Top | Iced Tea

Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea)

(recipe, Fred Thompson)

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If the sometimes-blistering heat of Thai food has you eating cautiously, you are missing a wonderful cuisine. The Thais drink this supersweet, lightly spiced beverage to calm their foods. Cha yen, or “cold tea,” as it translates, is made from a blend of black tea, vanilla, cinnamon, and star anise. This special tea was once found only in Asian markets, but now it is available in the Asian or Thai section of larger supermarkets. There is a debate about which milk product to use in cha yen. In all the Thai restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown where I’ve tasted this cool treat, sweetened condensed milk is mixed with the tea, then a tablespoon of evaporated milk or half-and-half is floated on top. Some authorities on Thai cooking use sugar and half-and-half to make cha yen. One Thai cook suggested half condensed milk and half evaporated milk. No matter which combination you choose, there’s no other beverage that works as well with the foods of Thailand.


  1. 4 cups water
  2. ½ cup Thai tea leaves
  3. One 10-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  4. Cracked or crushed ice
  5. ¼ cup milk, half-and-half, or evaporated milk


  1. Bring the water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the tea leaves and remove from the heat. This tea floats to the top, and you will need to stir the tea. Do this quickly. When all of the tea leaves are wet, cover and let steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Strain the tea through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof container. Stir in the condensed milk until blended. Chill thoroughly.
  3. When time to serve, fill 4 glasses with cracked or crushed ice. Pour the tea into the glasses and top with 1 tablespoon of milk, half-and-half, or evaporated milk.