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Three Ways: Thai Iced Tea

Thai iced tea is ubiquitous in the U.S., but tea only made its way to Thailand in the latter part of the 20th century, arriving from China as a cash crop, intended as a replacement to the opium industry. While details surrounding Thai iced tea’s emergence are a bit fuzzy, upon the street food stalwart’s arrival in North America, the blend of potent black tea, condensed milk, and ice received a flashy makeover in the form of electric orange dye, boosted sugar levels, and a potent hit of spice. Often flavored with tamarind, anise, and cardamom, the playful drink’s been adopted by bartenders as an aromatic and tannic ingredient for cocktails.

Thai Tea Spritz

Hudson Hill in Denver devotes equal attention to coffee and cocktails, leading to creations that land somewhere in the middle, such as the bar’s spirit-free Thai Tea Spritz. “The flavor profile in the tea blend works with almost any spirit and/or combination of ingredients, but also stands on its own as a refreshing nonalcoholic beverage,” says coffee director Anders Lehto. Using a house-made Thai tea concentrate, Lehto layers in fruity and floral flavors to round out the tea’s tannic structure.

To prepare the Thai tea concentrate, add 2,400 grams of water, 275 grams of Thai tea mix, 70 grams of white sugar, and 20 grams of vanilla paste to a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and allow it to steep for 20 minutes. Refrigerate the concentrate in a sealable container and it will keep for up to 1 month.

To mix a Thai Tea Spritz, combine 3 oz. of Thai tea concentrate, 1 oz. of pineapple juice, 3/4 oz. of lavender syrup (bring 10 grams culinary lavender, 360 grams of water, and 360 grams of granulated sugar to a boil in a saucepan, then remove from heat, steep until room temperature, strain, and store refrigerated for up to 1 week), and 3/4 oz. of fresh lemon juice in a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously to combine. Strain the spritz over fresh ice in a 16 oz. pint or tulip glass, and top with 1 1/2 oz. of chilled soda water. Garnish with a dehydrated or fresh lemon wheel

Thai Me Down

“First things first, Thai tea is often spiced with star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom; these are some of my personal favorite spices to work with in cocktails because they’re bold and pair so well with most sweeteners,” says Karla Flores-Mercado, owner of Echo Park cocktail spot Bar Flores. For neighboring bar Lowboy, Flores-Mercado crafted a tall, refreshing take on the tea using an infused rum and a silky, body-forward syrup.

First, add 1 Tbsp. of Thai tea mix (any store-bought brand works; Flores-Mercado uses Pantai) to 1 cup of white rum (Flores-Mercado uses Uruapan Charanda Blanco). To prepare the coconut-rice syrup, combine 4 cups of coconut milk, 4 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup of jasmine rice, 1 tsp. of ground cinnamon, and a 4-inch piece of fresh ginger in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool before blending and straining; the syrup keeps refrigerated for 8 to 10 days. To make the drink, add 1 oz. of the Thai tea–infused rum,  3/4 oz. of coconut-rice syrup, 1/2 oz. of dark rum (Flores-Mercado uses Goslings Black Seal), and 1/4 oz. of fresh lime juice to a shaker and shake well with ice. Strain the drink into an ice-filled Collins glass and garnish with a mint sprig. “The rice syrup softens and sweetens this cocktail, ginger and Thai Tea give it spice, while the mint garnish gives it aromatics, [and it ends] with that bite every perfectly balanced cocktail needs … rum.”

Thai Me Up

Created by Matthew Mitchell, Lin Yang, and Jason Berger for Traveler’s Table in Houston, the Thai Me Up layers complementary flavors into a milky Thai tea. “Thai tea imparts the structure necessary to form the backbone of the cocktail, while the sweetened condensed milk adds a silky creaminess that is enhanced by the tropical, herbaceous notes of our ginger-lemongrass syrup,” Mitchell says.

First, prepare the Thai tea by steeping a 1 oz. tea bag of Thai black tea in 6 oz. of hot water, allowing the tea to cool before use. To make Traveler’s Table’s ginger-lemongrass syrup, add 32 oz. of white sugar, 16 oz. of water, 8 oz. of fresh peeled and chopped ginger, and 3 lemongrass stalks to a pot, then bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and allow the syrup to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and allow to cool before straining and storing refrigerated for up to 1 month. To prepare the cocktail, add 1 1/2 oz. of the Thai tea, 1 1/2 oz. of vodka, 1 oz. of sweetened condensed milk, and 1/2 oz. of ginger-lemongrass syrup to an ice-filled shaker. Shake until combined and well-chilled, then double strain into a coupe and garnish with an edible flower.

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