, such as this one, Thai tea (ชาเย็น / ชาเย็น, also known as cha yen, cha nom yen, or cha yen sai nom) was a recipe invented by a Thai prime minister. But it’s never been confirmed, so it’s unclear how this recipe came to be. It’s interesting to learn that tea only became more popular in Thailand in the 1980s after tea was imported from China. You could say that the tea culture in Thailand is relatively new.

WHAT IS THAI TEA MADE OF?

The main ingredient of Thai tea is a strongly brewed black tea, commonly assam tea. Thai tea is a strong black tea with milk, spices, and a sweetener. It’s a deliciously sweet and earthy drink.
Thai street vendors add a flavor to the tea leaves, such as vanilla. Spices such as cinnamon, star anise and cardamom are also added to the tea mixture. The tea is often served over ice with a sweetener, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. 

This traditionally strongly brewed tea is a sweet iced tea and a must-try if you love iced drinks.

HOMEMADE THAI ICED TEA

There are many Thai tea mixes available online. While this is a convenient way to make a quick drink, these mixes contain added ingredients such as dyes. The best thing about this recipe is that it’s easy to make at home. You can make it vegan, adjust the sweetness, and you can use spices as you wish. 

A white marble cutting board with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cardamom, milk, syrup, black tea and sweetened condensed milk in small bowls and on a small white plate with the names of the ingredients in bold next to it.

Here is what you will need to make vegan Thai iced tea:

Black tea 
You can buy Thai tea leaves, but this is often a blend with a scent and a coloring to make it orange. Since we are making it from scratch, you will only need the basic ingredient: black tea (loose leaf or bagged). Try to go for Ceylon or assam tea. 

Vanilla
Thai tea leaves are often flavored with vanilla. For this recipe, I have added this separately to the tea before serving it. 

Sweetener
The prominent flavor is sweet and smooth. I love maple syrup for this drink; overall, this recipe is less sweet than traditional Thai tea recipes.

Vegan sweetened condensed milk
Condensed milk based on coconut milk (dairy-free) can be bought online, or you can make it yourself with two ingredients. This will also add sweetness to the tea. 

Evaporated milk (vegan alternative)
I use vegan barista oat milk or coconut milk to replace traditional dairy-based evaporated milk. This makes the tea creamy and smooth without having to add more sugar. Sometimes the evaporated milk is omitted for dairy-free options.

Ice cubes
The tea is usually served cold with lots of ice cubes.  

HOW TO MAKE THAI ICED TEA (step-by-step with photos)

This recipe is simple, requiring 10 ingredients. You will need strongly brewed black tea with spices, ice cubes, a sweetener, vanilla, vegan condensed milk, and vegan evaporated milk. 

A white marble cutting board with a glass measuring cup, a tea filter, a small glass bowl with syrup, a small glass jar with condensed milk, a small pink bowl with milk and a wooden spoon.


Step 1.
Heat water in a saucepan and add the tea and spices to the water. Let it brew for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Step 2.
Filter the tea twice through a double strainer or filter twice with a traditional Thai filter sock. 

Step 3.
Add the brewed and filtered Tea to a mixing glass. Add sweetener, vanilla, and condensed milk and stir to combine the sugar and condensed milk with the tea.

Step 4.
Add ice cubes to a serving glass and pour the Thai tea over the ice cubes. 

A tall glass with ice cubes on a white marble cutting board with a hand pouring in orange Thai tea in the glass with a glass measuring cup.

Step 5. 
Add evaporated milk (vegan barista milk) on top, stir and serve your beautiful Thai tea. 

Bright orange colored Thai tea on a white marble backdrop in a tall glass with ice cubes and a hand pouring in white milk on top from a small white cup.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Is this recipe as good as traditional Thai tea?

It depends on what you are comparing it to. If you compare it to a Thai iced tea made with a low-grade powder or syrup and overly sweetened, I say: yes, this recipe is much better! Unfortunately, ready-made mixes are often used, and a lot of sugar is added, which is a pity. Luckily, it’s easy to make yourself at home with good-quality black tea, spices, and no artificial ingredients. 

Can I serve Thai tea hot?

While most people in Thailand or Thai restaurants serve this tea cold with ice cubes, it can be served hot, also known as Thai milk tea. This tea resembles masala chai, a spiced or milky black tea. 
 
For a warm Thai milk tea, skip the ice cubes and reduce the amount of sugar and condensed milk to your liking. It’s good to remember that for the hot version of Thai tea there are no ice cubes to dilute the tea and its sweetness. Taste it and if it’s too strong or too sweet, add more hot water to dilute the tea. 

Why is Thai tea bright orange?

The famous bright orange color is due to the orange food coloring in the Thai tea mix to make it look more appealing and not like a regular coffee or tea with milk. It doesn’t contribute to the taste of the tea. There is no food coloring in this recipe, so the color will not be super bright and impressive. It may look like a cappuccino. The images for this recipe are edited and might appear more orange than in real life.

Can I make a bigger batch ahead?

To make a bigger batch multiply all the ingredients proportionally. There is an easy multiply option for that in the recipe card below. You can keep a bigger batch in the fridge.

What does Thai tea taste like?

This tea is sweeter than a regular cup of tea because of the sweetener and condensed milk. It’s also a bit creamy and earthy. The ice cubes make it refreshing, giving a lovely contrast with the warming spices such as cinnamon. You should try it!

Bright orange colored Thai tea in a tall glass with ice cubes on a white backdrop and the tip of a small white bowl pouring in milk on top of the tea.

