Thai Iced Tea (Cha Yen)

Thai Iced Tea (Cha Yen) Recipe

I spent the last 4 weeks in Thailand and then Sri Lanka. I took thousands of pictures, hours of video, and return bearing lots of new recipe ideas and culinary inspirations. An amazing trip to two stunningly beautiful countries filled with many of the kindest and most friendly people I've met anywhere. I apologize for the extended hiatus.

A small slice of some of the things I encountered: bumble bees the size of kumquats, technicolor sweet thai custards, flat tires, tarantulas, warm smiles, slow trains, full moon and sunrise on Sri Pada, deliciously sweet orange juice made from the tiniest green-tinged oranges, edible scorpions, grilled bananas, cashew trees, grilled corn, savory watermelon seeds, geckos that lurk near bright lights in the evening to snatch up moths, ancient ruined cities, glitzy temples, a massive hillside aviary housing a white peacock, 5 days of 100 degree heat in Bangkok, a tiny Thai farm, squirrels as pets, hot carts with 5 different types of noodles, checkpoints, aquamarine water and powdery soft sand, concerts of cicadas, 5-foot water monitors, 22-hour flight home, election day in Sri Lanka, a green carpet of hillside tea plantations, big bats, the rare 25kg coco de mers, 4 hour 50 cent train rides, bird nests in living room light fixtures.

I promise to share more details and pictures from my trip in the coming weeks/months. I took a cooking class in Chiang Mai, tried quite a few traditional Sri Lankan delicacies, and traveled through the famous Ceylon Tea region. I have recipes and books to reference from both countries and am exited to explore the cuisines of both countries even more now that I am home. While in Thailand we had many delicious curries, exotic fruits, spicy papaya salads, and fresh sugar sweet grilled corn -- but somehow I made it out of Thailand without having a single Thai Iced Tea -- this is despite the sweltering heat that we experienced the entire time we were in the country.

I'm no tea expert by a long shot, but generally speaking I would like to understand more about it. Catching a glimpse of the tea industry in Sri Lanka was an eye opener for me. I was able to see the tea plants, the big hillside processing buildings. I was also able to meet a couple of the tea picking women with their betel nut stained teeth as they brought in their days haul to collect their payment before loading their baskets onto a waiting flatbed.

So for my first week back - a tea-related recipe. True Thai is an amazing cookbook that I don't explore nearly enough. The only thing between me and a sweetly refreshing tall glass were four ingredients, a little patience, and a tea strainer. I was only short the Thai tea (cha Thai), a red-leafed tea grown locally in Thailand. This special tea is then spiced up with a mix of vanilla, cinnamon, and star anise. I set off for Rainbow Foods figuring that outside of a real Thai market they would surely have a selection of this red tea. Not so.....Even thought they have huge rows packed with coffees, teas, and herbs -- either I was blind, or the Thai chai was a limited selection in the midst of other chais, green teas, and gourmet blends of every imaginable variety.

I bought two kinds - the brand that I ended up using was Thai Kitchen (many of you know their punchy little jars of red and green curry paste). I figure that because it was in fact Thai Kitchen brand, that at least the ingredients would be authentic, and their wasn't an alternative that I could find. I was looking for a terracotta-colored, strong tea that I could splash with a wave of evaporated milk. Thai Kitchen provided a box of loose leaf BLACK tea (lead ingredient), with other natural flavors not outlined. The box assure that the tea was grown in the fertile plains of Chiang Mai, but red tea it is not.

I guess this is the long way of saying I'm not sure how authentic this attempt turned out. The tea was strong and very sweet. It had a nice color that did seem to lean towards a reddish-auburn, but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. Maybe only a tea-head would notice the difference? I'm not sure. I will keep my eyes peeled for the red tea, and try again.

In some of the early entries on this site I didn't request permission to run the recipe I was writing about from the publisher so it won't appear here. The majority of entries on 101 Cookbooks will have the recipes attached, this just happens to be one of the ones that doesn't.

From: True Thai Page: 353

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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