How to Make Japanese Milk Tea

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Last Updated on August 17, 2022 by Scott

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
Japanese milk tea in a clear glass

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. 

Man demonstrating how to make Japanese milk tea

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
  • Honey
  • Simple syrup
  • Caramel syrup
  • Gum syrup
  • Agave
  • 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.

Person pouring milk over a cup of tea

Hokkaido Milk

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.

Where Can I Buy Japanese Milk Tea?

Although Japanese milk tea is very popular in Japan, it isn’t commonly seen outside of this country. If you are very fond of this kind of tea, you may struggle to source it. However, if you aren’t worried about the brand, you can use any kind of black tea, and just follow the process above to create your drink.

If you do want to buy a Japanese brand, you may have to use a website that specializes in Japanese tea. This is likely to be expensive in terms of shipping, but it is an option if you are really keen to sample the “real” thing.

Is Japanese Milk Tea Healthy?

On the whole, Japanese milk tea is not either healthy or unhealthy. If you add sweeteners to it, it won’t be as good for you as if you drink it plain. It may not be an ideal drink if you are looking to lose weight or reduce your cholesterol levels, because it contains a lot of milk.

However, it is rich in calcium, and black tea contains antioxidants that are thought to offer a variety of health benefits. As long as you aren’t making it very sweet or drinking it constantly, this kind of tea should be fine to consume on occasion.

If you drink it a lot, you might notice a small amount of weight gain, particularly if you consume it with sugar. Try to make it a treat, rather than your go-to drink.

Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Milk Tea

Q: When was Japanese milk tea invented?

A: This drink is thought to have originated in the 1960s, when the Lipton tea company began selling it in tearooms throughout Japan. It often has the word “royal” added to it, in reference to the British royal family, and it has remained popular ever since.

Q: Is Japanese milk tea like chai tea?

A: There are some similarities between these two kinds of tea, because both use a lot of milk, and both involve steeping the tea leaves in hot milk (at least in most recipes). However, although the creation process is somewhat similar, the two teas do not taste very similar.

This is partly because chai depends on spices like cardamom and ginger for its flavor, and these are not used in the making of Japanese milk tea.

Q: Is Japanese milk tea used in desserts?

A: It might surprise you to learn that this kind of milk tea is often added to desserts. You can simply add the powder to things like royal milk tea cookies, royal milk tea pancakes, and royal milk tea ice cream. It can even be added to milkshakes and smoothies if you like.

Q: Can you make it with plant milk?

A: If you prefer plant-based milks such as oat, soy, or almond, you might be wondering whether you can create a vegan version of this drink. The answer is that you can, but you may want to increase the amount of water slightly so that the plant milk doesn’t overpower the flavor of the tea.

Conclusion

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.

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