The inspiration for this post came about during my last trip to Sandakan. It was hilarious, we all had this hankering for a good cup of Teh Tarik but everywhere we went, we only found Teh Tarik that tasted like condensed milk in dishwater. OK, it was supposed to be a Mission Trip, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out to find good food right? Anyway, when I got back to Singapore, I was determined to come up with a recipe for making Teh Tarik so that anyone can have a decent cup whenever you feel like one because, quite frankly, it is also getting harder to find a good cup of Teh Tarik here as well.
Let’s start with defining what I consider a good cup of Teh Tarik. I think a good cup of Teh Tarik should be strong, brisk and creamy. When you drink it, your whole mouth should register a full bodied, creamy mouth feel with a floral fragrance wafting out of your nose. A bit of astringency would add to the briskness and give you that Ooomph at the end. You should want to finish the whole cup and be wanting another. So, with that defninition, let’s proceed to make our Teh Tarik!
Type of Tea you need
In order to make a good cup of Teh Tarik, you need to start with the right Tea. This was the problem in Sandakan because I think they all use a locally grown Sabah Tea which is a bit weak. It is good as Teh O, but not as Teh Tarik.
What you need is Tea Dust. Tea is classified into many grades. The best grades are usually the ones which consist of whole leaves. Tea Dust is basically broken leaves that have been ground up and is considered a lower grade Tea. But this is precisely the beauty of Teh Tarik. It is a cheap drink made out of necessity for the masses who can’t afford to drink Orange Pekoe in fine China with the little pinkie sticking out. Just like our local Kopi, our forefathers managed to take what is cheap and turn it into something special.
There are many brands of Tea Dust in the market and, unfortunately, they are not as readily available as they once were. But you can still find them at places like Mustafa’s and Sheng Shiong. Different Teas are blended for different purposes. Some are blended for Teh O (black), so it has more fragrance, more astringency and less body. It is not meant to be brewed strong. Those that are blended for Teh Tarik are designed to be brewed strong. So the colour is richer, it is less astringent and less fragrant then the ones for Teh O. Some Tea Dusts are flavoured with Vanillin or other flavours such as rose to boost its aroma. But bear in mind that the most important characteristic the Tea must have is that creamy, whole mouthfeel when it is blended with condensed milk.
Experiment to find the best Tea Dust
In order to find out which Tea Dust is the best, I tested five different brands which I managed to pick up from Mustafa’s. Both Durian and New Hill Bird are local Singapore brands while Coconut and Train are imported from Malaysia. 3 Roses is from India.
I brewed 5 cups of Tea with a tablespoon (15ml) of tea dust to 250ml water, steeped it for 3 minutes and then added 2 tablespoons (30ml) condensed milk and 2 tablespoons (30ml) evaporated milk. The milk Tea was then tariked 6 times. They were tasted at the same time to determine the taste profiles in each tea.
The one with the most pleasing colour was the tea made with 3 Roses. It was a deep orange colour. The rest of the teas had a more pinkish hue. By itself you probably cannot tell the difference but when you put them side by side, the result is quite clear. Of course, you can probably get a deeper reddish colour with more tea dust or with a longer steeping time.
To detect fragrance, I first smelled the tea, then took a mouthful and aerated it in my mouth, smelled the bouquet and spat out the tea. The best in terms of fragrance was the Durian and the Train tea. The floral, vanilla tones are especially pronounced. I didn’t quite like Coconut as it had a sourish Gula Melaka smell and a bit of a bitter petroleum taste at the end. Both 3 Roses and New Hill Bird were more on the earthy side and not as floral as the first two but had a nice caramel flavour.
Both 3 Roses and New Hill Bird had the best mouthfeel and aftertaste. They were full bodied and creamy and brisk. Coconut was a bit more astringent and bitter. Durian and Train lacked body but tasted brighter.
And the Winner is….
Taking all factors into consideration. I would pick 3 Roses as my first choice for Teh Tarik followed closely by New Hill Bird. Both tasted very similar but 3 Roses had a more pleasing colour. Both would make excellent Teh Tarik. However, that being said, any of the Tea Dusts listed above would make a pretty decent cup of Teh Tarik. Train brand is the easiest to get hold of since it is available at NTUC. For the others, you might try Sheng Shiong or your neighbourhood provision shops and of course, Mustafa’s has everything.
If you are thinking to yourself, I really need some Teh Tarik NOW but I don’t have Tea Dust!! Then two Lipton Yellow Label tea bags steeped for 3 minutes would work as well. Of course it isn’t as great as if you have Tea Dust, but it can stem that craving until you get hold of some Tea Dust.
Condensed Milk Vs Evaporated Milk
I personally would like it less sweet but unfortunately, Teh Tarik needs to be because you cannot substitute condensed milk with evaporated milk. It is the condensed milk that gives it a stable froth and subsequently the body that a Teh Tarik must possess. I have experimented using only condensed milk and compared it with a cup I made with only evaporated milk and the froth of the evaporated milk one disappears within one or two minutes while the one with condensed milk lasts for at least 10 minutes. Evaporated milk contains an emulsifying agent called Lechithin. Lechitin helps to disperse the fats in the water by decreasing the surface tension of the fats. This same effect also means that your bubbles that come from tariking will have less surface tension and so the foam made from tariking tea with Evaporated milk does not last very long. If you make Teh Tarik from just condensed milk, the foam lasts a very very long time!
