What Is Milk Tea? Benefits, Uses, & Recipes

Hong Kong milk tea in two glasses (one with ice)

The Spruce 

The term "milk tea" refers to any tea drink with milk added. It can be as simple as a splash of milk in a hot cup of tea, or it can be a complex recipe including various ingredients, like the popular bubble tea. Adding milk mellows and smooths out the flavors of tea, particularly some of the bitter notes found in black tea. Milk tea is enjoyed throughout the world as both a hot and cold beverage.

Fast Facts

  • Alternative Name: Bubble tea
  • Temperature: Hot or cold
  • Main Ingredient: Black tea

What Is Milk Tea?

Milk tea, quite simply, is tea with milk added. This creates a smoother flavor and slightly sweetens the tea. It is a popular way to serve tea in many parts of the world, and it is an easy way to change up your average cup of tea.​

There are many regions in the world where milk tea is the default type of tea. This is most apparent in certain parts of India where tea usually refers to milk tea. Tea without milk is ordered as "black tea" or simply "tea without." Milk tea is also commonly consumed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong.

But milk tea is also a term for hot and cold drink recipes that combine tea with a form of milk (regular, condensed, evaporated) as well as a variety of spices. Certain countries have their own traditional versions of these recipes, which have gained popularity in America.

2 Health Benefits of Milk Tea:

Although milk tea can be made with a few different varieties of tea, black tea is one of the most common.

Boosts Immune System

Black tea is also one of the healthiest types of tea you can drink. It contains antioxidants that support overall health and help lower the risk of chronic disease. It also has polyphenols and antimicrobial properties that are beneficial to the digestive system; polyphenols may also help fight cancer cells. Black tea has also been shown to reduce stress and increase energy.

Aids Nutrition

Milk has several health benefits as it contains nine essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, protein, vitamin B12, and potassium. Because it is packed with vitamins and minerals, only a small amount of milk is necessary to reap the benefits.

Uses

The addition of milk to tea results in a less astringent, less bitter flavor. This is because milk binds to some of the bitter chemical compounds found in tea while covering up some of the flavors of the tea. Some teas, such as strong black tea and Assam teas from India, are almost always served with milk to reduce the bitterness. Assam milk tea also makes a regular appearance as a British afternoon tea.

However, some of the tea's bitter compounds are very beneficial to health, so if you're drinking tea for health reasons, tea without milk is a better choice.

Illustration on making milk tea
The Spruce

How to Drink Milk Tea

There are really no set guidelines or suggestions about how much milk to add to any particular tea. Most tea should not require a lot of milk, but it depends more than anything on personal taste and the type of tea brewed. In general, begin with a splash or a tablespoon of milk. Stir and taste the tea; if needed, add more until it is to the desired taste.

When it comes to milk tea recipes, some use quite a bit of milk. For instance, homemade masala chai requires equal parts of milk and water.​

Many milk teas work well with a dairy substitute such as soy, almond, or rice milk. Coconut milk is not as versatile, but when combined with the right tea, it makes for a tasty beverage.

Caffeine Content in Milk Tea

The amount of caffeine in milk tea is dependent on the type of tea used in the drink, which often is a type of black tea. Per 8-ounce cup, chai tea ranges from 60 to 120 milligrams of caffeine, while Assam black tea comes in at 80 milligrams and Darjeeling tea at 50 milligrams. It is safe to assume, though, that adding milk to a cup of tea means that the amount of actual tea consumed is less, thus lowering caffeine intake.

Buying and Storing Milk Tea

Premade milk tea can be purchased online or in specialty Asian markets. Look for "royal milk tea" which is sold either in cans or in packets as an "instant" form made with powdered milk. Black milk tea powder is also available and is the same type of ingredient that is used in bubble tea shops. Powders and cans can be stored in the pantry.

Recipes

Milk tea goes beyond simply adding a splash of milk to a cup of tea. There are many milk tea recipes found around the world, particularly Asia. 

Types of Milk Tea

There are many variations of milk tea, both hot and cold. Several types include a variety of spices as well as sugar.

  • Bubble Tea: Created in Taiwan in the 1980s, this fun beverage is growing in popularity, mainly due to the interesting little balls at the bottom of the glass. It is a combination of black tea, milk, a sweetener of some sort, and tapioca pearls. Although there are a few classic preparations, there are hundreds of versions of bubble tea.
  • Hong Kong Milk Tea: This is the most popular type of tea prepared with evaporated milk. It is also called pantyhose tea because of the tea sock it is traditionally brewed in. For a sweeter version, it can be made with condensed milk.
  • Tea Latte: A latte for the non-coffee drinker, this popular tea drink is found in North America, parts of Europe, and beyond. Just as with coffee lattes, it can be served hot or over ice.
  • Thai Iced Tea: Featured on menus in American Thai restaurants, this cold beverage is a combination of black tea, condensed and evaporated milk, sugar, and spices. It is sold as a powdered mix but is also easy to make from scratch at home.
  • Masala Chai: This Indian spiced tea has grown in popularity and is sometimes made from powders or syrups. The traditional recipe calls for simmering black tea, milk, and several spices including cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and ginger, and then straining into mugs before serving.
  • British Milk Tea: The country's ubiquitous beverage is sometimes served with a bit of milk. The traditional method is to first add the milk and then pour the tea over it; it is thought this technique doesn't alter the flavor of the tea too much.