There are many coffee and tea street stalls dotted around the streets of Bangkok, and indeed the rest of Thailand.
Following the Chinese revolution and the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) by the Chinese communist party in 1949, thousands of KMT soldiers and their families were forced to flee China. They were welcomed by the Thai government, to settle in the Northern part of Thailand. In doing so, these Chinese migrants also brought with them many traditions such as their love for the cultivation and making of teas. Initially many of the migrants ran illegal operations such as gem and drug smuggling.
Eventually, through programs such as the Royal Project for Crop Replacement, tea farming was introduced as a legitimate means of generating an income. The first tea plants were imported from China and Taiwan and introduced into the highlands of Chiang Mai Province in the late 1980’s.
Although traditional Thai tea should be made with Ceylon, this can be very expensive and so a locally grown version of landrance version of Assam, more often referred to as bai miang is used, with added food colouring. Other ingredients that are often added include orange blossom water, crushed tamarind, star anise, red or yellow food colouring and other flavours such as vanilla and cinnamon. The tea is then sweetened, condensed milk is usually added and it is served chilled.
The pulling method used to make the tea is derived from Malaysia and is known as the teh tarik. Teh is a Malay word meaning “tea” and tarik, also Malay means “to pull” or “pulled” and it is a very physical word. The repeated method of transferring the tea between cups both cools and aerates the liquid. It is also said to give the tea a better flavour. For those who really know the craft, we consider it an art form!
There are two styles of Thai iced tea: with or without milk. Tea with milk is called cha yen. Tea without milk is called cha dum yen.
Historically in Thailand, only members of the Royal Family would drink tea. The poor people got only the dregs, which started the now familiar process of flavouring the tea.
Be careful though if you are a fan of Thai ice tea – the calories in one cup can range from anything from 180 calories to a whopping 410! The store where we begin our tour is one of the most popular stops we make, with everyone keen to try one of the famous Thai iced coffees or teas.