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From bubble tea to shroom tea to “skinny” tea, the tea marketplace is booming. There are teas designed to help you fall asleep, prenatal blends, nausea relief, and ones to support hair and nail growth. With so many tailor-made brews, it’s no surprise that the delivery systems themselves have also evolved. You’re no longer picking between loose and sachet options — tea technology is constantly upgrading and the best part of these new systems is that you can be your own barista.
The Sweeter, the Better
As much as I love chicken satay and green curry, when I get Thai food I’m really there for the Thai tea. If you’re unfamiliar, Thai tea is immediately recognizable by its orange hue, which is a combination of black tea and spices such as star anise, crushed tamarind, and cardamom. My favorite restaurant serves it with two huge ice cubes (made out of Thai tea so they don’t dilute) and a shot of condensed milk on the side. It’s creamy, sweet, and up until now — unreplicable.
My attempts to make it at home were underwhelming because I could never get the ratios right. It wasn’t as rich as the restaurant concoction and failed to harness that overpowering-in-a-good-way fragrance and sweetness. I tempered my expectations when trying the Tea Drops Thai Tea Latte Kit ($17), but there was no need — it matched restaurant quality easily.
No Strainer Required
We’ve sung the praises of Tea Drops before, specifically the genius design of the bath-bomb-style drops. You can drink the sediment (no need to strain), and everything is pre-measured, so your Thai tea is ready in a matter of minutes. The process is simple: dissolve the tea drop in 2 oz boiling water, add condensed milk (included in the kit), then cold water, and finally ice cubes.
The key to this kit’s success is the individually packaged condensed milk packets. You can’t have Thai tea without this crucial ingredient, but when you buy condensed milk cans at the grocery store, you’re fated to have a sticky mess. The gloopy syrup texture is impossible to keep neat, and given my initial Thai tea failures, definitely not worth the aggravation.
After experimenting with the process a few times, I made a few modifications to make it extra decadent. You’re instructed to dissolve the drop in 2 oz of water, add the creamer, then add an additional 2 oz of cold water and ice. This only makes a total of 4 oz, so I also add 2 oz of milk (it works well with both dairy and almond). This immediately makes the drink heavier, so if you prefer a lighter tea, stick with the official directions. I consider Thai tea a quasi-dessert so I’m erring on the side of hedonism, which may not be for everyone.
My second trick is a copycat from my go-to Thai restaurant: tea ice cubes. I made them with (cheaper) Thai tea bags so I didn’t have to sacrifice any drops. My smaller cubes were just tea and water, but the large cubes were a combination of water and dairy milk (warning: the large cubes were slightly difficult to remove from the tray but popped out after I ran hot water over them).
DONA: Focus on the Concentrate
In many ways, DONA is the spiritual cousin of Tea Drops. While DONA is a great choice for tea drinkers who enjoy the ritual of preparing tea, the brand also embodies an evolution in tea convenience. DONA’s tea concentrates come packaged in tasteful glass bottles, and all you need to do is add milk. If you’re an everyday latte kind of person, this tea system will significantly cut down on prep time. It might even encourage your habit — depending on your tea consumption you can order a 2-pack of 16 or 32 oz bottles ($25 and $38 respectively).
While the Masala Chai (available sweetened or unsweetened) is extremely popular, I found that the Turmeric White Hot Chocolate is my drink of the season. Mix 4 oz of milk with 4 oz of concentrate, add 1 tablespoon of white chocolate and heat on the stovetop. If you have a frother, take that extra step, but I found that shaking the mixture vigorously (my W&P Porter bowl was perfect) also did the trick. My next experiment with the concentrate will be the Turmeric Mango Lassi.
For the Traditionalists
Beyond concentrates, DONA also carries sustainably grown loose teas. I tried the Hojicha green tea blend and followed the steps to make a Honey Hojicha Latte. This process gave me an opportunity to use my kitchen scale and Great Fellow Kettle (which can be heated to a precise degree) — and while this might sound a bit involved, I only had to break out my equipment one time to make four lattes worth of “syrup”.
To make a Hojicha Honey Latte, you essentially create your own concentrate. Brew the tea, add honey, add a 2 oz portion of the syrup to milk, and save the rest for later use. If these lattes become a daily habit or you plan on entertaining, make a double batch of syrup.
Brave New Tea
DONA and Tea Drops are great starting points to begin your exploration of teas that have evolved beyond the traditional tea bag. These two brands offer a new kind of ritual that eliminates some of the more tedious aspects of brewing. Weighing, boiling, steeping, whisking, adding milk or sweetener—these routinized steps can help center you, but sometimes an efficient cup is the best cup. Best of all, while dissolving a drop or pouring a dose of concentrate is incredibly convenient, it doesn’t come at the expense of quality or flavor.
5 More Reasons to Brew with Tea Drops and DONA
- If you ever get tired of straightforward lattes, aspiring baristas and budding mixologists can check out DONA’s blog for recipes such as seasonal cocktails, popsicles, and banana bread.
- For a dessert proper, zhuzh up your Thai tea with Tea Drops’ boba pearls. They take roughly 45 minutes to make and if you see them becoming a regular feature, go for the Thai Boba Latte kit.
- Zero Waste Spice Dust: DONA upcycles spices leftover from its brewing process to create this light, aromatic powder you can sprinkle over your lattes to make them taste (and look) coffee shop quality.
- Tea Drops shed 15% less waste than traditional tea bags and each box sold contributes a year’s supply of clean water through the Thirst Project.
- DONA bundles are ideal for gifting thanks to their beautiful packaging and easy-to-follow recipe cards.