Teh Tarik: A Popular Southeast Asian Drink with a Rich History and Culture

Teh tarik is a delicious and frothy milk tea beverage that is well-loved in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. Its name literally translates to “pulled tea” and is derived from the process of repeatedly pouring the tea from one container to another, which creates a frothy head and slightly cools the drink. It is made from a strong brew of black tea mixed with condensed milk and is considered the national drink of Malaysia.

Etymology: The Origin of the Name Teh Tarik

The name teh tarik comes from two different languages. “Teh” means tea in the Hokkien dialect, while “tarik” means pulled in Malay.

Origin and History: A Drink with Indian Muslim Roots

The origins of teh tarik can be traced back to Indian Muslim immigrants who set up drink stalls in the Malay Peninsula after World War II to serve the workers at rubber plantations. Since colonial times, teh tarik has been a popular Malaysian Indian cuisine for many in British Malaya and Singapore. Traditionally, it is served with Roti canai or prata, both of which are popular breakfast dishes in Malaysia and Singapore.

An Element of Showmanship: Teh Tarik’s Unique Preparation

Teh tarik’s preparation involves pouring the tea back and forth repeatedly between two vessels from a height, which creates a frothy top and cools the drink to optimal drinking temperatures. This process also helps to mix the tea with the condensed milk, resulting in a delicious and flavorful drink. The unique preparation of teh tarik is seen as an amusing novelty by locals and tourists alike, and is often performed by teh tarik brewers at competitions and performances in Malaysia.

Preparation and Customization: A Sweet and Creamy Delight

Teh tarik is typically prepared on the sweet side, with most vendors using condensed milk to give it a creamy and indulgent flavor. However, for those who prefer a less sweet drink, the term “kurang manis” can be used to request a less sweet version.

Varieties of Teh Tarik

Teh tarik, also known as “pulled tea,” is a hot milk tea beverage that is widely enjoyed in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. It is made by repeatedly pouring the tea from one container to another, a process that cools the tea and gives it a frothy head. The tea is blended with condensed milk to create a strong, sweet flavor that is popular with locals and tourists alike. Teh tarik is often served with breakfast dishes like roti canai or prata.

Varieties of Teh Tarik:

  • Teh Ais: Sweetened with condensed milk and served over ice in a glass. It may also be known as “teh tarik ping” or “teh tarik ais” with the tarik treatment.
  • Teh Tarik Madu: Teh tarik that is blended with honey during preparation and served cold.
  • Teh Halia: Teh tarik flavored with ginger.
  • Teh Madras: A variant popular in Sabah and Labuan, made with frothed milky tea layered on top of hot milk.
  • Teh-C: Tea made with unsweetened evaporated milk, unlike the traditional teh tarik made with sweetened condensed milk. Vendors usually add sugar to Teh-C, but drinkers can request “Teh-C kosong” to indicate that they do not want their beverage sweetened. The ‘C’ stands for “Carnation,” a popular brand of evaporated milk. A three-layered tea variation called Teh-C Peng Special is also available, consisting of black tea, milk, and palm sugar syrup from top to bottom.
  • Teh-O: Black tea without any dairy products or creamers added. Sugar is typically added unless Teh-O kosong is specified, where sugar is omitted.
  • Kopi Tarik: Local coffee, dark roasted with margarine and sugar, sweetened with condensed milk and pulled to froth it up. Drinks made with Milo and Nescafe may also be served with the tarik treatment by vendors specializing in teh tarik.

In popular culture, teh tarik has become a symbol of navigating conflict in Malaysia. The beverage is enjoyed by people from diverse cultural backgrounds, and organizations throughout the country host “Teh tarik sessions” to bring people together and promote understanding and acceptance.

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