With a neon orange hue and pungent, herbal aroma, Thai iced tea is a perfect way to beat the end-of-summer heat in South Florida. It's also something you don't often see on the menu at your local Thai restaurant. In Southeast Asia, however, it's the drink of choice.
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, only a handful of restaurants are known to serve it. One family of restaurants makes it from scratch almost daily -- no pre-made mixes or fake food coloring.
Thai tea is like coffee to the Thai people, a strong-brewed Ceylon tea mixed with milk or cream. Full of flavor, with recipes that call for star anise, orange blossom water, and crushed tamarind, it makes our American-style Southern sweet tea look weak and watery -- and not nearly as exotic.
In Thailand, the tea is poured over ice and sweetened with sugar, or condensed milk -- and sometimes coconut milk. In a few cities, it's served like boba tea with tapioca pearls and oversized straws to slurp them up.
Mostly, it's a portable drink to-go, and across Southeast Asia street carts and market stands sell Thai tea in clear plastic bags adorned with tiny handles. In sit-down restaurants, it's served in a tall glass (as it is in the states), and sometimes topped with evaporated milk.
At Sushi Masa -- which has locations in Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, and Boca Raton -- the tea is so popular they must make it daily, a server says.
"We go through it so quickly, we need to make it every day," she said. "We can only make a little at a time, because it loses it's [aroma] if you make too much at once. It's a very popular, traditional drink."
Tea leaves are brought to a boil and simmer on low heat for close to an hour, creating a strong, aromatic brew that takes on an opaque, burnt-orange hue. Special spices are added, and the brew is chilled for serving. For $3 a pop, a server pours the tea over ice in a tall glass, and tops it off with a sweet cream before serving.
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