Thursday, June 6, 2013

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Homemade Thai Iced Tea

Cool your boots with a tall Thai tea
Summer is coming. With it comes blazing sun and sweltering nights, the kind of nights you don't want anyone coming near you in bed, much less actually trying to snuggle up next to you. It is the season of cool showers, cold beers, and punch-spiked watermelons — anything to keep the sweat demons at bay. Iced tea production, common enough around here any time of year, goes into overdrive. Some days, I'll guzzle a gallon of plain black Assam or orange pekoe iced teas. For particularly hot nights, though, or when I want a counterbalance to some ferocious curry, I'll make a batch of Thai tea. Poured over ice and dolled up with dairy, it's sweet, soothing respite from the heat.

For many, the making of Thai tea is a mystery. Oddly orange with unidentified exotic smells and tastes, its concoction is often left to restaurateurs and vendors who specialize in such things. That's a pity when it can be made so cheaply and easily at home. And the tastes, while they may be exotic, are familiar enough in other contexts: vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, black tea, and tamarind. Orange flower water as well as artificial dyes sometimes go into the dry tea blend. Come on; you didn't think that orange color came just from natural, wholesome tamarind and tea, did you? The brand I use, Pantainorasingh, comes in one-pound bags and is readily available at many Asian markets or through Amazon.
Thai Iced Tea 
4 cups water
½ cup Thai tea blend (Pantainorasingh brand)
½ cup sugar (white or — my preference — demerara)
3-4 Tbl half-and-half* 
In a 1.5-2 liter pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the tea blend and sugar, then return the mixture to a slow, soft boil. Boil five minutes, then turn off the heat and let the dark, aromatic mix cool 10-15 minutes. Strain it with a fine-mesh sieve or a cotton strainer into a jar or large bottle and refrigerate. 
To serve, fill a 16-20 glass with ice, then pour cooled, sweetened tea to within two fingers of the rim. Finish the drink by pouring in 3-4 tablespoons (1½ -2 oz) of half-and-half.
*The term "half-and-half" confuses some people, so allow me to quote from an earlier piece about goat cheese ice cream:
Half-and-half is, nominally, half cream and half milk in the United States. But that ain’t necessarily so. As Anne Mendelson explains in Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages, it is a “term with no uniform meaning.” Practically, it refers to a light, creamy liquid with 10.5-18% milkfat, depending on the state and manufacturer. Richer than milk, not as rich as heavy cream. Since light cream can range from 18-30% milkfat, there may be some overlap between it and half-and-half. Experiment and substitute at your peril/discretion.
Goes well with:

  • Brown Cubes of Joy (coffee ice cubes) in New Mexico.
  • Soulless Ginger Lemonade (and plain without the ginger)
  • I get serious about the preparation of a proper cup of tea, but still have enough sense to laugh at myself for doing so. I'm not the only one: Rip it. Dip it. Sip it. 
  • Masala chai is something I'm less likely to make in the summer months, but when I do brew up a batch on those mornings when I'm up at 4:30, here's how it's done.
  • If you know it's going to be especially hot, lay in some bread pan ice blocks for your cool drinks.
  • Finally, making plain, everyday, unsweetened iced tea is even simpler than the Thai tea here. Grab some loose tea, a gallon of water, and get brewing


randall said...

I was always under the impression that condensed milk factored into the equation somehow. Am I wrong?

Matthew Rowley said...

Nope; you're right. Sweetened condensed milk does in fact sometimes come into play. But if your tea is cold, it doesn't mix well. If you want to use SCM, I suggest you put it in the glass first, then strain hot tea over it. Next, give it a stir and pour in ice (or not as you see fit). You won't get the layered and slightly swirled effect and the melted ice will water down the drink, but the SCM will taste good. Some also use coconut milk or cream rather than dairy. Not my favorite way to go with this, but there you go. I'd avoid evaporated milk (which always tastes too metallic for me) altogether.