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.
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.
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.
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.
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.