What is Thai Tea?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

One popular beverage served in Thai restaurants is a sweetened iced tea known as Thai tea. This drink has a distinctively floral and spicy flavor, mellowed by the addition of sweetened, condensed milk. Red and yellow food color are often added to give it its unusual orange color. Traditionally, the cream is added at the last minute, only to be mixed by the recipient. Some varieties can be prepared hot, but they are meant as breakfast beverages.

Thai tea usually contains powder made from star anise.
Thai tea usually contains powder made from star anise.

The ingredients in Thai tea vary from maker to maker, but the tea's base is usually made from cut black tea leaves grown primarily in Asia. One common spice added to the strongly brewed tea is star anise powder, which provides a sweet licorice flavor. This powder may be difficult to find in Western markets, but it is usually carried by Asian importers and grocery stores. Star anise is not as bitter as other anise varieties, and also has a pleasant floral undertone.

There are many variations of Thai tea.
There are many variations of Thai tea.

Some Thai tea recipes call for tamarind, while others use orange blossoms to provide a citrusy, floral flavor. Many commercially produced beverages feature graphics of orange blossoms on their containers. The additional red and yellow food coloring also helps to suggest the unusual blend of citrus and floral flavors.

Milk may be added to Thai tea.
Milk may be added to Thai tea.

Thai tea is almost always served pre-sweetened with sugar. The added cream suggests a snow-covered mountain when served, then the entire beverage takes on an orange or red hue as it is mixed by the customer. The sweetness and creaminess helps to balance out the spiciness of many Thai sauces and entrees.

Thai tea is a sweetened iced tea.
Thai tea is a sweetened iced tea.

There are instant versions of Thai tea available for home preparation, along with canned versions of the finished product. Recipes can also be found online and in many Asian-oriented cookbooks.

Some varieties of Thai tea are served hot as a breakfast beverage.
Some varieties of Thai tea are served hot as a breakfast beverage.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


It is Cha (second tone) in Chinese not Chia.


Is it customary to have Thai tea alongside a particular food? Or is it to be had after meals?


I didn't know thai tea has anise. But I've never really tasted any anise while drinking it. I guess they put very little.

I'm disappointed to know that the orange color comes from food coloring however. What did people do before food coloring was available?


I've tried Thai tea concentrate that they sell in the store but I didn't like it. It just doesn't taste the same as fresh Thai tea and those concentrates are so expensive!

Thai tea at restaurants aren't cheap either, but at least it tastes authentic.

I've heard that there is also Thai tea powder available at some Asian grocery stores. Has anyone tried it?


@SnowyWinter-- Actually simply steeping the tea in hot water doesn't work. The tea and spices should be boiled with hot water for a while so that it becomes strong. If you don't do this, the tea will be too light and bland once you add the cream to it.

If anyone has made homemade Indian chai, making homemade Thai tea is similar. The only differences are using cream instead of milk and serving it iced instead of hot. But you use the same process, which is boiling the tea and spices, adding sugar, straining, adding cream and finally ice.


Thai iced tea is so good! It's one of the best iced drinks I've ever had, even better than iced coffee in my opinion.

The only down side is it's high in calories because it has sugar and lots of full-fat cream in it. I guess that's why it tastes so good.


@anon210190-- I am one of those people who did have to acquire a taste for Thai tea. This somewhat surprised me because for the most part, I am a big tea lover. At first I wasn't too crazy about the anise flavoring and the orange color.

Not wanting to waste any tea my plan was to use it up until it was gone. By then, I found that I had acquired a taste for it, and now I keep some on hand most of the time.

This is an unusual tasting tea and I like to offer it to someone who has never tried it before. I get mixed results, but I have found that there are more people who turn their nose up at it than those who like it the first time they taste it.


The first time I tried some Thai tea was at a Thai restaurant. When I was told it actually had condensed milk in it, I didn't know for sure if I would like it or not. I never thought about putting milk in my tea before.

I was pleasantly surprised when they brought this to the table. It isn't something I would want to drink every day, but is nice if you are looking for something different. I will also add that the slightly floral, yet spicy taste does a good job of complementing Thai food.


When ordering the Thai tea specifically, the drink is pronounced like the country: "Tie" tea. "Chai" is Chinese for "tea", and refers to an entirely different type of spiced tea beverage. A Thai tea contains orange blossom or tamarind flavors, along with additional cream or milk. Chai tea can be served hot or cold, and cream is optional. Some Asian restaurants serve both chai and Thai teas, so it pays to speak very clearly when ordering. Some people may find Thai tea to be an acquired taste.


Um...do you say it chi?


@boathugger: I have a recipe for Thai tea that I serve when hosting a brunch. It’s very simple to make and delicious!

You need the following ingredients: ¾ cup black tea leaves, cardamom, star anise, and/or ground tamarind spices, ½ cup sugar, 6 cups boiling water, ½ cup sweetened condensed milk, and 1 cup evaporated milk (you can also use half and half or coconut milk).

Steep your tea leaves and spices for 5 minutes and remove from the water. While the tea is still hot, stir in the sugar and condensed milk. Allow the mixture to cool at room temperature. Fill tall glasses with ice and pour in the tea mixture until ¾ full. Add whatever milk you decided to go with but do not mix. It’s ready to drink!


Can you make Thai tea at home?

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