Bangkok would stir the extreme emotions: either you hate it with all your heart, or you fall in love with it dearly. I fall into the second category. How Do I prove this? Well, I once insisted to go on a trip to Bangkok despite the chaos of a Bangkok Shutdown and despite my best friend having decided to not to go on the trip that we planned together because of her concern about news of protesters blocking main streets.
Too this day, I am grateful that I took the trip, since on that trip I met a German guy who became my boyfriend of four years and inspired me to leave Asia behind for a long adventure of pursuing a master degree in Germany. Well, that is another story!
Thai Iced Coffee
The highlight for the article today will be Bangkok and its amazing specialty: Thai Iced Coffee.
You can find it with any street vendor there in the enervating heat of the city and the sweetness and coolness of the drink almost guarantees you will become addicted.
From my hometown in Ho Chi Minh city, it took a flight of roughly one hour to Bangkok and somehow, I just clicked with the city. It is another mega city with so much to do.
Yes, sure it is dusty and crowded and noisy, but so is my hometown Saigon. While I know Saigon by heart, Bangkok is a mystery with so much to offer for the senses:
From the painful yet heavenly Thai massage to the mouth-watering sweet and sour Tom Yum soup, from the bustling streets overflowing with life to surprisingly quiet and leafy oasis of peace at corner such as Neilson Hays library. To keep you energized in exploration of the Asian metropole, Thai Iced Coffee from any street vendor is a must-have.
History of Thai Iced Tea
The authentic Thai iced coffee is known in Thai as Oliang, surprisingly not a Thai name. The name comes from Teochew dialect, with “o” means “black” and “liang” means “cool”.
Teochew is a group of ethnic Chinese people living in southern China, mostly in Guangdong province. Historically they have migrated to many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Vietnam, to avoid the hardship of war, starvation and chaos in the early twenty century in China. The name oliang suggested that the drink in fact was brought to Thailand by the Teochew immigrants!
In fact, in comparison to the traditional Vietnamese Iced Coffee, which could be brought to Vietnam also by Chinese immigrants, the two drinks are strikingly similar. They are made traditionally by pouring boiling water through a coffee sock holding coffee mixture.
The coffee mixture is never pure coffee but a mix of coffee with various grains and seeds like cardamom, corn, soybeans, rice, and sesame seeds to enhance coffee taste. Another similarity between those two drinks is the added condensed milk to sweeten the drink.
The starkest contrast of Thai Iced Coffee that created its distinctive taste is that its main ingredient used by street vendors is the pre-mixed instant coffee powder.
This popular brand that could be found in Asian shop or Amazon (of course) is Pantainorasingh brand, which is a blend of coffee and other ingredients. Pantainorasigh consisted of 50% coffee, 25% corn, 20% soya bean, 5% sesame seed.
Thai Iced Coffee Today
I was surprised to learn about the fact that traditionally Thai Iced Coffee is not made from pure coffee powder, but always a mix with other grains and seeds. In fact, the practice to mix as such is not only common in Thailand.
In Vietnam, traditionally each coffee store also has a secret recipe to mix coffee with other grains such as soya or corn. Rumor has it that some coffee houses even mix…fish sauce in the powder.
There is no reliable source on why both Thai and Vietnamese prefer mixed coffee over pure coffee. To make a smart guess, I would think historically, in the early 20th century, when the coffee drinking habits started to pick up in both Southeast Asian neighboring countries, coffee was still a luxury goods.
To reduce the price of the rare commodity, it is only logical to mix local available products such as corn, soya bean or sesame seed to the coffee powder selling to the common crowd. Once the coffee drinkers got used to the pre-mixed coffee taste, it then became the standard of how local coffee should be: very dark, black and thick.
The attitude towards pre-mixed coffee powder changed with time, with the availability of purer coffee. The urban office workers would now prefer coffee from Starbuck or fancy pour over café bar over traditional coffee with condensed milk. Yet the popular mass is not picky and the super sweet traditional Thai Iced coffee made from pre-mixed powder still sure does have its fans.
Thai Iced Coffee Recipe:
Below is our easy step by step instruction to make Thai Iced Coffee that you can try at home, when you are melancholic about your last trip to Thailand and its incredible yummy sweet strong coffee.
- Thai oliang instant coffee such as Pantainorasigh brand for the authentic Thai taste. Otherwise, prepare 2 large cups hot and strongly brewed coffee.
- Boiling hot water
- Sweet condensed milk
- Ice cubes
- 1/4 cup of evaporated milk or fresh heavy cream (optional)
- A Thai tea or coffee sock. The sock comes with a metal ring and a handle to which a cotton cloth bag is attached (optional)
Step By Step Guide to Make Thai Iced Coffee:
- To make traditional Thai coffee, put the 3 table spoons of oliang powder (depending on how strong you would like your coffee to be) into the coffee sock and pour boiling hot water over it into a carafe or other glass jug. Let it sit for approximately 10 minutes to release all of coffee taste.
- Alternatively, prepare two cups of hot and strongly brewed coffee in your preferred way. French press can be a good alternative, for its similarly strong and creamy taste.
- Add sweet condensed milk, stir and taste. Traditionally Thai Iced Coffee is made super sweet and strong, so the richly tasted beverage can be watered down later with ice cubes
- Allow the drink to cool and add the ice cubes
- As a final touch, add evaporated milk or fresh heavy cream on top. Enjoy!