What Is Thai Tea? Everything You Need to Know About This Sweet, Spiced Delight

Thai tea is a worldwide favorite beverage at Thai restaurants, including those in the United States. It’s a culinary combo of Thai street tea and the Western love for sweetened and strongly flavored iced beverages.


Thai tea is iced black tea with milk and spices. It has a unique flavor profile that’s distinct from other teas: pleasant and earthy, enjoyed for its rich, sweet taste.


Since black tea contains strong groups of polyphenols with disease-fighting potential, Thai tea may offer some health advantages.


Since black tea contains strong groups of polyphenols with disease-fighting potential, Thai tea may offer some health advantages.


Thai tea can, however, be heavily sweetened with added sugar.


Read on to discover what Thai tea is and why people rave about it, as well as the science behind its ingredients and their potential health benefits.


What is Thai tea?

Thai tea, also known as Thai iced tea, is a spiced and iced black tea drink popular in Thailand and surrounding countries.


It has a distinctive orange-red color due to its spices — such as star anise, cardamom, and tamarind seed — and red food coloring.


Thai tea can be prepared from loose black tea leaves or Thai tea bags, and it may be served hot instead of iced.


Sweetened condensed milk, or evaporated milk mixed with sugar, is added to Thai tea before chilling it. This gives it a creamy layer on top. Generally, you’ll detect earthy undertones, nutty overtones, and a punch of sweetness.


The ingredients can vary, but typically the tea is made with a Thai tea mix, which can be made at home or purchased from a Thai restaurant.


Thai tea nutrition

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an 8-ounce (240-mL) serving of Thai tea provides 154 calories and consists of a considerable amount of sugar (1Trusted Source).

Other nutrients include:

  • Protein: 1 gram

  • Carbohydrates: 31 grams

  • Fat: 2.8 grams

  • Fiber: 1 gram

  • Sodium: 64.8 milligrams

  • Sugar: 24 grams

  • Calcium: 6% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)

  • Iron: 2% of the RDI

Thai tea also contains caffeine. Tea bags contain an estimated caffeine concentration of 218 mg/L (2).


The amount of caffeine in different brewed teas may vary, though. Caffeine content is determined by a variety of factors, including where and how the tea leaves were grown and processed and how the beverage is prepared.


Caffeine is a naturally occurring, brain-boosting stimulant that people all over the world consume. Although there is evidence that caffeine improves performance, it may have numerous side effects, including sleeplessness and anxiety (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).


Thai tea health benefits

Thai tea may offer some health benefits, including anti-inflammatory potential, prebiotic functions, and more. These benefits can be attributed to the following components of Thai tea.


Black tea

Black tea contains antioxidants and chemical compounds that may help decrease inflammation in the body. For this reason, it may provide a bunch of health benefits, including chronic disease prevention.


Clinical studies suggest that drinking black tea may protect against diabetes and heart disease and may support weight loss efforts (5Trusted Source).


In fact, black tea polyphenols (powerful, naturally occurring antioxidants) may aid in weight loss more effectively than green tea polyphenols, although green tea is more often lauded as a metabolism booster (6Trusted Source).


Read more about the differences between black and green teas here.


Lisa Andrews, a registered dietitian at Sound Bites Nutrition, said black tea contains significant antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.


“Black tea contains polyphenolic compounds, such as theaflavins and thearubigins, that may help protect against cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” Andrews told Healthline via email.


One review suggests that back tea polyphenols have a beneficial effect on obesity management (7Trusted Source).


However, more studies are necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn regarding the impact of black tea consumption on weight.


The benefits of black tea extend further.


Based on recent research in rodents, the gut microbiome may benefit from black tea, according to Andrews.


“It’s been found to increase short-chain fatty acid production and the diversity of the gut microbiome, but reduce Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut of healthy rats,” she said.


The gut microbiome is made up of approximately 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bodies, and they all have different purposes. Some help fight disease, while others keep you healthy (8Trusted Source).


A diverse gut microbiome is more robust and resilient than having just one or two kinds of bacteria. And it may help you fight disease and stay healthier (Trusted Source8Trusted Source).


