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.
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.
Why mess with a good thing? Because we can.
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.
From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Thai tea leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup whole milk
First photo by Bobbi Lin, second by Stephanie Le