Milk tea

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Milk tea refers to several forms of beverage found in many cultures, containing 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. Tea without milk or ‘black tea’ is common in England, Ireland, Hong Kong and Scotland. Instant milk tea powder is a mass-produced product.[2]

Milk tea served in India
A glass of milk tea in Nepal
Women working at a tea garden in Assam



Tea cultivation was introduced on the subcontinent in the Assam hills during British rule. In Britain, the custom of drinking tea was popular amongst the upper-class which was acquired from the Dutch and Portuguese in the late 17th century. This custom was regarded as a medicinal purpose and slowly integrated its way into the middle and lower classes which then became a nation wide habit.[3]

Although India is well-known for the tea it produces and the several cups that are drank a day by its inhabitants, the habit of drinking this beverage did not actually originate here. Historically, the habit of drinking tea in the subcontinent became prevalent when the British had introduced this concept. Researchers generally believe that drinking tea originated in China and was first used as a medicine and later on went to be used as a beverage.

While India has known about tea leaves and its medicinal properties, it was never used as a regular beverage. After exporting tea to Portugal, the Japanese decided to stop and thus, the global tea trade went into the hands of China. They however, refused to give up their secrets of the tea cultivation process. To combat this issue, British spies entered the Chinese tea industry by stealing tea plants. This plant was brought back to India and cultivated in Darjeeling. During the 1850’s, Darjeeling tea became vastly popular known as the ‘Champagne of Teas’, and from here Indian tea had taken over the global market.[4]

Discovery in Assam[edit]

Tea was first discovered in Assam by Mr. Robert Bruce during the Burmese war, who allegedly brought down shrubs and seeds of this plant with him. The first discovery of tea plants was made in 1821 in upper Assam. Assam tea was exported to all parts of India and many farmers earned their livelihood through the export of it. When tea was discovered here, European planters invested capital in this region which made the state of Assam richer than other parts of India. In 1834, the Indian government formed a tea committee to explore expanding the tea cultivation in the Assam region. Although this project failed, in 1838 the Bengal Association was formed with Europeans and Indians both, who had similar objectives of tea expansion. Facing failures during the first few years, tea cultivation began to improve around 1852 - this year it had 15 gardens in Sivasagar with land that stretched to 400 acres. Tea grown in the cultivated area was estimated at a value of 23,362 British pounds. During the next three years, tea production rapidly increased in progress which was later faltered due to careless management that resulted in a crisis during 1866.[citation needed]

Milk Tea Alliance[edit]

The Milk Tea Alliance is a term used to describe an online democratic solidarity movement made up of netizens from Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Myanmar.[5][6] The concept originally arose in response to the increased presence of Chinese trolls and nationalist commentators on social media, but has now been described to advocate for improved democracy in their own respective countries.[7][8] Milk tea was seen as a symbol of anti-Chinese solidarity as it is believed that tea is historically consumed with milk in these countries while in China it is not (although this is factually untrue, as China has a long history of milk tea consumption).[9][better source needed] Australia has also been suggested to be a member of the Milk Tea Alliance, however the relation to milk tea is tenuous with the milk product Aptamil standing in for an actual variety of milk tea in imagery.[10]

The "Milk Tea Alliance" moniker emerged in 2020 after Chinese nationalist Internet commentators criticised the Thai actor Bright for "liking" an image on Twitter which referred to Hong Kong as a "country", and called for a boycott of his TV programme. Some Twitter users in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines joined Thai users in what The Telegraph called "a rare moment of regional solidarity".[11] Following the 2020 China–India skirmishes India has also been included in some formulations of the Alliance with masala chai being their representative variety of milk tea.[9]

Pallabi Munsi, writing in OZY, described the Milk Tea Alliance taking on 50 Cent Party and Little Pink as "Asia's volunteer army rising against China's internet trolls."[12]


Local variations include:

It is believed that Thailand consumes up to six cups of bubble tea per person per month. Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia consume three cups per person per month.[20]

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


  1. ^ "Franchise battle stirring up Vietnamese milk tea market - News VietNamNet". Retrieved 2022-10-11.
  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. ^ Lutgendorf, Philip (December 2012). "Making tea in India: Chai, capitalism, culture". Thesis Eleven. 113 (1): 11–31. doi:10.1177/0725513612456896. ISSN 0725-5136. S2CID 145003621.
  4. ^ Dey, Monidipa (3 November 2019). "Tracing the history of 'Chai', and Indian and Chinese claims on the culture of drinking tea". Financial Express. ProQuest 2311341779.
  5. ^ Tanakasempipat, Patpicha (15 April 2020). "Young Thais join 'Milk Tea Alliance' in online backlash that angers Beijing". Reuters. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  6. ^ Bunyavejchewin, Poowin. "Will the 'Milk Tea War' Have a Lasting Impact on China-Thailand Relations?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  7. ^ McDevitt, Dan. "'In Milk Tea We Trust': How a Thai-Chinese Meme War Led to a New (Online) Pan-Asia Alliance". The Diplomat. Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  8. ^ Lau, Jessie (15 May 2020). "Why the Taiwanese are thinking more about their identity". New Statesman. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  9. ^ a b Deol, Taran (18 June 2020). "'We conquer, we kill': Taiwan cartoon showing Lord Rama slay Chinese dragon goes viral". The Print. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  10. ^ Everington, Keoni (29 April 2020). "Photo of the Day: Australia joins Milk Tea Alliance with Taiwan". Taiwan News. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  11. ^ Smith, Nicola (3 May 2020). "#MilkTeaAlliance: New Asian youth movement battles Chinese trolls". The Telegraph.
  12. ^ Munsi, Pallabi (2020-07-15). "The Asian Volunteer Army Rising Against China's Internet Trolls". OZY. Retrieved 2020-07-30.
  13. ^ "Coffee and tea connect daily life of the locals". The Myanmar Times. 2018-01-30. Retrieved 2021-01-16.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "The Travelling Gourmet". Myanmar Times no.37. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  16. ^ "The Rich Culture and Tradition of Tea in Myanmar". MVA. 2015-10-05. Retrieved 2021-01-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "Definition of CAMBRIC TEA".
  18. ^ "royal milk tea" [Milk]. royal milk tea. 26 March 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  19. ^ "The real Dalgona coffee, in Korea | Eat Your World". Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  20. ^ Southeast Asia's bubble tea craze - The ASEAN Post, December 2019

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Milk tea at Wikimedia Commons