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3 Must-Try Southeast Asian Tea Recipes

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Here in the Philippines, tea isn’t as popular as it is in other parts of Southeast Asia. Unless you consider instant iced tea as tea, good tea — or at the very least real loose leaf tea, can mostly be found only at specialty tea shops (mostly milk tea shops and TWG) and high end restaurants. Even at high end restaurants, you’d have to ask what brand of tea they serve. AND you’d be lucky if they have anything other than Lipton!

While coffee enthusiasts can enjoy the regional coffee varieties my country has to offer (including the controversial civet coffee); tea enthusiasts are better off in other parts of Southeast Asia—where tea is very much a part of their daily lives.

Must-try Tea Recipes

As both coffee and tea lover (yes, people like me exist!), I feel lucky to live in a country that loves coffee that’s also accessible to countries that love tea. When I’m in my country, I stick to coffee unless I’m at a specialty shop or at a more expensive restaurant. When I’m wandering around Southeast Asia, I order tea — the kind that’s enjoyed by locals on their day-to-day. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Teh Tarik
Country of Origin: Malaysia
Vegan-Friendly: No

Teh Tarik is made from black tea and condensed milk. Sometimes, evaporated milk is also used, but I personally prefer condensed because it gives the drink a thick texture and foam that can’t be achieved with evaporated milk. This tea can be bought anywhere within Malaysia—from side-street food stalls to more comfortable dining options. It is their national drink after all.

“Teh Tarik” literally means “pulled tea” because it’s “pulled” as it’s poured into a cup. When pouring tea, the general consensus is to keep the spout of the teapot as close to the cup as possible to avoid unnecessary spillage. But in Malaysia, your tea is prepared in a cup and it is then poured back and forth between two cups that are as far as a few feet apart. The result is a smooth mixture, an aromatic smell, and a bubbly frothy drink in its optimum drinking temperature. It definitely looks easy when they’re doing it, but believe me, I tried it at home and I haven’t succeeded in keeping the two vessels at least a foot apart! Here’s the recipe I use:

 

What You’ll Need:

- 1 Cup Water
- Black Loose Leaf Tea
(*Do note that the tea used on teh tarik is typically tea dust. Indeed, many sources online recommend using tea dust when making teh tarik. Still, I find that using whole tea leaves actually elevates its taste, even though it’s no longer as “authentic”.)
- Condensed Milk

Procedure:

Prepare a cup of pure black tea as you normally would. Steep 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea on 200-212 F water for 3-5 minutes.

Strain the leaves.

Add 2 tablespoons of condensed milk.

Pull until frothy!

Cha Yen
Country of Origin: Thailand
Vegan-Friendly: NO

Cha Yen or Thai Iced Tea, as it’s more popularly known worldwide, is as ubiquitous in Thailand as teh tarik is in Malaysia. Similar to teh tarik, the main ingredients of cha yen includes black tea (typically Ceylon or a Thai version of Assam), condensed milk, and evaporated milk. The main difference is that cha yen is more liberal in terms of additional ingredients like star anise, crushed tamarind seed, and other spices. It is also served iced instead of hot like teh tarek. And it is usually orange in color too, but not without the help of artificial food colorings. I honestly don’t know why they put orange food coloring in it in the first place, but I’m guessing the reason is more about aesthetics than about taste. Personally, I prefer doing away with the food coloring. It’s unnecessary anyway.

So because I have no idea what’s actually in Cha Yen, I relied on online sources for the recipe. This one is my favorite from the Wishful Chef: Thai Iced Tea

 

What You’ll Need:

- Water
- Strong black tea
- Cardamom Pods
- Cloves
- Star Anise
- Vanilla Extract
- Sugar
- Condensed Milk/Stevia
- Evaporated Milk/Whole Milk

 

Her recipe was created from scratch, and she has a healthy option (uses Stevia instead of condensed milk and whole milk instead of evaporated milk) and the more traiditonal option (condensed and evaporated milk). I used Bird’s Nest Pu-Erh with this tea, and steeped it for 4 minutes before removing it from the water.

Trà Chanh
Country of Origin: Vietnam
Vegan-Friendly: YES

Ahhh… Vietnam. A haven for both coffee and tea lovers alike! Really, it’s like my own personal version of the promised land! A vibrant country with beautiful seascapes, landscapes, and architectural curiosities that’s also a gateway to other Southeast Asian countries. This is the best place to land if you’re ever planning to travel across Southeast Asia.

But enough about Vietnam as a country, I’m here to talk about their tea. The most popular of which, is the Trà Chanh. Among the three, trà chanh has a flavor closest to the western palate. The ingredients are also easily available in any Western grocery stores. In fact, you probably have the ingredients in your pantry right now!

What You’ll Need:

- 1 Cup Water
- Black Tea
- 1 Lemon
- 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 1 Teaspoon Sugar
- Sprig of Fresh Mint Leaves

 

Here’s the recipe I use:

Prepare a cup of pure black tea as you normally would: Steep 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea on 200-212 F water for 3-5 minutes.

Strain the leaves.

In a separate cup, juice 1 lemon and add 2 teaspoons of vanilla and a teaspoon of sugar (or to taste). Stir well.

Pour this mixture into your tea and stir.

Add ice and a sprig of fresh mint leaves.

Enjoy!

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