Originating from Malaysia but famous the world over, the tea concoction known as teh tarik holds a special place in the hearts of Southeast Asians.
Teh tarik literally means “pulled tea,” which is exactly what tea attendants in Malaysian kopitiam and mamak stalls do to create the drink. Black tea, sugar, and condensed milk are combined, then poured through the air between two cups until it reaches a rich, frothy texture – skilled teh tarik artists never spill a drop!
The tea-pulling is more than just a display of showmanship and tradition: pouring teh tarik through the air cools the tea and produces a foamy head. Successive pours 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 kopitiam (traditional coffee shops in Singapore and Malaysia) 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.
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.
To order like a local, ask for one of the following when in a kopitiam – and don't be surprised when the order-taker relays it to the tea counter in a loud voice!
- 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")
Make Your Own Teh Tarik at Home
While you may make a bigger mess than the guys working the Mamak stalls, teh tarik is simple enough to make at home.
- Add 4 tbsp. of powdered black tea to boiling water; allow to brew for five minutes.
- Filter the tea into a separate glass, then add 2 tbsp. of sugar and 4 tbsp. of condensed milk.
- Pour the tea between two glasses until it becomes thick and has foam on top.
- Serve hot in a clear glass accompanied by a heavy dose of gossip for good measure.