Tea has also been linked to other advantages, such as brain health.


In fact, the antioxidant activity of tea polyphenols may reduce oxidative stress, which might aid in preventing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (9Trusted Source).


Oxidative stress occurs when cell-damaging, unstable oxygen atoms (commonly known as free radicals) interact with other cells in the body. People with accelerated free radical production may be at a higher risk of developing certain chronic health conditions (10Trusted Source).


Cardamom

Cardamom has a strong flavor and aroma. It can be used fresh or ground to give Thai tea its distinctive flavor.


“According to phytochemical analyses, cardamom contains several chemical compounds, including carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, lipids, essential oils, flavonoids, terpenoids, and carotenoids,” said Andrews.


Cardamom has been linked to improved diabetes management and lower triglyceride levels.


“A small study in subjects with diabetes found that cardamom supplementation aids in reducing Hba1c [average blood sugar level], insulin, and triglycerides,” Andrews explained (11Trusted Source).


Star anise

Star anise adds a licorice flavor to Thai tea, which cuts through the creamy sweetness.


Aside from its use as a spice, star anise is popularly used in traditional Chinese medicine for its antiviral properties (12Trusted Source).


“It’s a medicinal herb,” Andrews said, “with several health properties such as antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.”


What’s more, star anise is also used in Western medicine to help combat influenza, Andrews explained.


“Star anise is the major source of shikimic acid, a main ingredient in the antiflu drug (Tamiflu),” she said.


More research is needed into star anise’s effects, though. It’s a good idea to talk with a medical professional if you’re not feeling well.


Tamarind seed

Fruit seeds, such as tamarind seeds, are high in biologically active phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant properties) — especially flavonoids, anthocyanins, vitamin C, and carotenoids (13Trusted Source).


According to Andrews, tamarind seed polysaccharide (TSP) may have beneficial effects on bowel bacteria.


“TSP promotes beneficial bacterial growth,” she told Healthline, “which researchers believe may have prebiotic functions, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and maintenance of the intestinal gut barrier” (14Trusted Source).


Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that nourishes the friendly bacteria in your gut, which may improve not only your digestive system but also your general health.


TSP may also be used as a thickening agent in food and medicinal products, Andrews explained.


“It’s been found in some studies to be a good substitute [for] or used in conjunction with hyaluronic acid for injection compounds for arthritis,” she said.


The tamarind seed has numerous biologically active compounds, which have been shown to have antioxidant properties and may also promote beneficial gut bacteria.


Potential downsides of Thai tea


Sugar

Thai tea contains considerable amounts of added sugar — about six teaspoons — which may be harmful to your health if consumed regularly.


The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for individuals to limit their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. That means limiting added sugars to no more than 200 calories (approximately 12 teaspoons) in a 2,000-calorie diet (15Trusted Source).


Thai tea contains 50% of the daily recommended sugar intake in a single serving.


Thai tea contains a high amount of sugar, which may lead to health concerns if consumed often.


Food coloring

Food dyes are color pigments developed to improve the appearance of food by giving it an artificial hue. They are produced using petroleum.


According to one older review, there are health issues associated with coloring Red 3. It has been shown to induce cancer in animals, and several other dyes have also been linked with cancer (17Trusted Source).


It’s worth noting that the presence of benzidine and other carcinogens (agents with the potential to cause cancer in humans) has been detected in three dyes: Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 (17Trusted Source).


At least four colors (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) may cause hypersensitivity reactions (17Trusted Source).



While the safety of food coloring is still debatable, current usage in the United States appears to be safe (19Trusted Source).


Food dyes are artificial colors developed to make food more appealing, but some may cause cancer.


The bottom line

Thai tea is a spiced black tea beverage with a unique orange-red color, owing to a mixture of spices and artificial coloring.


It’s a sweet and creamy beverage made with milk and sugar.


Black tea has a variety of potent antioxidants and plant chemicals that may support health and help fight disease.


Nevertheless, Thai tea contains a significant amount of added sugar. One serving has 6 teaspoons, which is 50% of your daily added sugar intake.


That means you may want to enjoy Thai tea in moderation.


Source: Healthline