Thai Iced Tea is a great example of a drink that so perfectly reflects its origins that it is hard to imagine it coming from anywhere else. In a lot of ways, it is a bit of a kissing cousin to the Vietnamese Iced Coffee I posted a couple of weeks ago. The formula of strongly flavored caffeinated beverage + sweetener + tropical climate friendly shelf-stable dairy is hard to go wrong with.
It’s also similar to Vietnamese Iced Coffee in that it is a little surprising to me that it hasn’t caught on in a more major way in the United States. It’s a package of flavors and textures that are similar to the drinks people shell out $5 and up for at coffeehouses. There isn’t a lot of palate stretching that would have to be done in order to enjoy it without much “westernization”.
I was introduced to Thai Iced Tea on our honeymoon in Thailand at a Thai coffeeshop chain called “Black Canyon Coffee”. It was solely responsible for this desert denizen surviving three weeks in a hot tropical climate where it felt like I was living underwater.
About the closest thing I can compare Black Canyon Coffee to is the child of Starbucks and a quick-service Thai restaurant. They were also everywhere in Thailand in much the same way that Starbucks is in America.
That was fine with me, because it seemed like as soon as I was soaked in sweat and at the end of my rope, one would appear out of the mist. Or maybe that was just the sweat streaming into my eyes. Either way.
So, what is Thai Iced Tea, specifically? It is essentially a spiced tea blend often flavored with vanilla and brewed strongly to compensate for the added dairy and ice. Using sweetened condensed milk is historically correct due to refrigeration challenges in the past as is the case with Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
Since as a drink it is really about big flavors and textures, it’s another great opportunity to use my Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk, which is also is geographically correct for the area and (unsurprisingly) is a good fit as far as flavor.
It’s certainly possible to make your own tea blends starting with loose strong black tea as a base, but I choose to go to the route of starting with a pre-mixed bagged blend that is available at my local Asian grocery and also inexpensively on Amazon.com. I’d recommend that approach (and the one this recipe uses) if Thai Iced Tea is new to you and you are unsure of wanting to spend a day researching Thai tea blends and sourcing ingredients like tamarind powder.
A final note for people who are really serious about clean eating. There is food coloring involved in most (but not all) Thai tea blends, so that is something to consider. I don’t worry about it too much as it is just an occasional treat here and we are very low in processed food consumption in the grand scheme of things in our house, but that is a personal choice. You can definitely find blends without it, but will have to do a little more digging.