I have a super vivid memory of the first time I tried thai iced tea. I was in college, eating at a traditional, no-frills Thai restaurant with some friends. I was not someone who grew up eating ethnic foods outside of my own background, which is Italian and Polish. The extent of my ethnic eating when I was younger was general tso's chicken and po po platters, and it wasn't until college that I tried sushi, indian, and thai food for the first time, all of which are favorites of mine now. Because I got such a late start with these foods, my memories of the first time I tried them are still there, still very vivid. When I ordered my first thai iced tea, I remember who was there and exactly what it tasted like. It was sweet, creamy and sooo delicious. Kinda like what I would imagine shooting stars, rainbows, and summer, all mixed together, to taste like.
Fast forward to today, I haven't had many thai iced teas since that first one because I don't often see them on menus, and I also remember thinking this tastes too good to not have a million calories and grams of sugar. Then, sometime last week, that memory made it's way back into my head. The taste, the look, the shooting stars, and I decided that I needed to make my own version. A version that I can drink and not feel terrible because of the dairy and amount of sugar. I did some research and it turns out that coconut milk is a more than acceptable milk to sub for the half and half, and in fact, I think it adds a little something to the flavor and texture.
Another vivid memory I have, totally separate from my first thai iced tea experience, is my grandmother brewing tea outside in the hot summer sun. Apparently, it has a name .... it's called sun tea, and it's totally a thing. I remember her large glass pitcher with bright yellow flowers sitting on a small table in the middle of the backyard all by it's lonesome. It would sit there for hours using the heat of the sun to heat and brew the tea until it turned a dark amber color. That pitcher sitting in the sun was summer to me, that tea tasted like summer, and I have this urge to bring back that hippy chic, energy saving, tea making technique this summer ...... starting with this vanilla hibiscus brew right here.
Now, you don't have to brew this in the sun, unless you really want to. But you can brew this ahead of time, and even double the batch, so you can sip on it with friends all weekend long. Coconut milk is also optional, but it's the ingredient that makes this thai-inspired brew come to life. It is possibly one of the most refreshing and delicious beverages, making it a perfect poolside, or lunchtime drink.
hibiscus vanilla thai-styled ice tea
If you cannot find hibiscus tea bags, you can use regular black tea bags. It will not have those floral undertones, but it will still be very delicious. As mentioned above, the tea can be made/brewed ahead of time, several days or more, and kept in the fridge until you're ready to enjoy ..... with or without the coconut milk (although I highly recommend with).
4 cups of water
3 hibiscus tea bags (or black tea bags)
1/2 cup of coconut sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped (pod reserved)
1 star anise
2 whole cloves
approx 1 cup of full fat or light (canned) coconut milk
a sprig of mint for garnish (optional)
Brew the tea + chill:
- Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan, and stir in the sugar and remove from the heat. Add the tea bags, vanilla (seeds + pod), star anise, and cloves. Allow the tea to sit and cool for about 15 minutes, and then transfer to the fridge for 1 hour. After about an hour, remove the tea bags and strain. You can place the tea back into the refrigerator until you're ready to serve, or serve immediately.
- Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour the tea over the ice, about 3/4 way up the glass. Top off with the coconut milk, and stick a sprig of mint in the glass for garnish. Enjoy immediately.