In addition to its plethora of delectable food offerings, Thailand’s culinary cornucopia includes a number of delicious cold beverages
Sugar cane juice is a street side favourite across Southeast Asia
A busy day of sightseeing in Thailand can often leave you feeling parched. While it may be tempting to reach for a chilled bottle of Singha or Chang beer every time you want to quench your thirst, the Kingdom’s impressive array of non-alcoholic beverages are well worth sampling, too. From decadent sweet creations to satisfy the most insatiable of sweet tooths, to healthy and refreshing brews, there’s plenty to choose from.
While a café, restaurant or coffee shop is a great place to sit down and relax with a drink, street food stands often offer a more authentic flavour. Local, family-run eateries are also a safe bet if you’re keen to savour the authentic flavours of a Thai milk tea or a glass of Asiatic pennywort juice. Many of Thailand’s traditional beverages are actually straightforward to make yourself, and can easily be prepared in the well-equipped kitchen at your private villa.
We’ve gathered a selection of our favourite traditional Thai thirst-quenchers to tempt your taste buds.
This decadent creamy beverage doubles up as a sweet dessert
If you’ve seen people sipping on tall glasses of luminous orange liquid whilst out and about in Thailand, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re sipping on fresh orange juice. In the majority of cases, they’ll actually be slurping Thai milk tea. Usually served over ice, this sweet and creamy beverage is gloriously thick and rich, and can often double up as an indulgent dessert. Made from a concoction of black tea, condensed milk and evaporated milk, Thai milk tea tastes nothing like its English breakfast cousin – so it’s best to banish any preconceptions of this brew before you taste it.
Black tea is used to prepare this tea, although in Thailand, the number one brand used includes a luminous orange food dye – which is what gives the brew its striking hue. If you want to sample an authentic cup of ‘Cha Yen’ head to a local street food stall. Some vendors will even season your tea with tamarind, cinnamon or star anise. Though it can be served piping hot, this beverage is most refreshing when poured over a glass of ice.
Iced Thai coffee packs a powerful punch of flavour and a revitalising caffeine boost
If, like many travellers, you simply aren’t a morning person, a glass of strong Thai iced coffee could be just the thing to kickstart your day. In fact, java junkies are in for a treat when they indulge in a glass of traditional sweet iced coffee. At most coffee houses and street food stands, you’ll find that the barista creates a strong, caffeine-filled brew, and many locals choose to water this down somewhat by adding condensed milk or cream. Some locals even choose to flavour their morning cup with cardamom or coriander – although you may find that this is a bit too much for first thing in the morning! Once again, for an authentic flavour, a roadside stall or family-run eatery is the best place to grab your refreshing cup of rocket fuel.
Sweet and refreshing
A metal crank is used to extract raw juice directly from the sugar cane
Sugar cane sap is another traditional Thai thirst-quencher, and is often drunk during the months of January and February right after the sugar cane harvest. If you’re on the hunt for something to satisfy a sweet tooth, this syrupy nectar could be just the solution. However, thanks to its watery consistency, sugar cane juice is also highly refreshing. This makes it the perfect beverage to cool you down and help you re-hydrate during a busy day of sightseeing.
In fact, if you’ve been wondering what the metal crank attached to some street food stalls are, you now have your answer. These large contraptions are used to squeeze the sweet, raw juice right out of the sugar cane so it can be enjoyed in its fresh, pure form. As the preparation of this drink involves this rather specialist piece of equipment, it’s not the easiest beverage to re-create back at your villas kitchen, so keep your eyes peeled for sugar cane vendors while you’re out and about.
The healthy choice
A refreshing natural drink packed with electrolytes
If you simply want to refresh and reboot without indulging in an overly sweet beverage, the fresh water of a young coconut should be your go-to choice. Coconut water is typically found in fruits harvested at around six or seven months old, and should not be confused with coconut milk, which also includes the grated meat of the coconut. Widely hailed in the west as one of the supreme superfoods, coconut water comes with a plethora of impressive health benefits – and green coconuts are grown in abundance in southern Thailand.
Comprised largely by H20, coconut water is great for re-hydrating. It also features a number of natural electrolytes, which will replenish your body’s stores that have been depleted by sweating. Coconut water is also a good source of magnesium, vitamin C, sodium and potassium. Plus, research shows that it’s also high in anti-oxidants that help counter the damaging effects of free radicals.
Asiatic pennywort juice comes with an array of health benefits
Asiatic pennywort juice, a luminous emerald concoction reminiscent of wheatgrass juice, has been consumed in Thailand for centuries – long before superfood juice bars became a trend in the West. Pennywort (centella asiatica) is a member of the carrot and dill family, and comes with a number of health benefits. This brew – known locally as Nam Bai Bua Bok – is said to purify the blood, improve eyesight and relieve arthritis pain. As well as providing the base for a drink, this clover-like herb is also found in some Thai salads, soups and stir fries.
If you want to reap the full health benefits from pennywort juice, it’s best to sip on a freshly-made brew as opposed to a canned version purchased from a convenience store. Thanks to its strong, grassy flavour, pennywort juice is typically watered down with hot water and sugar to make it more palatable. In a café or at a roadside stall, the vendors will dissolve sugar into water as the first step. Next the pennywort leaves and stems will be blended with one litre of water until smooth. The juice will then be poured through a strainer to remove any leftover fibres, before being mixed with the sugar water. It is served over crushed ice.
Enjoy your tea
Thai tea is quick and easy to make at home if you have all of the right ingredients
While it may be more convenient to pick up a glass of Cha Yen (Thai milk tea) from a local street food stand, it’s also easy to prepare back at your private villa. First, boil a pot of water. Then, take a tea sock and add one tablespoon of black Thai tea. Place the sock into a cup and allow it to steep until it turns dark in colour. Next, stir in two teaspoons of sugar and two teaspoons of condensed milk. Next, add two teaspoons of evaporated milk until the drink forms a nice smooth consistency. If you’d like your tea to be a little frothy, take two pitchers and pour the mixture between the two until you get to the desired consistency. Finally, pour your tea over ice and enjoy.
The following drinks are also worth trying while you’re out and about in Thailand:
- Known locally as gafa yen lua mit, rice ball coffee is Thailand’s answer to Taiwanese bubble tea. Milky iced coffee is mixed with a portion of brightly coloured glutinous rice balls, which are consumed with a fork or spoon once the liquid has been gulped down.
- Thanks to the abundance of fresh tropical fruits in Thailand, a fresh smoothie or juice is always a good shout – particularly if you’re keen to pack in your five a day, as well as hydrate. Pineapple, mango and watermelon-based juices are all easy to find, or even make yourself.
- Nom yen, a vividly coloured red or green beverage, is popular with young people who want all the creamy goodness of a milk-based drink without the caffeine. Fresh hot milk is mixed with red or green syrup and mixed with ice to create this colourful concoction.