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Thai Tea vs. Chai Tea: Why Does Thai Tea Taste Different?

Thai Tea vs. Chai Tea: Why Does Thai Tea Taste Different?

thai tea vs chai tea

People usually think of China, Japan, and England when it comes to tea. Even though these countries are famous for their tea-drinking culture and high-quality tea leaves, did you know that Thailand also has its unique tea menu? It’s called Thai tea.

Thai tea is a Thai version of milk tea. It’s made by mixing brewed black tea with condensed sweetened milk and sugar — usually served cold and called Cha-yen (ชาเย็น). The drink has a solid brick brown to orange color and a milky texture. The dominant taste is sweet — mixed with a tad of bitterness.

Thai tea is among the top 50 most delicious drinks, according to CNN. (Source)

However, you might wonder what makes this simple menu different from other milk teas. Read on to find out the delicacy of Thai tea.

Why Does Thai Tea Taste so Unique?

ChaTraMue is a popular Thai tea brand among the locals, known for its great taste at a cheap price.

In the most basic sense, Thai tea or Cha-yen is a simple milk tea. There is nothing complicated about this menu at all. But despite its simplicity, it still tastes unlike anything else you used to drink, thanks to 3 factors: ingredients, recipes, and concocting technique.

The Ingredients:

Thai tea only has a handful of ingredients: tea leaves, water, condensed sweetened milk, sugar, and condensed milk. As you can probably tell, the most vital is the tea leaves. And Thai people choose black Ceylon tea to make Thai tea. (Source)

The quality of Ceylon tea is critical. Generally, the higher the quality means a stronger and bitter taste. However, the main flavor of Thai tea is sweet, so most Thai baristas opt for a lower-quality black Ceylon tea. It lets the striking sweetness take over and lowers the production cost.

The Recipe:

As mentioned, Thai tea’s dominant flavor is sweet. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to see 3 tablespoons of sugar on top of 4 tablespoons of condensed sweetened milk in a liter of Thai tea.

Of course, the sweet level depends on the barista’s personal preference. But it’s rare to find unsweetened Thai tea. If you really want a low-sugar drink, you are better off drinking something else.

Sweetness isn’t the only flavor of Thai tea. There is a tad of bitterness too. This bitterness comes with the tea aroma that mixes well with the sweetness.

With such a sweet-focused flavor, Thai tea is usually served cold. Hence the name Cha-yen (ชาเย็น), which translates to “cold tea”.

The Concocting Technique:

This is arguably the most significant factor that separates Thai tea from other milk teas. (Source)

Traditional Thai tea requires almost an hour to make. The barista has to fill the tea-leave powder in a cloth filter and dip the whole package into boiling water. Then, lifts it up and dips it down again over and over. This process alone can take even half an hour, depending on volume. The longer the process is repeated, the more fragrant the tea is.

After that, the barista has to repeatedly pour the tea through the cloth filter filled with already wet tea leaves powder. This is done so you can extract the most tea from each leaf. It also enhances the aroma further.

Repeat the dip and lift, and you will get quality hot black tea. The rest of the process is easy. 

Mix the black tea with the condensed sweetened milk and sugar. This is where the color changes from dark brown to the signature brick orange. Add a bit of condensed milk and your Thai tea is ready.

Some baristas use a Malaysian pouring technique called Cha-Chuk to add an extra flare to the menu. It involves pouring Thai tea from one container to another from a great height. The process is repeated several times to add air to the drink and create a bubbly texture. It also helps mix the drink similarly to the bartender’s shaking tin.

Thai Tea Variations

Aside from Cha-yen, Thai tea has other variants that offer different textures and tastes.

Dark Tea or Cha-dum (ชาดำ):

This is basically Thai tea without all the milk. Only black tea and sugar. However, it doesn’t mean that the menu is less sweet. The barista simply adds more sugar instead of condensed sweetened milk. 

