Milk tea refers to several forms of beverage found in many cultures, consisting of some combination of tea and milk. The term milk tea is used for both hot and cold drinks that can be combined with various kinds of milks and a variety of spices. This is a popular way to serve tea in many countries, and is the default type of tea in many South Asian countries. Beverages vary based on the amount of each of these key ingredients, the method of preparation, and the inclusion of other ingredients (varying from sugar or honey to salt or cardamom)[1] Milk tea is the default type of tea in India and Pakistan and referred to as chai.[2]

Milk tea has been a global sensation ever since the 21st century. It is well-known in many countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Malaysia, India, and most prominently in China, and other Asian countries.[3] The recipes for milk tea mainly consist of a tea base, milk, added sugar, and other added ingredients such as fruits, and creamer. The drink is popular for its rich tea flavor, affordability, pretty aesthetics, sweetness, and diversity that appeals to many people, which is similar to coffee in the drink market.

The drink is especially popular among teenagers and young adults for its visuals and large variety. The milk tea industry is likely to continue to grow due to its rising popularity in the global market. The sugar that balances the milk and tea from the cultural beverage is leading to a larger consumption among people daily. This has caused an increase in milk tea shops all around the world in recent years.[4] The popularity of milk tea pushes the industry to pursue more supply chains and new products.[5]


Chinese mainland milk tea

The ancient Chinese Trades of tea in exchange for horses
Chinese tea bricks for trading

In ancient China, tea was primarily consumed for its caffeine content. Milk has been historically regarded as a prominent beverage among nomadic communities, symbolizing their cultural identity.[6] As nomadic populations migrated southward, the consumption of milk gradually permeated the Central Plains region, and history records that when Emperor Dezong of Tang made tea, he added "crispy", which is processed and fermented milk, and found it to be delicious.[7] Since then, milk tea became more and more popular in the mainland market because of the opening of tea-horse trading: the emperor moves tea from farms to pastures[8] or good horses and cows that he needs for war and production. In this case, milk tea has started to spread in different places other than mainland China. In 2019, the milk tea market sold over approximately $140.5 billion in Chinese currency.[3] Some of the most popular milk tea brands include Coco, Alittle, and Heytea.[3]

Grassland milk tea

Grassland milk tea is often referred to as salty milk tea because of its preparation. In the pastoral regions of China, such as the Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet, nomadic communities follow the process of initially crushing the tea leaves and subsequently infusing them in boiling water.[9] The tea is then boiled, followed by the addition of milk, which is stirred into the mixture. Finally, an appropriate quantity of salt is incorporated, resulting in the completion of the milk tea preparation. Salt is also used for long term storage as the horde face long-distance travel and extreme weather conditions.[6]

Hong Kong-style milk tea

Hong Kong–style milk tea

Hong Kong milk tea comes from its ties to British milk tea during the colonial era. Since the taste of British milk tea was not very strong, people in Hong Kong changed this drink by adding crushed Ceylon black tea, which is usually called Sri Lanka black tea. Because of its similar pronunciation, Sri Lanka milk tea is then translated to Silang milk tea in Hong Kong. The process of making Silang milk tea has six steps: scraping the tea, boiling the tea, baking the tea, infusing the tea, and adding milk.The tea was put through a sieve as part of the way it was made, which also led to the name "silk hose milk tea". On top of that, evaporated milk was added to the tea to finish the drink.[10]

Taiwan bubble milk tea

Taiwan milk tea

Taiwan milk tea is well-known as bubble milk tea. It was originated in the 17th century, when the Dutch brought it there. The Boba is a round starch powder that looks like a pearl. Before being added to the milk tea, this powder circle is usually dipped in syrup. This is done to make sure that when the powder circle is mixed with the sugary milk tea, it keeps its natural sweetness.[11] Bubble tea has acquired such a significant role in representing Taiwanese culture that the people of Taiwan commemorate April 30 annually as the National Day of Bubble Tea.[12]

Milk tea served in India

Other variations include:

In Britain, when hot tea and cold milk are drunk together, the drink is simply known as tea due to the vast majority of tea being consumed in such a way. The term milk tea is unused, although one may specify tea with milk if context requires it. This may cause confusion for people from cultures that traditionally drink tea without milk.


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  2. ^ Zeng, Zhigang; Wang, Jun (2010-05-10). Advances in Neural Network Research and Applications. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-3-642-12990-2.
  3. ^ a b c Lin, Xi; Yang, Jiangfan; Chen, Qian (2023-04-01). "College Students' Preferences for Milk Tea: Results from a Choice Experiment". Foods. 12 (7): 1491. doi:10.3390/foods12071491. ISSN 2304-8158. PMC 10094260. PMID 37048313.
  4. ^ Hugues, Juan Carlos; Nogueira-López, Abel; Flayelle, Maèva; von Hammerstein, Cora; Billieux, Joël (2024-02-01). "Spilling the tea about milk tea addiction - A reply to Qu et al. (2023)". Journal of Affective Disorders. 346: 133–134. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2023.10.155. ISSN 0165-0327. PMID 37926160.
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  6. ^ a b He, Yanrong (2013). "新疆游牧民族的奶茶文化--哈萨克族与蒙古族奶茶文化比较研究. 兰州教育学院学报". 兰州教育学院学报. 29 (11): 13–14.
  7. ^ Lin, Jiaying. "From Localization to Globalization: A Study of Pearl Milk Tea" (PDF).
  8. ^ "北宋茶马互市走私问题研究 - 中国优秀硕士学位论文全文数据库". Retrieved 2023-10-06.
  9. ^ Ouyang, Jun (2021). "古典名著里的茶文化". 中国食品 (6): 138–141.
  10. ^ Lin, Jiaying. "From Localization to Globalization: A Study of Pearl Milk Tea" (PDF).
  11. ^ Lin, Jiaying. "From Localization to Globalization: A Study of Pearl Milk Tea" (PDF).
  12. ^ ABoxTik (2023-09-27). "Top 20 Bubble Tea Recommendations & History Of Boba". Retrieved 2023-10-25.
  13. ^ "Bubble tea vs Boba : The Ultimate comparison of our favourite drink". Retrieved 2023-04-02.
  14. ^ "Coffee and tea connect daily life of the locals". The Myanmar Times. 2018-01-30. Retrieved 2021-01-16.
  15. ^ Driem, George L. van (2019-01-14). The Tale of Tea: A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-39360-8.
  16. ^ "The Travelling Gourmet". Myanmar Times no.37. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
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  18. ^ "Definition of CAMBRIC TEA".
  19. ^ "The real Dalgona coffee, in Korea | Eat Your World". Retrieved 2020-04-30.

Further reading