Thai iced tea, known as cha-yen (cha is the word for tea), is served in Thailand, Vietnam, elsewhere around the Pacific Rim and in Thai restaurants outside of Asia.
It is made from strong-brewed black tea and sweetened condensed milk, which adds body and creamy mouthfeel.
Brewed black tea is enhanced with spices, such as cardamom, clove, nutmeg, star anise and tamarind, or sometimes just with vanilla. If you like chai tea with milk and sweetener, you’ll likely enjoy Thai iced tea (although the Thai version is sweeter, less spicy, more creamy, and served cold).
For visual appeal, the deep amber tea and bright-white sweetened condensed milk are swirled or layered (photo #1), but not blended into one uniform shade.
While sweetened condensed milk is used in Thailand, the drink can be topped off evaporated milk, coconut milk, half and half or whole milk.
These latter options have no sugar, so you can sweeten the drink as you wish (or not at all).
We are fans of Thai iced tea, but because of the high calorie count, we don’t have it nearly as often as we’d like, although it always beckons to us from Thai restaurant menus.
We could prepare it at home from scratch, but we never do.
Recently, we discovered Thai iced tea bags, that make brewing Thai iced tea a cinch. They’re called Authentic Thai Iced Tea (photo #2), made by Wang Derm, a Thai food company.
The bags are unsweetened, providing the opportunity to add your sweetener of choice.
Just brew the tea, which has a touch of vanilla, which gives a hint of sweetness without sugar. (The tea does contain FD&C Yellow 6, a food colorant that is used in candy, desserts, preserved fruits, sauces and snacks. This colorant gives Thai iced tea its amber color.)
Chill the tea. Then add something milky, from the traditional sweetened condensed milk to evaporated milk to skim milk (for calories-counters) or other cow’s milk/cream, to coconut milk or other non-dairy milk.
We used our everyday 2% milk and no additional sweetener. The 2% milk made such a satisfying drink, that if we’d had whole milk it would have tasted close to the fully-loaded Thai version. (When your daily milk is lowfat or nonfat, whole milk tastes like half-and-half).
You can order the tea bags on Amazon, or find them at select Walmart stores.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EVAPORATED MILK AND SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK
The quickest explanation is in the names: sweetened condensed milk has added sugar and evaporated milk doesn’t. It is also much thicker: Evaporated milk pours like regular milk, but sweetened condensed milk pours like molasses. They are not interchangeable in recipes, but both can be used in coffee or tea.