Cha-dum usually has its name from its dark brown to almost black tea. It has a lighter texture than Chayen due to the lack of milk. Usually served cold. (Source)

Lime Tea or Cha-Manao (ชามะนาว):

This drink is arguably the most popular tea drink among Thai people. Cha-Manao can be a lifesaver on a hot day, thanks to its refreshing quality

Cha-Manao is basically Cha-dum with a bit of lime. It is a simple drink. However, many baristas struggle to find the balance between sweet and sour. Not to mention the undesirable bitterness that comes from the lime skin. It is actually a difficult drink to master.

Thai Tea Frappe or Cha-yen Pun (ชาเย็นปั่น):

Throw a glass of Cha-yen in a blender. You will get Cha-yen Pun.

Thai people love blended Cha-yen because of the country’s heated weather. Nothing is more refreshing than icy cold smoothies. Even though the crushed ice diluted the sugar, Cha-yen Pun is still a sweet drink. So, drink it in moderation.

Overview of Thai Tea vs. Other Teas

TeaColorTasteTextureAdditional ScentServed
Thai TeaBrick orangeSweet + Subtle but rich bitternessMilkyCold
Chai TeaBrick orangeRich + SpicyThick MilkySpiceHot
Taiwanese Milk TeaPale brownModerate sweet + stinging spiceLighter milkyLight spiceCold
Milk MatchaLight greenSweetMilkyGreen tea herbalCold

Thai Tea vs. Chai Tea: Are They Different or the Same Thing?

Thai Tea vs. Chai Tea at Kaizen Coffee Ekamai, Bangkok.

What is Chai Tea?

If you have been to India, you must have tried Masala Chai or Chai tea. It is among the most unique drinks India has to offer. And it tastes fantastic.

The most striking feature of this tea is the spicy aroma filled in each sip. These fragrances come from spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, clove, and much more — depending on the recipe. The aroma mixes well with the milky brick orange tea, creating a surprisingly pleasant combination of taste and touch.

The brewing method is what distinguishes Masala Chai from other milk teas. (Source)

Usually, you make milk tea by mixing brewed tea with milk. In the Masala Chai case, you brew the tea with milk and water from the beginning. You boil the water, add the spices, pour the milk, and put in the tea powder. It is usually served hot.

Most Indians use Assam black tea to concoct Masala Chai. It has a rich, strong, and bitter taste loved by tea fanatics. Of course, there are alternatives since each household tends to have different recipes. But the resulting taste would be similar: milky, fatty, and fragrant.

Masala Chai is arguably the least well-known milk tea in Thailand. The reason could be that the Indian community in the country is small (compared to the Chinese). So, only a handful of locals know what Masala Chai is. You need to do your research to drink one in Thailand.

Comparing Chai Tea with Thai Tea

Cha-yen and Masala Chai are a complicated pair to compare. Why? Because even though they are both brick orange milk teas, they aim at different drinking experiences.

First, Cha-yen is best served cold, while Masala Chai is best when hot. It is said that the heat in Masala Chai helps bring out the scent of spices and herbs, enhancing the effect of each ingredient. 

Second, Cha-yen is all about sweet, but Masala Chai pays more attention to soft spiciness. You could say that Masala Chai is more delicate in its taste. It is not necessarily sweet since it emphasizes the right combo between flavor, scent, and texture. Cha-yen has a simple yet effective flavor that can surely refresh you.

Finally, Cha-yen packs way less “tea-ness” than Masala Chai. Generally, Thai people don’t order Cha-yen to experience “tea.” They just want a sweet cold drink to mitigate the heat. Masala Chai, however, offers a more genuine tea-tasting experience. This doesn’t mean that Cha-yen is a bad tea. It just has a different purpose.

Anyhow, you can enjoy both teas any time you want. They both offer different tastes, but in the end, they can definitely refresh you in their own ways.

Thai Tea vs. Taiwanese Milk Tea

What is Taiwanese Milk Tea?

Originating in Taiwan, Koi is a popular chain selling Bubble Milk Tea.

Everyone knows Taiwanese Milk Tea. Thanks to the boom of boba tea, Taiwanese milk tea’s popularity has risen.

Of course, Thailand has tons of boba tea shops. You can find them on most streets in urban Bangkok and other major cities — franchise or not. And most of these shops use similar recipes.

