If you have been alive and not living under a rock in the last several years, chances are strong that you have heard of “milk tea” somewhere. There are several varieties of milk tea, which we’ll get into in the first section of this article.
While milk tea has many versions, the one thing that they all have in common is that they are usually creamy and at least semi-sweet, unlike Jasmine or Chamomile Tea. Milk tea is a customizable tea that is enjoyed around the world, hot or iced, sweetened or not, and at many levels of complexity.
Now that we got the taste out of the way, you may be wondering where did the concept of milk tea start? Just how many versions are there? What countries can I find milk tea in? All of this and more are things that we will be covering over the course of this article. We’ll try to answer questions like:
- What is milk tea and where did it originate?
- Are there health benefits to milk tea?
- How to make the perfect cup of milk tea?
- Where is the best place to find quality milk tea?
- Most asked questions about milk tea.
Whether you just want to learn about milk tea for kicks, want to know where to find a good cup, or have a passion for tea history we’ve got you covered. Follow along with us as we wander down the road of history to learn about all kinds of milk tea.
What Is Milk Tea?
So, what exactly is milk tea? There are several answers to this question. At its core, “milk tea” refers to any tea with milk. Makes sense, right? However, it can get progressively more complex from there. There are as many ways to enjoy milk tea as there are countries in the world. We’ll get into that in just a moment, so don’t worry.
For as long as there has been black tea and milk, milk tea has existed. From the UK to India, China to Japan, Taiwan to Thailand, many countries have their own versions of milk tea.
In some of these countries, like India, milk tea is the default version of tea. If you order tea in one of those regions, you will have to specify “black tea” or “tea without milk” if you don’t want milk tea. Let’s try to track the progression across the world of this trend and see where it leads us:
- It’s believed that Tibetans were the originators of adding dairy to their tea. They would add butter to their tea for the taste as well as the perceived digestive benefits and did so with either goat or cow’s milk. From there, it quickly spread to China.
- With the Silk Road expanding and plenty of new ideas moving along it along with goods, the idea of milk being added to tea made it to India. India adapted this idea to their own unique flavor profile full of rich spices, creating Masala tea. This drink is warming, flavorful, and creamy; one of this writer’s personal favorites!
- When the British took over India, they “borrowed” the milk tea idea and took it out into the rest of Europe. However, they couldn’t do the same spices (sensitive tummies and all that), so they modified the recipe to be milder and sweeter. It’s since become a very popular way to start the day in England. Fun fact: it’s been rumored that this version actually started in France, but that is unconfirmed.
- In WWII, Brits brought the idea of milk tea to Taiwan. It was here that some genius creative mind had the idea to add tapioca pearls to the drink, creating boba. This tasty treat is also called bubble tea, and this version has gained a lot of traction in the recent past as a trendy drink.
There are variations in this history, of course, and the true origins and journey of milk tea may never be 100% accurately known, but this is the general pathway that occurred. The rest, as they say, is history.
Benefits of Milk Tea
Like with most teas, there are some health benefits to drinking milk tea. These come from both the milk and the tea, so let’s split them up that way to peruse:
- Benefits of Black Tea
- Black tea is full of antioxidants, which help protect your cells from free radicals. This will help in several ways, from slowing aging to reducing inflammation to lowering your risk of various chronic diseases!
- Black tea has been shown in some studies to help lower your LDL, aka the “bad” cholesterol. There have also been studies that don’t show a difference in their subjects, so clearly more studies are needed here to come to a conclusion.
- Black tea may have certain antimicrobial assets that kill off the bad bacteria in your gut, which can improve your gut health. More studies are needed before this can be solidly confirmed, though.
- Black tea has been shown in various studies to help reduce blood pressure. This comes both from the antioxidants in the tea (remember, it reduces inflammation) and also from the mere act of peacefulness that comes with making tea.
- Black tea can help lower blood sugar. A few studies have shown that black tea may help your body use insulin more efficiently, as well as help with insulin sensitivity.
- Black tea helps to improve focus. Like any drink with caffeine, black tea can boost your alertness. The L-theanine in the tea increases what’s known as “alpha activity” in the brain, which creates a kind of restfulness and focused mode. Basically, your cognitive functions will show signs of improvement after drinking black tea.
- Benefits of Milk
- Milk has been known to aid in digestion.
- Milk contains plenty of vitamins and minerals; nine to be exact. It’s got calcium, vitamins D and B12, protein, and potassium.
- Milk has been shown to help with keeping your bones healthy.
- Milk may also help lower blood pressure.