MORE TIPS

While this recipe is simple, I have a few tips to share with you. Is it because I’m excited about this tea? Probably. But I also want you to enjoy the best Thai tea you have ever had.

Filter twice
The traditional Thai tea filter sock is ideal to use. Filter the tea twice or even more using this filter. But you can also use a small (tea) sieve combined with a coffee filter to create the same fine mesh filter. Also, with this double filter method, it’s best to filter the tea twice or more. 

Strongly brewed tea
Don’t be afraid to brew your tea dark and strong.

Too bitter?
There are a few possible reasons for this. One reason could be that it’s a personal taste preference. Your ratio of water and tea could be off for your personal preferences, so it can help to use less tea.

Another reason could be that the tea was brewed for too long. To avoid bitter tea, don’t over-steep it. When brewing the tea, 10-20 minutes is usually enough to make it strong but not bitter. Any brewing time between 30 and 60 min (or more) can make the tea too bitter. 

If you already brewed the tea, dilute it by adding more water, ice cubes, or condensed milk. 

Bright orange colored Thai tea on a white marble backdrop in a tall glass with ice cubes next to star anise, cardamom and cloves and a small jar with milk.

SUBSTITUTIONS

This recipe is easy to make, vegan, and a must-try for tea lovers. It is a delicious, sweet, and smooth iced Thai tea without food coloring. Here are a few possible substitutions.
 
Spices
If you don’t like certain spices or cannot find them in the supermarket, feel free to skip them. However, there are a few spices I would try not to skip, such as star anise, green cardamom, and cinnamon. And vanilla is also a crucial ingredient in creating authentic Thai tea. But you can substitute cloves for nutmeg, for example.

Tea leaves
You can use organic black tea bags or loose-leaf tea. Unless you use very low-grade black tea bags, this should not be a big difference in flavor. 

Black tea with rooibos tea
If you don’t enjoy pure black tea, try using half black tea and half rooibos tea. This will make the tea a bit less strong too.

Sugar
The sweetness in this recipe is important. Traditionally this recipe is sweet, but when you make it at home, you can adjust the sweetness. You can also use other sweeteners instead of maple syrup, such as white sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar, or date syrup. 
 
Thai tea filter
You can use the traditional Thai tea filter or make a double filter with a tea filter and a coffee filter. Be creative with this. If you only have a tea filter and a cheesecloth, try that. For best results, filter twice.

HOW TO ENJOY

Thai tea can be enjoyed cold over ice or hot. You might also find Thai tea with boba pearls or as a latte. 

In Thailand, it is often served after dinner (a good filling Thai meal) as a ”dessert drink”. But it’s also delicious as a refreshing drink in between meals.

Tell me what you think of this recipe by tagging me on Instagram @thegreencreator or by leaving me a comment below. I truly appreciate it!

Bright orange colored Thai tea on a white marble cutting board in a tall glass with ice cubes and a glass straw with white tiles in the background with the title thai tea vegan made from scratch written on top.
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Bright orange colored Thai tea in a tall glass with ice cubes and a glass straw on a white backdrop next to a small wooden spoon, spices and a small jar with milk.

Thai Tea | made from scratch (vegan)

  • Author: Bianca
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Total Time: 10
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: drink/beverage
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: Thai
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

A popular Thai drink is a creamy, luxurious, iced Thai tea made with black tea, spices, natural sweeteners, vanilla, and vegan condensed milk. This homemade version is made from scratch without food coloring and additives. Smooth, sweet, earthy, rich, and refreshing!


Ingredients

Scale

Optional:

  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp tamarind powder

Instructions

  1. To a saucepan, add water and bring to a boil. Add the black tea bags or black tea leaves. Also, add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom. If using, you can also add turmeric and tamarind to the saucepan to brew.
  2. Gently boil for about 10 minutes. Boil for no longer than 30 minutes to avoid the tea becoming too bitter. The tea should be a deep dark colored brown, a bit like strong coffee. If you don’t mind a very dark and bitter tone to your tea, you can brew it for 30-60 minutes. See the FAQ and tips section above for more tips.
  3. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  4. Use a traditional tea sock to filter the tea twice. Alternatively (and just as effective) is a double strainer, such as a coffee filter combined with a tea filter. Filter the tea twice.
  5. To the filtered tea add vegan sweetened condensed milk, maple syrup, vanilla, and stir.
  6. Fill a glass with ice cubes (about halfway) and pour the tea over the ice cubes.
  7. Drizzle two tablespoons of barista oat milk per glass on top of the tea.
  8. Serve immediately cold.

Notes

  • Sweetness
    I like maple syrup for this drink, and overall, this recipe is less sweet than traditional Thai tea recipes. You can adjust the sweetness by using less maple syrup, or you can also use a different sweetener such as white sugar, coconut sugar, brown sugar, or date syrup. Remember that the sweet vegan condensed milk will also add sweetness to the tea.
  • Evaporated milk
    The evaporated milk is optional, but I recommend it for extra creaminess without adding more sugar. For the dairy-free alternative to evaporated milk, I recommend using barista oat milk, coconut milk or any other plant-based barista milk.
  • Dilute
    The more ice cubes you use, the more diluted the taste.
  • Creamier
    To make the tea creamier, add more vegan sweetened condensed milk.
  • Filter
    You will need a filter or fine mesh sieve for this recipe. To make this recipe you don’t need a traditional Thai-style tea filter sock to get the same results. You can use a coffee filter in combination with a a tea filter.
  • Make ahead
    If you want to keep a pitcher in your fridge to make Thai tea in a few seconds, you can by making the tea in advance. 

Keywords: iced tea, drink, tea, beverage, drink, Thai, Thai Tea, 

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