Milk tea is one of those basic drinks you can find in most countries that you visit. Each country has its own style of preparing the drink so for all you milk tea lovers out there, let’s take a closer look at some of the signature milk tea drinks you can find around Asia.
Milk tea in Taiwan: Bubble Tea
Taiwanese milk tea is the basic ingredient found in the trendy bubble tea or ‘Pao Pao Cha’, which is typically served cold in a plastic cup with a wide straw for you to suck up the sweet and chewy tapioca ‘boba’ pearls in the base of the cup. Dedicated bubble tea stalls can be found on street corners, night markets and shopping malls, and most offer creative variations to the standard milk tea with a wide choice of flavourings and toppings.
Milk tea in Hong Kong: Lai Cha
Known as ‘Lai Cha’ to the locals, Hong Kong style milk tea is also sometimes called Stocking or Pantyhose tea, a reference to the long silk sieves through which the tea is filtered multiple times to cut the bitterness and strengthen the tea flavour. Lai Cha is a staple of Hong Kong’s local diners or Cha Chaan Teng, each equipped with their own special Lai Cha recipe where variable ratios of black tea are mixed with condensed and/or evaporated milk. Milk tea was first introduced to Hong Kong by the British, but Hong Kong style milk tea has become such an integral part of the local fabric that it was awarded intangible cultural heritage status.
Burmese Milk Tea: Laphet Yay
Tea shops can be found all across Myanmar. It is a time-honoured tradition for Burmese men to sit down in these open-air tea shops and order themselves a cup of Burmese milk tea or Laphet Yay to relax while they chit-chat and swap gossip with their compatriots. Burmese milk tea usually consists of assam tea, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, and is often consumed alongside other tea shop food staples like crispy samosas and Mohingya, which is a bowl of fish-based soup noodles.
Milk tea in Thailand: Cha Yen
Thai milk tea stands out with its distinct orangey colouration as it is often steeped with some food colouring alongside spices like star anise, cardamom, or tamarind, after which it is sweetened with sugar and evaporated milk and served cold. Cha Yen is served throughout Thailand from street markets to stalls in shopping malls and has become such a distinct part of the Thai palate that it can often be found as a flavour in desserts like cakes and ice cream.
Milk tea in Malaysia and Singapore: Teh Tarik
Popular in both Malaysia and Singapore, Teh Tarik or pulled tea is named for the way it is prepped: ‘pulled’ as it is poured at arm’s length between two metal cups. This creates an essential layer of froth on top of the tea and cools it at the same time. An integral part of the kopitiam or local coffee shop culture, Teh Tarik is usually brewed with a mixture of tea leaves and tea dust and sweetened with sugar, evaporated milk and condensed milk.
Indian Milk Tea: Masala Chai
India’s tea culture is very strong and no drink is as popular as Masala Chai or mixed tea. They are the second-largest tea producer in the world after China and you can find multiple chai wallahs – men who make and sell tea – preparing their own special blend of Masala Chai along any road in India. A typical brew consists of black tea brewed with Indian spices like ginger, cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, and brewed again with milk and sugar or unrefined cane sugar (jaggery).