Japanese milk tea, also known as royal milk tea or Hokkaido milk tea, adds milk as part of the brewing process of black tea. The end result is a rich, creamy drink with a touch of bitterness that can be served hot or cold, with sugar or without. In this article, we will teach you how to make Japanese milk tea in a very simple way, as well as showing you different tips to get the most out of this delicious drink.
How to Make Japanese Milk Tea
Instead of using just water to brew tea, you will be heating up a mixture of milk and water, so have both ready when you start. You will need:
- 2 tsp black tea
- 1.5 cups of milk
- Half a cup of water
- Sweetener to taste
Combine the milk and water in a medium saucepan. Heat to just below boiling. Once you start to see the first bubbles appearing, add the tea leaves to the saucepan, stir, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for three to four minutes.
Stir the tea, milk, and water mixture and strain it into a teapot or directly into teacups. Add the sweetener of your choice to taste. We recommend allowing guests to add their own sweetener instead of adding sugar or other sweeteners directly to the pot of tea.
Japanese Milk Tea Variations
The basic recipe above will get you started with Japanese milk tea, but there are some slight variations that can change the flavor and texture. We recommend starting with the basics before changing the process too much, in that way you will have a baseline to measure your changes against.
What Tea Leaves to Use
While any black tea leaves can be used to make Japanese milk tea, Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon Uva will give you the most traditional end result. A combination of any of these tea leaves is generally thought of as the classic recipe, with Darjeeling tea mixed with a touch of either Assam or Uva producing a well-rounded brew.
We like to use about 75% Darjeeling for the floral scent and mix that together with 25% Uva to make it a touch more full-bodied.
Other black tea blends such as Earl Grey work well if you want an added touch of extra flavor. Lavender is also a popular addition to Japanese milk tea, adding a calming scent that blends perfectly with the taste of this type of tea.
Milk to Water Ratio
Our basic recipe is heavier on the amount of milk than some other recipes. We enjoy the creaminess that this produces, but some tea drinkers may prefer a beverage that is closer to normal tea. In that case, increase the amount of water up to one cup, and reduce the amount of milk down to one cup as well.
This 50/50 ratio will still have the impact of a heavily milked tea but without relying on milk too much. This is also a good ratio to use if you are using richer non-dairy options like almond or oat milk so that the flavor of the tea leaves do not get overpowered.
When to Add Milk
Another method for brewing Japanese milk tea brews the tea in water like you would when making regular black tea. This can save you from accidentally scalding the milk, but it also does not have the same depth of flavor as when the leaves are brewed in milk.
Start by boiling the water by itself. Add the tea leaves and brew for 2 minutes. Add the milk, return the mixture to a very low simmer, then strain into a teapot.
Adding milk at a later stage can also work well if you are going to froth it, but you would end up making something that is more like a tea latte than Japanese milk tea. While this would still be delicious, we are focusing on a different drink today.
What Sweetener to Use
While sugar is the most obvious answer when thinking of a sweetener to add to tea, there are other options that may work better based on your own tastes. Honey is an excellent choice with this recipe, especially if you are using Darjeeling leaves as your primary tea.
Here are some options for sweeteners to use:
- White sugar
- Simple syrup
- Caramel syrup
- Gum syrup
- Brown sugar
In Japan, gum syrup pods are often used, but they can be hard to find in the United States. Simple syrup mixes well into a brewed pot and can also be used when the milk tea is served cold.
Heavy sweeteners like caramel syrup, while very rich and delicious, should be used sparingly. They can easily overpower the taste of the tea leaves. Brown sugar, along with a similar line, can add a nutty complexity but can also mask the taste of the tea.
When made with Hokkaido milk, Japanese milk tea takes on a different character. This milk, only produced in the Hokkaido province, has a higher fat content and smoother texture than the standard milk you can find in an American grocery store. You may be able to find Hokkaido milk powder in a local Asian market, but it will not be exactly the same experience.
Iced Japanese Milk Tea
Japanese milk tea served cold and over ice is very refreshing and a great way to drink it. When brewing the leaves, let them steep for an additional minute or two to create a more concentrated version that will stand up to melting ice. If you have the time, let it cool off in the refrigerator first so you do not have to melt too much ice and overly dilute it.
While the ideas may be similar, iced Japanese milk tea and Boba tea are not the same thing. Boba tea originated in Taiwan and is known for the tapioca “pearls” that are suspended in the glass in a milk tea that is similar to the Japanese version.
Japanese Milk Tea Tips
- An option to cool the tea down quickly is to steep the leaves in just water for 5 minutes, remove from heat, then pour the milk directly from the refrigerator into the pot.
- When serving hot, pre-heat the teacups first with some boiling water. Don’t forget to dispose of the heating water.
- You can open the leaves up before brewing by adding a small amount of boiling water to the leaves in a shallow plate or bowl. Add the moist leaves at the normal time to steep.
- Alternatively, you can rinse the leaves quickly with boiling water for about 5 seconds, then discard the rinsing water.
- Adding a small amount of ice cream can make the Japanese milk tea experience even more decadent.
- Tea leaves are usually of a higher quality than tea bags, so we recommend using them. It is also harder to control tea concentration when using pre-made tea bags.
Making Japanese milk tea adds another level of complexity and creaminess to your standard brewing process. The tea leaves steeping in a combination of milk and water allow for a more well-rounded drink than if you just added milk to a pot of already brewed tea.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.