Until I learned how to brew my own Thai tea at home, I would make frequent runs to the nearest Thai restaurant, ordering sometimes up to $20 of Thai tea in large soup containers. If you’ve ever tasted it, I’m sure you can understand.
What is the secret of Thai tea’s unique flavor? Thai tea is made from Sri Lankan or Chinese black tea, finely cut, with star anise powder, a hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and orange food coloring. Some Thai tea recipes call for rose tea leaves.
What makes Thai tea so aromatic and flavorful is the star anise powder. Star anise is a star-shaped, dark brown pod that contains a pea-sized seed in each of its eight segments. Native to China, star anise comes from a small evergreen tree. Although the distinctive, sweet licorice flavor of its seeds is derived from anethol (the same oil that gives anise seed its pronounced flavor), star anise has a different heritage — the magnolia family. Its flavor is slightly more bitter than that of regular anise seed. In Asian cuisines, star anise is a commonly used spice and tea flavoring. It’s also widely used to flavor liquers and baked goods in Western cultures. It can be found whole in Asian markets and some supermarkets, and as a ground ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder.
Thai tea is presented by filling the glass 2/3 full of ice and tea then topping it with cream or half-and-half.
Thai Tea Recipe From Scratch
- 1 gallon water
- 8 Chinese star anise, ground
- 1 tablespoon orange flowers
- 1 tablespoon powdered vanilla
- 1 pinch of clove powder
- 1 pinch chopped cinnamon
- 3/4 quart long cut China black tea leaves
- 1 to 2 cups sugar
- 1 quart half & half
- Red food coloring
Boil water. Add star anise, orange flowers, vanilla, clove, cinnamon, and tea leaves to boiling water. Continue boiling for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cover and allow to steep until lukewarm. Strain, and add sugar to taste. Serve in a clear glass over plenty of crushed ice. Top with half & half.
Traditional Variation: Substitute coconut milk for half & half.
Decaffeinated Variation: Substitute decaffeinated tea leaves
Low-fat Variation: Substitute evaporated milk or rice milk for half & half.
Natural Variation: Substitute unrefined cane sugar for refined sugar and beet powder for food coloring.
Pre-Mixed Thai Tea Preparation
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1/3 cup Thai tea
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup condensed milk
- 1/2 cup half & halfHeat the water to boiling, then using four layers of cheesecloth as a filter, pour the water through the tea four times or until the tea until reaches the right color. Set the tea aside to cool. Mix together the remaining ingredients. Fill glasses with crushed ice; pour milk/sugar mixture about 1/2 full into each glass; carefully pour cooled tea over top to preserve separation. Serve.