January is national hot tea month. What wonderful timing to celebrate this steaming comfort drink with the bone chilling temperatures we’ve been experiencing of late. In Thailand, where the thermometer rarely dips below 75 degrees (wouldn’t that be nice right now?), tea is celebrated year-round in its own unique and tasty expressions!
Here are some of the many hot and cold interpretations of Thailand’s tea obsession to consider exploring this month:
Bubble Tea (pearl milk tea or boba tea)
Bubble tea is probably the most popular and well-known version of tea from Thailand. The tea consists of milk, sugar tea and tapioca balls. Tapioca balls are made from the starch of the cassava plant. If cooked in a certain way, this starch produces a little chewy sphere. The unique addition of tapioca “pearls” makes it easily recognizable and gives the tea a delightful texture.
Thai Tea (cha-yan)
This orange concoction of milk (sweetened condensed or coconut), sugar, spices like anise, and black tea powder is served hot or cold and has been a staple street “food” in Thailand for years. The preferred orange color comes from added food coloring. Niteo introduces guests to Thai Tea in Chiang Mai’s market. The small vendor there is considered by locals to be one of the best.
Green tea is another popular choice. It comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and is picked while still green (either earlier in the season or at a higher elevation). It is quickly heated through pan-frying or steaming to prevent oxidization before drying. This process alters the color and the flavor in a different way from black tea. Compared to other countries, Thai green tea is considered more naturally sweet. It comes in dozens of flavors.
Oolong tea comes from the same plant as green tea (Camellia sinensis) but the processing is different. The leaves are subjected to a partial oxidation turning it from dark green to brown. This approach creates a fruity flavor and pleasant aroma.
Westerners love their black tea. Like Oolong, black tea is put through an oxidization process. The difference is that unlike oolong, black tea is fully oxidized (not partially). This not only turns it into the characteristic dark color it is known for, but also makes its flavor profile quite different from green and oolong.
You can have your tea and eat it too!
Here’s something to consider as well. Thais don’t just drink their tea. Here are a couple of other ideas for implementing tea into your January celebration:
Pickled Tea (Lahpet)
Influenced by neighboring Burma (Myanmar), northern Thais mix tea with oil and vinegar to create a paste that is served alongside fried peanuts, sesame seeds, fried shrimp, fresh tomatoes and green chilies.
Cakes and Ice Cream!
At a tea plantation in northern Thailand, we sampled tea infused cakes and ice cream while overlooking the gorgeous terraced plants.