Teh Tarik is practically an old, national pastime in Singapore and Malaysia. It may be a drink, but it’s also a habit; but sadly, one that’s on the decline in the 21st century of fancy schmancy chain store coffee.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Table of contents
What is Teh Tarik?
It’s tea with milk, for starters. But that’s only half of it. It hailed from India a long, long time ago, and is something mainly sold by the Tamil Muslim drink stall owners.
The name is in Malay, so let’s break it down:
- teh = tea
- tarik = pull
So, literally translated, it means pulled tea!
Strong, black tea, sweetened and creamed with condensed milk, it’s poured from a height from one glass to another, with at least a metre between the glasses.
This airs the tea and creates a beautiful froth, that unlike in my pictures, stays for a long time after! See the image below taken by my sister in law many years ago.
What is Teh Tarik Made of?
It’s very easy to make at home. Just follow the recipe below and adjust the sweetness accordingly. All you need is:
- black tea
- boiling water
- condensed milk
- optional evaporated milk
Most stall owners also have variations on the plain version. You could add ginger for teh halia (ginger tea), or you could add spices like cloves, cinnamon and cardamom for the south Asian masala tea.
I start every morning with a cheat’s version of masala tea. I add a pinch of ground cardamom and some freshly grated ginger to a huge mug for a fab way to start my day.
What Tea is used for Teh Tarik?
Basically, any strong black tea. When we were young, we used to get our tea from the “mamak” shops – Indian grocers, basically. They’d have all sorts of tea, and the most popular, if I recall was Boh Tea, grown in the Cameron Highlands, in Malaysia.
The Indian tea of choice was this tea that was called Ceylon tea, but it’s nothing like the insipid Ceylon tea sold here in the UK.
That Ceylon tea was a deep orange colour, and had a strong, sharp flavour with a strong tannin presence. Very aromatic too.
Whatever you can find is good as long as it’s strong. It has to be to hold its own against the thick and sweet condensed milk.
I grew up in a non drinking family, so tea was always, and still is, the drink of choice. Not unlike here in the UK, everyone goes “cup of tea?”.
My granddad used to break a handful of Jacob’s plain crackers and drop them into his tea – teh tarik or not – letting them soak, then eating them with a spoon! Lol, sounds gross, doesn’t it?
And that’s exactly what my kids say when they find me indulging in this nostalgic exercise! Come on, it’s just like dunking your biscuits, except that these ones are getting a soak while they’re at it!
You don’t dunk your biscuits? ?
Hawker Centres and Kopi Tiams
So hawker centres are a group of food and drink stalls selling all manner of cooked food and drinks. These can be indoors or outdoors.
In the old days (totally sound like my father-in-law), they were nothing fancy, just selling honest to goodness, real, local food. And that would include Malay, Chinese and Indian. If you were lucky enough, they would also have Nyonya and Eurasian fare.
Kopi Tiams are, basically, coffee shops. The word itself is a mish mash of 2 local languages.
- kopi = coffee in Malay
- tiam = food stall in Hokkien, a Chinese dialect
Now the reason I mention these, is because, that’s where you’ll find teh tarik, perhaps less so in kopi tiams, because they tend to be run by the Chinese.
Other Hot Drinks in Hawker Centres and Kopi Tiams
So besides teh tarik, you can find so many different types of tea and coffee in these places. They can be iced, with no sugar, with extra sugar, with just evaporated milk, and so on.
Here are some terms, in a combination of Hokkien and Malay, should you find yourself in a kopi tiam:
- Teh Halia – ginger tea
- Tarik Halia – ginger teh tarik
- Teh “O” – black tea
- Teh Pua Siow – warm tea
- Teh Peng – iced tea
- Teh C – tea made with only evaporated milk
- Teh Kosong – tea with no sugar (kosong means empty in Malay)
- Teh Pok = light tea
- Teh Kow = strong tea
- Teh Dapao = tea to take away
- Teh Tarik Kow Kow Peng Kurang Manis – very, very strong iced teh tarik but not as sweet (kurang manis means less sugar in Malay)
And a few more that I can’t remember or just plain don’t know!
Right then, let’s get brewing!
More Recipes to Enjoy
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- 2 small jugs or large mugs to brew, then "stretch" your tea
- mug or cup for your tea
- 2 heaped tsp black tea leaves 3 tea bags (tea bags are lighter)
- 250 ml boiling water
- 2 Tbsp condensed milk
- 1 Tbsp evaporated milk optional
- Pour the boiling water onto the tea leaves and leave to steep for 4 minutes.
- Strain and stir in the condensed milk and evaporated milk, if using.
- Give your first jug a quick water rinse. Then, pour the tea from one jug to another and back again. Put as much distance between the 2 jugs as you dare. Repeat this until you have some froth. Do it over the sink, because I’m sure some of it will spill!
- Finally, pour into a clean mug or cup, and enjoy!