As the name suggests, most Thai baristas use “Taiwanese tea” leaf powder to make Taiwanese milk tea. Of course, there is no such thing as Taiwanese tea leaves. It is a species of Chinese red tea that offers a natural spicy sting. Some baristas use Ceylon tea, but in the end, it’s up to their recipes.

Generally, when mixing “Taiwanese tea” with condensed sweetened milk, the color will change from dark brown to pale brown. The amount of the milk, again, depends on the recipe. However, they usually don’t make the tea too sweet because they have to consider the sweetness of the boba too. They are usually served cold.

If you ignore the boba, Taiwanese milk tea has a spicy sting in its flavor. Not as strong as Masala Chai, but still noticeable. This spiciness is thanks to the tea leaves. And it blends nicely with the sugar content of the drink.

Comparing Taiwanese Milk Tea with Thai Tea

Koi has recently launched its own version of Thai tea, and of course, you can add bubbles.

Cha-yen and Taiwanese milk tea are similar in both taste and texture. They offer a sweet flavor and have a solid milky touch. But generally, Cha-yen is a bit sweeter and richer. Taiwanese Milk tea is spicier and has a sharper bitterness.

However, the similarity in texture would end if you add boba to the mix. The chewy gelatin gives more dimension to the Taiwanese milk tea experience. And to many people, that chewiness is the reason they order Taiwanese milk tea in the first place.

You could say that nobody in Thailand drinks Taiwanese milk tea without boba. Of course, you can add boba to Cha-yen too, but you can’t deny that it lacks the satisfying blend of the original.

Thai Tea vs. Milk Matcha

Thai Tea vs. Milk Matcha at The Coffee Club Thailand directly below Phra Khanong BTS Station

What Is Milk Matcha?

“Matcha” (抹茶) is a Japanese term for green tea. Milk Matcha, however, has nothing to do with the Japanese or Japan.

Traditionally, Japanese people drink hot Matcha purely in a cup. They have a one-of-a-kind brewing method for a perfect green tea, bringing the most flavor and fragrance out of each tea leaf. (Source)

Many consider this tea brewing method an art form and even a ritual. So, adding milk to a Matcha could be seen as sacrilegious.

On the other hand, adding milk to Matcha is a common practice in Thailand — especially when served cold.

The Thai Milk Matcha has, obviously, a light green milky color. It tastes sweet and has a herbal scent — characteristic of most green teas.

The ingredient and concocting method is quite simple. You brew the green tea powder in boiling water, then mix the tea with condensed sweetened milk. Sugar and condensed milk can be added, depending on the recipe.

This menu is quite popular in Thailand because of its sweet taste and herbal scent. Many people even prefer Milk Matcha to Cha-yen.

Comparing Milk Matcha with Thai Tea

In Thailand, Cha-yen and Milk Matcha have surprisingly similar tastes and textures. You can almost say that Milk Matcha is Cha-yen but green. Their sweetness is at the same level, and they both have a thick milky texture. And they are usually served cold.

The only noticeable difference (apart from the color) is the subtle “green tea” scent you get from the Milk Matcha. But this little subtlety takes over the heart of many Thais and brings this drink to fame.

The Secret to Thai Tea’s Beauty

After reading this far, you might think Thai tea is inferior to other milk teas. It doesn’t have the spiciness of Masala Chai, lacks a complementary partner like the boba of Taiwanese milk tea, and also misses the subtle charm of milk Matcha.

Overall, Thai tea is bland by comparison.

However, the true beauty of Thai tea lies in its simplicity. The sweetness will always bring that sugary pleasure to your brain. The cold milky texture will surely bring you back to life. This straightforwardness makes Thai tea a brilliant drink you should try and fall in love with.

Keen to read about Thai beer? Check out our article: ‘The Thai Beer Drinking Guide That Will Leave You Thirsty.’

Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might learn something you never knew about this unique country.

Jordan Sully

I'm a Thailand fanatic who has been traveling to the Kingdom since 2017. The country has given me so much, this is my small way of giving back. I hope the articles on this site help you to learn more about Thailand and inspire your next adventure to The Land of Smiles. Thanks for checking out ThaiGuider!

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