Condensed milk also has better body than evaporated milk. Also, because we are using very strong tea, the Teh Tarik does get overly astringent without a bit of sugar. At the Sarabat stalls, you will often see them adding a spoonful of sugar in addition to the condensed milk. However I found that omiting that extra sugar is one compromise we can make.
Full Cream vs Filled Milk
There are basically two types of condensed and evaporated milk that you can buy. Those that are made from milk fat and those that are augmented with plant fats like palm olein. All the commonly available condensed milk are made by reconstitution rather than from whole milk. Even Milkmaid full cream milk is a reconstituted product. The only condensed milk that I can find that is made from just whole milk and sugar is Carnation brand condensed milk. However, this is imported from the US and costs $5.70 at Cold Storage which is 5 times more expensive than Milkmaid. So as a compromise, I choose full cream rather than filled because I rather have a natural saturated fat from milk rather than a hydrogenated fat from palm olein.
Aside from health considerations, I actually compared Teh Tarik made from Full Cream Condensed and Evaporated Milk with Condensed and Evaporated Filled Milk and found that the one made with Full Cream Milk has more body and better colour (ie with the same amount of milk, the Teh made from Full Cream Milk looks whiter than the one made with Filled Milk). Full Cream also has that milky aftertaste which Filled lacks. However, if you have Filled milk at hand, it still works. The difference is very small and you can probably only tell if you are comparing it side by side.
How to Make Teh Tarik
Video showing three ways of getting the bubbles in your Teh Tarik
The method I am using is practical for the home. The Teh that they make outside has a longer brewing time, since they make a big batch of tea and allow it to steep while they make it one cup at a time. When you make it at home, I like to use more Tea Dust and less steeping time. Firstly, you are only making one or two cups and if you steep too long, the tea is going to get cold. Secondly, by lessening the steeping time, the tea doesn’t get too bitter and so you can use less sugar. Please note that when steeping tea, the colour comes first, than flavour, then astringency. So don’t judge by the colour to determine the length of your steeping time because if you don’t brew long enough, you are not going to get the full flavour and briskness of the tea.
1. Coffee/Tea Sock
2. Two Jugs
3. Tea Dust
4. Measuring Spoon
5. Condensed Full Cream Milk
6. Evaporated Full Cream Milk
7. Boiling Water – Lots of it
8. First Aid Kit – in case you get scalded (Just Kidding – But if you do get scalded, put your hand immediately under running tap water for 10 minutes and if it still hurts, see your Doctor. Whatever it is, please, please, please don’t put toothpaste on it!)
Points to Note:
1. You can of course increase the steeping time to 5 minutes and use less Tea Dust. But try not to steep too long as the Tea will get bitter.
2. If you want it less sweet, you can use less Condensed Milk and more Evaporated Milk, but you will sacrifice that full bodied mouthfeel and the Tea will taste more astringent. But experiment with it and find a combination that you like. However, as I have already commented at the beginning of the post, there is really no such thing as Teh Tarik Kosong (not sweet) as it just doesn’t work without Condensed Milk. If you persist on making Teh Tarik with Evaporated Milk only, you might as well just have Teh Si Kosong. Actually the best tasting Teh Tarik is made with just Condensed Milk, but it might be too sweet for most, so substituting with Evaporated milk is a compromise.
3. In my previous Teh Tarik experiment, I made the conclusion that Tariking the Tea made no difference in the taste. This needs to be qualified. Tariking the Tea does make a difference to the taste but it is just that when we conducted the experiment years ago, it was in a busy sidewalk and our panel of judges did not managed to discern a difference in the taste. It might be due to other factors but I think that as a whole, the difference is small, so small that only the really discerning can tell the difference.
4. To prove that Tariking the Tea does indeed make a difference. I repeated the experiment at home where things are quieter and I can concentrate fully. The Tariking helps to introduce bubbles into the Tea which is stabilized by the condensed milk (You really need condensed milk) and gives the Teh a nice rounded full bodied mouthfeel. Conversely, when you introduce too much air into the Tea, it loses that full bodied mouthfeel and begin to taste lighter.
5. In the video, I demonstrated 3 different ways of introducing bubbles into the Tea. One is the traditional Tarik method, the second is by shaking the tea in a container and the third is to use a French Press. As you can see the French Press method makes a foam very much like what you would get with a cappuccino. Impressive, but with too many bubbles, the Tea ironically lost aroma and body! So don’t overdo it! 3 or 4 strokes will suffice. With the shaking method, the body is good but still not as good as the traditional pulling method. (I think I might have shaken it too much) One advantage of this method is that the Tea remains quite warm, which is good if you like your Tea hot. It is also less messy and is a method most people would be able to do at home. The traditional tarik is still the best, but as this experiment shows, there is such a thing as over tariking!
These experiments are far from being an exact science. In order to conduct a proper scientific trial, I would have had to repeat the experiments on several occasions, get a panel of blind tasters and have at least five separate brewing apparatus. Things like the tea and the milk should have been weighed, temperature of the tea would have to be measured ete etc. At the present time, I don’t have such resources, so just take these results as initial observations not as scientific facts and if you discover something from your own experiments, please do share it with us!
Special thanks to Nam Wan Tea Co. Pte Ltd for their input. Nam Wan Tea blends Durian and New Hill Bird brand Tea Dust and has been in the Tea business since the Ching Dynasty! They are right here in Singapore and the family can trace their lineage back to the original Mr Wei who is said to have developed the first Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea in 1725. The fascinating story of how Tie Guan Yin got its name can be found here.