Thai milk tea in glass on the table

Chai Tea vs. Thai Tea: Decoding the Differences

In the world of beverages, tea stands out as the favorite choice, second only to water. (Sorry, coffee.) Among the array of diverse options, two Asian teas are wildly popular – Chai Tea and Thai Tea.

Both drinks have spices, aromatics, and richness, and sweetness. But what sets them apart? 

This is a Chai tea vs. Thai tea showdown, during which you’ll learn the differences between the two. We’ll explore their unique flavors, cultural roots, and brewing techniques.

Enough teasing. Let’s get into it.

Are Chai Tea and Thai Tea the Same?

While both are popular drinks with a black tea base, Chai Tea and Thai tea are distinctly separate beverages.

Chai tea is rooted in Indian tradition. It boasts a rich blend of aromatic spices, embracing a warm, spiced profile. 

Thai tea, on the other hand, didn’t originally contain spices; it’s a sweet variation of milk tea. However, many modern recipes add different ingredients to enhance the flavors. Thai tea can be served hot or cold. The term “Thai tea” usually refers to the iced version.

Indian masala chai tea

Chai Tea vs. Thai Tea: How Are They Different?

Now that you know that Chai tea and Thai tea are separate drinks, let’s further examine their differences:

1. Origin and Cultural Significance

Originating from the early modern Indian subcontinent, Chai tea (formally known as Masala Chai), has a rich history.

In 1835, the British introduction of black tea from Assam created this tea-with-milk beverage as we know it today—spiced, warm, and embraced by the aromatic allure of spices. Chai’s popularity soared in the 1960s since CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea products became more accessible.

From street vendors to daily rituals and festive celebrations, Chai tea holds great cultural significance. It symbolizes hospitality, warmth, and shared moments in Indian households.

Thai tea, on the other hand, traces back four centuries to King Narai of Ayutthaya. Originally, it was a hot, milk-free beverage. Over time, though, Indian traditions crept into Thailand, and milk became a popular addition. And there’s a twist—Thai people also added sugar.

The arrival of sweetened condensed milk in 1893 and the establishment of the first ice factory in 1903 gave birth to Thai iced tea.

It wasn’t until 1945 that the version of Thai tea we enjoy today emerged, thanks to ChaTraMue, a brand that introduced red tea served in a milky brew. Its sweet, refreshing flavor quickly became a staple, and foreign recognition coined it “Thai tea.”

2. Tea Leaves

Both beverages use black tea leaves. Generally, Chai tea is made from Assam or Darjeeling varieties. 

Known for its rich, earthy flavors and striking deep red color, Assam delivers a comforting brew. It is robust, with malty and spicy notes and a hint of sweetness, offering a refreshing experience. 

Darjeeling, dubbed the “champagne of teas,” presents musky-sweet tones. It also has delicate, mossy, and fruity flavors.

Thai milk tea in glass on the table, closeup
Thai Milk Tea

Assam leaves are also a key ingredient in Thai tea. However, Thai people can also make this beverage from Ceylon tea. The quality of the former is crucial, as some leaves can introduce a strong bitter taste. 

Opting for leaves with a mild flavor is a common preference among baristas, allowing the sweetness to shine. 

3. Flavor Profile and Texture

Aside from tea leaves, spices and milk also play a role in the flavor profile of Chai tea and Thai tea. Among the traditional herbs in Chai tea are cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Some recipes also add a touch of nutmeg to the mix.

Often brewed with whole or evaporated milk, this blend of spices infuses warmth into Chai’s black tea canvas. It also gives the beverage an attractive caramel hue. 

Thai tea, on the other hand, is traditionally served without spices. However, modern recipes contain all sorts of flavorings. Today, you can find Thai tea with blends of vanilla extract, star anise, cardamom pods, and cinnamon.

Thai tea’s secret ingredient is condensed milk. Not only does it add sweetness and creaminess, but it also creates Thai tea’s stick consistency.

As for the shade, baristas often add food coloring, which gives Thai tea its distinctive orange color.

4. Brewing Techniques

Although brewing techniques can vary from one recipe to another, typically, Chai and Thai tea are prepared differently.

To create a traditional cup of Chai tea: Add the spices, water, and milk to a saucepan and let it simmer. Once it boils, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the black tea bags. 

After around 10 minutes, mix some sugar according to your preference. Then, serve and enjoy.

Thai tea is a different story. Instead of adding all the ingredients in a pan, brew the tea leaves in hot water with a cloth filter. Dip the bags over and over for around half an hour—this helps extract the most tea out of the leaves.

You can also mix vanilla, cinnamon, star anise, or cardamom during the boiling process if you choose to make a spiced-up version of the drink.

Next, all you need to do is add the sugar, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. The real trick lies in pouring the mixture between pitchers, a necessary dance if you want to achieve the signature frothy consistency.

Chai Tea vs. Thai Tea: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the caffeine content of Chai and Thai tea?

A standard 8oz serving of traditional Chai contains around 26 mg of caffeine, while a typical serving of Thai tea has around 47 mg.

However, the caffeine content of both beverages varies based on the amount of tea leaves used in the recipe. For instance, black Chai tea (without milk) has around 60 mg of caffeine per serving.

Are there health benefits associated with Chai tea and Thai tea?

Both Chai and Thai tea boast health perks. With spices like star anise, cinnamon, and black tea, these drinks can carry antioxidants and antimicrobial properties. 

Chai may aid in heart health and digestion. But moderation is key, especially for Thai tea, due to its sugar content.

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