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Teh Tarik

An Introduction to Malaysia's Famous Coffee and Tea Drinks

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teh tarik being poured

Pouring teh tarik from as high as possible creates the perfect mixture.

Photo by Larra Jungle Princess / Creative Commons

Originating from Malaysia but famous the world over, teh tarik holds a special place in the hearts of Southeast Asians.  Teh tarik is comprised of black tea, sugar, and condensed milk mixed to frothy perfection. While the ingredients are simple enough, Malaysians know that pouring a proper cup of teh tarik is an art requiring years to master.

Teh tarik literally means “pulled tea,” which is exactly what artisans in Indian mamak stalls do to create the drink.  The tea and milk are poured through the air between two cups until it reaches a rich, frothy texture - skilled teh tarik artists never spill a drop!  More than just showmanship and tradition, pouring teh tarik through the air cools the tea and produces a foamy head.  The graceful pours by artists bring out the full flavor of the tea in milk by combining the mixture to extreme saturation.  Teh tarik is typically served in a clear glass so that the perfect mixture can be seen and appreciated.

A Teh Tarik Culture

Malaysians are proud of their famous tea drink; teh tarik has been exported to Singapore, Indonesia, and all around the world.  Perhaps more important than the drink itself is the underlying culture.  Locals gather in kopitiams - Malaysian coffee shops - and Mamak restaurants run by Indian Muslims to socialize, share gossip, watch soccer, and generally just chat while their teh tarik is being poured.  The ubiquitous roti canai - a thin bread served with dipping sauce - is the perfect compliment to balance the sweetness of teh tarik.

Teh tarik was recognized by the government as an important part of Malaysia's food heritage.  Annual competitions in Kuala Lumpur determine who can pour the perfect teh tarik without spilling.

Teh Tarik Recipe for Home

While you may make a bigger mess than the guys working the Mamak stalls, teh tarik is simple enough to make at home.

  1. Add 4 tbsp of powdered black tea to boiling water; allow to brew for five minutes.
  2. Filter the tea into a separate glass, then add 2 tbsp of sugar and 4 tbsp of condensed milk.
  3. Pour the tea between two glasses until it becomes thick and has foam on top.
  4. Serve hot in a clear glass accompanied by a heavy dose of gossip for good measure.

Other Malaysian Tea Drinks

While teh tarik is certainly the most popular, visitors unfamiliar with Malaysian kopitiam jargon may be baffled at these common drinks on the menu.  Unless ordered otherwise, drinks tend to be served extremely sweet by Western standards.

  • Kopi o kosong: Literally plain, black coffee served hot and strong.
  • Kopi: Coffee with both milk and sugar.
  • Kopi o: Hot coffee with sugar.
  • Kopi o peng: Iced coffee served sweet.
  • Kopi c: Coffee with evaporated milk and sugar.
  • Teh: Hot tea with milk and sugar.
  • Teh o: Hot tea with sugar.
  • Teh o peng: Iced tea with sugar.
  • Teh halia: Teh tarik with ginger added; teh halia is often drank when one feels cold or sick.

Milk, Sugar, and Ice

By default, sugar and some form of milk are added to most Malaysian coffee and tea drinks.  Drinks are typically served hot, unless you specify "peng" which means chilled with ice.

Add the following expressions to your order just to be sure:

  • For no sugar: tidak mau gula (pronounced “tee-dak maw goolah”)
  • For no milk: tidak mau susu (pronounced “tee-dak maw soozoo”)
  • Kosong” means empty or plain to ensure that both milk and sugar are left out.
  • For iced coffee and tea add peng (pronounced "ping")

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