Your Guide to Ordering the Perfect Milk Tea

Customize your milk tea to perfection.

There are two kinds of milk-tea lovers in the world: those who see the menu and get excited about the infinite possibilities or those who are paralyzed and hold up the line because there are just too many decisions to make! Whether you're the first or the second kind, this guide will help you find your perfect drink. 

This list is divided according to your choice of tea, milk, sweetener, sinker, and topping. 

Choose Your Tea

The heart of really good milk tea is one that perfectly suits your palate.

Oh My Tea's Assam Salted Caramel Tea has the balance between the strong black-tea flavor and sweet caramel down pat.
PHOTO BY Jericho San Miguel

If you want the full-bodied flavor of tea, go for a variant of black tea. Common choices for black tea are Earl Grey, Assam, and Alisan. Often, flavors with a "roasted" note are also indicated. These flavors usually come with higher caffeine content.

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When choosing green tea, keep in mind that there are several types of it. Mainly, there are three kinds: 

Cream Cheese White Peach Oolong Tea by Macao Imperial Tea is light and fruity.
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela

Herby green teas can be Oolong or Pu' Er, and are thin, herby hot tea typically listed as "hot tea" or "house tea" at Chinese restaurants. Flower teas, also called white tea, can be Osmanthus, Chamomile, Jasmine, or Rose Tea. They have a fragrant, floral taste. Both kinds of tea have somewhat subdued flavors especially since the tea's scent is usually played down by colder temperatures.

The third kind is Japanese green tea, also known as matcha, made from a green pulverized powder of leaves that make a thick, frothy, creamy drink that is earthy and bitter.

When ordering green tea at a milk tea shop for the first time and they only indicate "green tea," it's best to ask whether they mean "matcha" to set your expectations right.

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Choose Your Milk

Regular milk tea often uses a non-dairy creamer or milk. Some specific milk teas get their flavor by changing up this component.

Oh My Tea uses a special cream blend for their Thai Tea.
PHOTO BY Jericho San Miguel

Hokkaido Milk Tea uses Hokkaido milk, which lends a creamier texture and caramel notes. Meanwhile, Thai milk tea uses condensed milk for a sweet creaminess to balance the drink's strong brew and spices. Hong Kong milk tea or nai cha is a mix of evaporated milk over strongly brewed, hot black tea that you can also have iced. 

Yi Fang is known for their Fruit Teas, like this Wintermelon Milk Tea.
PHOTO BY Henna Yu
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Choose Your Sweetness

Most milk-tea shops use simple syrup, brown sugar syrup, or honey as a sweetener, which they usually also use to submerge and flavor tapioca balls. Some milk teas, however, get their identity from the sweetener used.

Tiger Sugar gets its name from the "tiger stripes" made with brown-sugar syrup

Okinawa Milk Tea or Roasted Milk Tea uses a special roasted brown sugar. The increasingly popular Tiger Sugar Milk Tea uses brown sugar in many ways. Apart from using the brown sugar syrup to line the glass as "tiger stripes," it's also traditionally prepared with tapioca balls that are cooked in brown sugar.

Here's an important tip when choosing your sugar levels. No matter what level of sugar you typically go for, whether 25%, 50%, 70%, or 100%, always reconsider the level depending on your sinkers or toppings. Take into consideration that with more sinkers and toppings you add, you'll also be adding the syrups they're submerged in.

Choose Your Sinkers

Sinkers, or also known as QQ, meaning "chewy," in Taiwan, is perhaps what separates normal milk and tea from the explosively popular milk tea. There are so many different choices for sinkers—from pearls to fruits, creams, and jellies, among others.

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice is best known for their Panda Milk Tea, with a mix of black and white tapioca.
PHOTO BY Henna Yu

Pearls

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These chewy sweet treats more familiar locally as pearls come in different colors, sizes, textures, and even flavors. In other countries, they go by QQ or boba.

The most popular kind are big and chewy pearls called tapioca pearls, made from cassava. They can either be black pearls that get their color from brown sugar, or golden pearls that use lighter-colored sugar. It's best not to let your tapioca pearls sit too long in your cold drinks as they may turn from chewy to hard.

A few milk-tea shops also offer white pearls or sago which is made from palm fruit. They're not as chewy, are smaller, and are most often found in sweet Filipino treats like taho or guinumis. One of CoCo's most popular flavors, the Panda Milk Tea, has both tapioca and white pearls.

Popping boba, like the name suggests, literally pops, bursting with fruit juice encased in a thin gelatinous film. These sinkers go well with fruit-based teas.

CoCo's Three Ladies combines pudding, grass jelly, and pearls.
PHOTO BY Coco Fresh Tea & Juice

Pudding

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These sinkers are not chewy but offer a creamy or gelatinous texture to your milk tea. Panna cotta's velvety texture and milky, creamy flavor go well with tea. It's usually made with a combination of gelatin, cream, and milk, but some versions contain egg. If you're allergic to egg, it's best to ask for the ingredients.

Similar to panna cotta, egg pudding is thickened with flour, cornstarch, or egg. It has the same flavor profile as pannacotta.

Taro pudding is thicker and has earthy flavors. If you love red beans, then you'll like this one for the earthy flavor and mushy texture.

Jellies

If you want a break from pearls and puddings, try out jellies. Jellies, apart from offering contrasting textures, also give unique flavors to your milk tea. Nata de Coco is a chewy jelly with a bright coconut flavor while mango jelly offers a sweet tropical note.

There are also jellies which aren't as sweet as most sinkers. Aloe vera is a healthy sinker that offers a unique texture with its succulent bite. Grass jelly is another choice that's not as sinful as the others. It's not sweet at all and while it feels like pudding, has a very herby taste.

If you drink milk tea for its caffeine or as a pick-me-up, then go with coffee jelly. Some milk-tea shops also offer coffee-tea blends. 

Choose Your Toppings

It's not just about what's at the bottom of your cup, milk tea is also about what's on top! People are divided about how to consume cream-topped milk tea. The first camp likes to sip on the cream directly from the rim for that salty-creamy taste, then sip on the earthy, sweet tea for a layered flavor experience. The second camp prefers a homogenous creamy milk tea that they get when they stir the cream and tea together. Our suggestion? Do the first method in the beginning, then when you're halfway finished, stir your drink to get the best of both worlds.

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Happy Lemon is one of the first to offer Rock Salt and Cheese in the Philippines.
PHOTO BY Henna Yu

Rock Salt and Cheese or RSC refers to milk tea with a creamy top, typically made with frothed cream cheese and cream, with a dash of rock salt. You get a creamy, salty, very slightly tart flavor. Cheesecake Cream is almost the same thing, but sweetened. Salty Creamon the other hand, skips the cheese altogether.

Another variant similar to this trend is Ice Cream Milk Tea, which also accomplishes a creamy, sweet milk tea while skipping the salt.

Go Forth and Find Your Perfect Milk Tea

Now that you've got full knowledge of the different kinds of milk tea, it's up to you to discover your favorite combo. Feeling adventurous? You can always give non-milk tea offerings at your favorite milk-tea shop a try, too—after all, some shops have cocoa drinks, flavored milk, and fresh juices on their menu. Enjoy! 

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This story originally appeared on . Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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