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There are many different uses for the term “milk tea” that we have seen. Boba tea, Thai milk tea, Vietnamese milk tea… these are all varieties of tea mixed with a heavy milk content to smooth out the taste. The purest form of it however is royal milk tea. But what is royal milk tea, and how is it different from other milk teas?
What is Royal Milk Tea?
Royal Milk Tea is tea, normally black tea, where the leaves have been brewed and steeped in a mixture of water and milk.
Milk tea is a standard base of many tea-based drinks like Boba and other bubble teas. Royal milk tea, credited to Lipton Tea from the 1960s, can create an evenly balanced taste by adding milk as part of the steeping process. It is very similar to the brewing process for chai tea, however, we do not add any additional spices like you would with chai.
While milk is normally added after brewing tea in the Western or British style, royal milk tea adds dairy early in the process to integrate it more effectively in the final product. There is also a lot more milk in royal milk tea than you would expect, and in some cases, the milk can completely replace water while steeping.
Because the proteins in milk (and dairy in general) tend to coat tea leaves, it is very difficult to brew tea directly in milk. The caseins attach to the leaves and limit extraction. It can be done at certain temperatures with a long and complicated process, but we find that it is much easier to steep in water first, then add milk in the following steps.
How to Make Royal Milk Tea
The base of royal milk tea should be high-quality black tea leaves. Assam, Darjeeling tea leaves and Ceylon are the standard choices, but just about any tea leaves can be used. Because of the way the milk interacts with the flavor of the tea, a stronger tea is usually recommended, so white tea and lighter green tea leaves do not work as well in this preparation method.
Everyday tea is normally brewed in a teapot, but it is easier to use a saucepan on the stove because of the addition of milk in the royal milk tea brewing process. Plan for 2-3 times the amount of leaves per water that you normally use, because we will want to make this fairly concentrated.
You will need a small sauce pan, water, tea leaves, milk, a strainer, and honey (or another sweetener – this is optional).
- Heat water in the sauce pan on the stove. Your temperature should be appropriate for the tea leaves, but in general you want a slight boil.
- Add the tea leaves. We recommend 3 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water. Remember, we will be adding more liquid in the form of milk.
- Let the water and tea mixture steep at a low simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Add milk to the pot. Use about the same amount of milk as water, so if you started with 8 ounces of water, add 8 ounces of milk.
- Increase the burner temperature if needed to heat the mixture to just before boiling.
- Remove from the heat as soon as it looks like it is going to boil! If the milk boils for any length of time it may curdle, leaving a skin on the surface that is not appetizing.
- Pour the now brewed milk tea through a strainer into a cup or other receptacle like a teapot. We would recommend not serving from a Yixing teapot, because the milk proteins may stay in the porous material.
- Add sugar, honey, or agave to suit your taste.
How to Make Iced Royal Milk Tea
Royal milk tea always needs to be brewed with hot water (or hot milk) to ensure that the flavor of the leaves is extracted with the dairy proteins. Because of this, cold brewing royal milk tea is almost an impossibility.
When planning for iced royal milk tea, we have to consider that ice cubes will probably be used to cool the beverage down. To counteract this we want to make a more concentrated brew, either from using additional leaves or by brewing for longer.
Depending on the quality of the leaves you are using and the oxidation process they go through, one method may work better than the other. Brewing for a longer period of time has a tendency to produce a more bitter brew, but if you are adding a sweetener this may not matter as much.
Doubling the amount of leaves will create a stronger tea without as much bitterness as an extended brewing cycle, but it is not as economical. If you do not mind going through your tea leaves more quickly, this is the process we recommend for iced royal milk tea.
Royal Milk Tea Questions
With all the different forms of milk tea now becoming popular in cafes and tea shops, there are many different questions you may have.
What is the Difference Between Milk Tea and Royal Milk Tea?
Milk tea is generally just regular tea with milk added to it. The major difference between it and royal milk tea is that milk is involved in the brewing and steeping process for royal milk tea. This gives an elevated layer of creaminess to royal milk tea that standard milk tea cannot duplicate.
How Do You Use Royal Milk Tea?
We have given instructions on how to make royal milk tea at home with standard ingredients, but you can also purchase pre-packaged royal milk tea from Amazon and many Asian grocery stores. In some cases these products are already fully made and canned, but some versions are powdered and you only add hot water. These packages generally base the drink on powdered milk and tea extract, so it will not have the same health benefits that tea will if you make it at home with black tea leaves.
While delicious, be careful of the amount of sugar in these pre-packaged choices.
What is Okinawa Milk Tea?
Okinawa milk tea is another popular variation of milk tea where brown sugar is used for the main sweetener. This adds a different roasted flavor to the milk tea, adding to its other name of “Roasted Milk Tea.” This version is easy to identify by its brown tendrils going down the side – sometimes these are from caramel, but are still based from brown sugar.
Royal milk tea, the end result of brewing black tea leaves in a mixture of water and milk, is a delicious creamy treat that can be taken either hot or iced. We love to add a bit of sweetener to it in the form of honey, but simple syrup, agave, and maple syrup all work well with it.
While royal milk tea can be purchased in a variety of different forms, from cans to a powdered mix that you add hot water to, it is incredibly easy to make at home. Starting with steeping tea leaves in hot water, add milk to the brewing process and see how much of a difference it makes.
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.