Now, a word of caution: if you are lactose-intolerant or caffeine sensitive for any reason, milk tea is a drink you will need to make some adjustments to. You can look for dairy alternatives in place of milk (it’s a new world and the milks are a-plenty), and you can try to find a decaffeinated black tea…or just limit your intake to one or two cups a day.
There is also a small risk of being allergic to milk, which is different from being lactose-intolerant, and results in more severe reactions. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure you are cleared to enjoy this tasty treat.
How To Make Milk Tea
If your interest is peaked now that you know how many varieties of milk tea there are, let’s talk about how to make some of them! A good rule of thumb for milk tea is to use a bold black tea for your base.
Another hint: if you’re making any iced milk tea, let the tea cool before combining everything. If the tea is too warm, it’ll melt the ice and weaken the tea…not to mention disrupt the tapioca pearls if you’re making boba.
- The Classic: any type of black tea with any type of milk. Boom, milk tea at its most basic. You can dress it up a bit by using half and half instead of cream and adding sweetener of some sort (we recommend brown sugar). One such example of this would be a London Fog, which is Earl Grey with milk.
- Masala Tea: Simmer together your spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and ginger), black tea, and milk. Strain when ready for a creamy and beautifully spiced mug of happiness. Perfect for those who love bold flavor. Imagine the extra health benefits that come along with all of those spices, too!
- Thai Iced Milk Tea: This decadently creamy iced black tea is made with black tea, spices (lime, mint, orange blossoms, star anise, tamarind…just to name a few options), and sweetened condensed milk. This drink is perfectly cool and refreshing, which is ideal for the warm weather that is prevalent in Thailand.
- Hong Kong Milk Tea: This version is generally made with strong black tea and evaporated or sweetened condensed milk.
- Hokkaido Milk Tea: This Japanese milk tea is made with a hearty black tea, sweetened with honey, caramel, or brown sugar. The unique aspect of this particular variety is that it is made with milk from Hokkaido. Sometimes this one is made with green tea, as well.
- Okinawa Milk Tea: This variation is also from Japan, and is made with a bold black tea, milk, and Okinawa brown sugar. This brown sugar is also called kokuto, and it’s made by reducing sugarcane juice until it gets a nice, complex flavor.
- Boba: Also called Bubble Tea, this trendy beverage comes in a literal rainbow of flavors. At its base, it is made using tea, milk, and tapioca pearls. Any type of tea, any type of milk, any flavor of boba…this is a wildly customizable drink.
- Bonus entry: Matcha Latte! This drink uses matcha green tea and steamed milk to create a creamy and slightly earthy beverage with tons of health benefits.
- Additional bonus entry: Rooibos milk tea. Rooibos is an herb sometimes called a “red tea” from South Africa, and it’s naturally caffeine-free.
These are just a few of the many, many iterations of milk teas. If you can dream it up, you can probably make a milk tea from it!
Best Places to Find Milk Tea
Whether you aim to make your own milk tea at home or find a great shop to enjoy it at, we’re going to give you some good places to find some quality milk tea.
If you are making your perfect cup of milk tea at home, here are some good, strong black teas to use that you can find pretty easily at the grocery store:
If you are looking to buy ready-to-drink milk tea, you can most likely find a good boba shop in your area for some delicious bubble tea. You can also sometimes find pre-made milk teas in stores, such as Twrl Milk Tea or Ito En Milk Tea.
Having made it through this article, you now know all about the history of milk tea. How it originated, how it spread, etc. You also know about the health benefits that can come from drinking milk tea, as well as the various ways you can make it.
We’ve even covered the best types of teas to use for these recipes. Customize your cup to your own preferences and raise a glass of creamy goodness to your health and happiness!
Is milk tea good for you?
This is going to depend on your health needs, like if you’re lactose intolerant, but typically there are some good health benefits! Lots of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and more are on this list.
What tea is milk tea made with?
Typically milk tea is made using some variety of black tea, and it will usually be a bold one. However, milk teas can also be made with matcha or rooibos.
Why is milk tea so popular?
Milk tea, at its most basic level, is milk in black tea. Very common and universal. However, when you are talking about milk tea as a bubble tea, that is what has become incredibly popular in recent times. You can do it in so many flavors and it’s generally inexpensive, so it’s easy for many different people to enjoy!
How many milk teas can you have in a day?
Generally, people can do 4-5 cups max per day without having any negative effects. However, if you are sensitive to dairy, tannins, or caffeine then that number drops dramatically.
How long does refrigerated milk tea last?
The recommendation is 24 hours. Remember, this is a dairy beverage. Consume ASAP for the best flavor and freshness.
About the Author
This article was written by Jordan O'Hara, Founder of Windansea Coffee.
You can learn more about him here.