Thai iced tea is practically a dessert anyway—why not go one step further?
When it’s hot enough to stir-fry on the sidewalk, it’s hard to beat a dessert that combines icy with creamy and spicy/bitter with sweet. And it doesn’t hurt if the ingredients might already be on hand in your pantry.
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I have long suspected Thai iced tea is everyone’s favorite Thai restaurant beverage because it is actually a dessert pretending to be a beverage. The tea itself is a blend of black tea, dried pandan leaves, and dried lemongrass; some brands may include star anise, crushed tamarind, anise seed, cardamom, vanilla bean, and other spices as well. For Thai iced tea, the leaves are brewed to a strong reddish-amber infusion, then chilled and poured atop a layer of sweetened condensed milk. It comes to the table in a tall glass, two-toned, with a straw. Everyone customizes their own “drink” by stirring and sipping as they please.
Reorganizing the elements creates a fresh new dish of dramatically contrasting flavors and textures. The strong, spiced tea becomes a refreshing icy granita—with a hint of welcome bitterness—served with a topping (or a moat) of thick sweet milk. Use a spoon to compose your perfect bite. Add more granita or milk as you go. Gorgeous to look at, heaven to eat.
You can similarly reimagine Vietnamese coffee by substituting 1/2 cup finely ground French roast coffee for the Thai tea leaves and reducing the steeping time to 5 minutes.
Note: Thai tea is available in Asian groceries and online. Look for it in loose leaf form rather than powdered or instant.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).