There are two kinds of milk tea lovers in the world: those who see the milk tea menu and get excited about the infinite possibilities or those who are paralyzed and hold up the line because there are just too many decisions to make! Whether you’re the first or the second kind, this guide will help you find your perfect drink.
We’ve divided this list according to your choice of tea, milk, sweetener, sinker, and topping.
1 Choose Your Tea
The heart of really good milk tea is one that perfectly suits your palate.
If you want a full-bodied flavor of tea, go for a variant of Black Tea. Common choices for black tea are Earl Grey, Assam, and Alisan. Often, flavors with a “roasted” note are also indicated. These flavors usually come with higher caffeine content.
When choosing Green Tea, keep in mind that there are several types of it. Mainly, there are three kinds:
Herby Green Teas can be Oolong or Pu’ Er, and are thin, herby hot tea typically also found as “hot tea” or “house tea” at Chinese restaurants. Flower Teas, may also be White Tea, can be Osmanthus, Chamomile, Jasmine, or Rose Tea. They have a fragrant floral taste. Both kinds of tea have somewhat subdued flavors especially as a tea’s scent is usually played down by colder temperatures.
The third kind is Japanese green tea, also known as Matcha, made from a green pulverized powder of leaves that make a thick, frothy, creamy drink that is earthy and bitter.
When ordering green tea at a milk tea shop for the first time and they only indicate “green tea,” it’s best to ask at least whether they mean “matcha” to set your expectations right.
2 Choose Your Milk
Regular Milk Tea often uses a non-dairy creamer or milk. Some specific milk teas get their flavor though, by changing up this component.
Hokkaido Milk Tea uses Hokkaido milk which lends a creamier texture and caramel notes. While Thai Milk Tea uses condensed milk’s thick sweet creaminess to balance its bold strong brew and spices. Hong Kong Milk Tea or “Nai Cha”, where milk tea all began, is a mix of evaporated milk over strongly brewed, hot black tea that you can also have iced. Before pearls came into play, this milk tea has long been in the market.
If you aren’t fond of milk, you have two options. If you’re lactose-intolerant but you can consume yogurt, Yakult Milk Tea might suit you. It uses the popular, tart yogurt drink shaken with your choice of fruit tea that can be peach, lemon, lychee, passionfruit, or strawberry. Or, go sans milk with Fruit Infused Tea. Not to be confused with fruit juices, fruit teas are infused with fruity flavor either by the tea’s flavor, but most often through a fruit-flavored syrup. You can typically find fruit teas flavored wintermelon, peach, mango, lemon, passionfruit, grapefruit, and lychee.
3 Choose Your Sweetness
Most milk tea shops use either a simple syrup, brown sugar syrup, or honey as a sweetener and is also used to submerge and flavor tapioca balls. Some milk teas, however, get their identity from the sweetener used.
Okinawa Milk Tea or Roasted Milk Tea uses a special roasted brown sugar. The increasingly popular Tiger Milk Tea uses brown sugar in more ways than one. Apart from using the brown sugar syrup to line the glass as “tiger stripes” it’s also traditionally made with tapioca balls that are sauteed in brown sugar.
Here’s an important tip when choosing your sugar levels. No matter what level of sugar you typically go for, whether 25%, 50%, 70%, or 100%, always reconsider the level depending on your sinkers or toppings. For example, though you may typically go for 100% sugar when choosing ice cream milk tea, going a step lower to 70% might be better. Take into consideration that with more sinkers and toppings you add, you’ll also be adding the syrups they’re submerged in.
4 Choose Your Sinkers
Sinkers, or also known as QQ, meaning “chewy”, in Taiwan, is perhaps what separates normal milk and tea versus the explosively popular milk tea. There are so many different choices for sinkers, from your quintessential pearls to fruits, creams, jellies, and other finds.
Called in the Philippines as Pearls, other countries also call it QQ or boba. These chewy sweet treats come in different colors, sizes, textures, and even flavors.
The most popular, chewy big ¼-inch pearls, are Tapioca Pearls, made from cassava. They can be either be Black Pearls that get their color from brown sugar, or Golden Pearls that use lighter colored sugar. It’s best not to let your tapioca pearls sit too long in your cold drinks as this may turn from chewy to hard.
A few milk tea shops also offer White Pearls or Sago which is made from palm fruit. They’re not as chewy, are only 1/12 of an inch, and is most often found in sweet Filipino treats like taho or guinumis.
Popping Boba is harder to find but it is available. In your mouth, it literally pops, bursting with fruit juice encased in a thin gelatinous film. These sinkers are best with fruit teas.
These sinkers are not chewy but offer a creamy or gelatinous texture to your milk tea.
You’ve probably had Pannacotta as a dessert and have a clue of its velvety texture and milky, creamy flavor. Usually made with a combination of gelatin, cream, and milk, but some versions contain egg. If you’re allergic to egg, it’s best to ask for the ingredients.
Similar to pannacotta, Egg Pudding or Yellow Pudding, is similar to pannacotta but is thickened with flour, cornstarch, or egg. It offers the same flavor profile as the pannacotta.
Taro Pudding is thicker and has earthy flavors. Red Bean is pudding-like at best, on the one hand. If you love red beans, then you’ll love this one. It’s earthy flavor and mushy texture is one of a kind.
If you want a break from pearls and puddings, try out jellies. Jellies, apart from offering textures, also give unique flavors to your milk tea. Nata de Coco is a chewy jelly with a bright coconut flavor while the Mango Jelly also offers a sweet tropical note.
There are also somewhat healthy jellies which aren’t as sweet as most sinkers. Aloe Vera is a really healthy sinker and gives a unique texture with its succulent bite. Grass Jelly is another unique jelly that’s not as sinful as the others. It’s not sweet at all and though feels like pudding, has a very herby taste.
Or, if you drink Milk Tea for its caffeine or as a pick-me-up, then go with Coffee Jelly. Some milk tea shops will also offer coffee-tea blends.
5 Choose Your Toppings
It’s not just about what’s at the bottom of your cup, milk tea is also all about what’s on top! People are divided about how to consume creamy-topped milk tea. The first camp likes to sip on the cream directly from the rim for that salty-creamy taste, then sip on the earthy, sweet tea for a layered flavor experience. The second camp prefers a homogenous creamy milk tea that they get when they stir the cream and tea together. Our suggestion? Do the first method at the start, then when you’re halfway finished, stir it together! Get the best of both worlds.
Rocksalt and Cheese or RSC refers to milk tea with a creamy top, typically made of whipped and frothed cream cheese and cream with a dash of rock salt. You get a creamy, salty, very slightly tart flavor. Cheesecake Cream meanwhile is almost the same thing but is sweetened. Salty Cream on the other hand, skips the cheese altogether.
Another variant similar to this trend is Ice Cream Milk Tea which also accomplishes a creamy, sweet milk tea but this time, skipping the salt.
6 Go Forth and Find Your Perfect Milk Tea
Now that you’ve got the full knowledge of the different kinds of milk tea, it’s up to you to find your favorite combo. But if that still isn’t enough for you, there’s also non-milk tea offerings at your typical milk tea shop ranging from cocoa drinks, flavored milk, and fresh juices.