Food Friday: Thai Iced Tea

Food Friday: Thai Iced Tea

Posted on 09. Oct, 2009 by in food, Thailand

Since my mom is such a fan of Thai iced tea (“cha yen” in Thai) and has been figuring out how to make it at home, I asked her to share what she’s learned so that you, too can have a thorough understanding of this tasty drink.


Guest Blogger: Julie Gridley

Are you familiar with Thai iced tea? If you’ve eaten at a Thai restaurant, it’s the creamy, sweet, tea-based beverage – often an orangey color. I had my first taste at our favorite Thai restaurant in Ft. Wayne when Lisa Ruggles offered me a sip. My reaction was something like “Wow, that’s kind of strange . . . . but I think I’d like another sip!” It had an interesting taste that I couldn’t quite identify. It was obviously a mix of flavors, but they blended together so well that it was hard to pick out the individual components. So I started asking waitresses at Thai restaurants what gives Thai iced tea its flavor. The usual response was, “It’s Thai tea.” ” OK, so what’s in Thai tea?” They didn’t seem to know – or perhaps they just didn’t know the English words for the ingredients. Jason and April found the same answer in Thailand! So I have been forced to pursue my own Internet research on the subject, and I’ve learned a few things about this tasty drink in the process.

I believe the reason it is such a challenge to figure out what goes into Thai tea is because the powdered concentrates are convenient and inexpensive and so are widely used. It is kind of like hot cocoa powder in the States – you can make your own, but most people don’t bother because it’s fast and cheap to use a ready-made mix. However, I did find one recipe for how to make the mix from scratch.

The bottom line is, the unique flavor of Thai tea comes from a mixture of black tea, star anise, vanilla, and cinnamon – sometimes including cloves, cardamom or ground tamarind.

The tea component is simply a strong black tea, which often has an orange-red color from food coloring.

Making the iced tea always involves sweetened condensed milk or another dairy component. I wanted to highlight this fact because it is why I find Thai iced tea to be the perfect thing to order when you’re being adventurous and trying a spicy dish. As many researchers have discovered, milk is the best thing to cool your tongue when you eat spicy food. So, if you’re unsure of the spice level of a dish you want to order at a Thai restaurant, use that as an excuse to splurge on a glass of delicious Thai iced tea – and think of April and Jason when you do!

Julie Gridley

You can get cha yen at street vendors and 7Elevens all over the place.  However, my personal favorite is the version made by Our Home Coffee Shop.  It isn’t quite as sweet as others and has a bit of a bitter note to it.

How to Make Thai Iced Tea (Cha Yen):

1.  Start with 3 Teaspoons of dry Thai tea mix. I think finding an Asian grocery that carries it would be easier than making it from scratch.


2.  Measure out 1/4 cup (2 oz.) of sweetened condensed milk.


3. Run 1/2 cup (4 oz) hot water through the tea. Use an espresso machine or some sort of fine sieve or cheesecloth.


4. Add 1 Tablespoon evaporated milk.


5. Stir until well mixed.


6. Pour over a glass full of crushed ice. This, as well as other Thai drinks, is meant to be watered down by the ice melting. When it’s so hot all the time, you have to plan for the ice to melt quickly!


7.  Sip slowly and enjoy! If you drink it too fast, it will be quite concentrated (and may give you a caffeine rush!).  My favorite variation of this is to throw it all in the blender and make a sort of cha yen smoothie (the ice melts quicker :) ).

Bomb Makes Great Cha Yen

Bomb Makes Great Cha Yen

Have you experienced Thai iced tea?

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One Response to “Food Friday: Thai Iced Tea”

  1. Cherith

    10. Oct, 2009


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