Malaysia’s national drink is teh tarik (pulled tea), which is a tea that is thrown across a distance of about 3 feet (1 m) by Mamak men, from one cup to another with no spillages.
Teh tarik is a drink made by cooling a brew of hot tea and milk through the process of pouring and “pulling” it between two cups or mugs to create a rich, frothy drink. The drink’s name means “pulled tea” in Malay, a reference to how it is made.
There is an ongoing dispute as to whether this drink is a speciality of Singapore or Malaysia. The origins of teh tarik can be traced to Indian-Muslim immigrants in the Malay Peninsula who set up sarabat or drink stalls at the entrance of rubber plantations after World War II to serve the workers there. While sarabat stalls are still commonly found in factories and construction sites in Malaysia today, those in Singapore were relocated to hawker centres in the 1970s.
Due to its Indian-Muslim origins, teh tarik is often known as a mamak concoction, mamak being a local term for an Indian. The term mamak or more properly mama can be traced to the Tamil word meaning “uncle”. In India, fresh cow’s milk is used for a similar drink of “pulled tea”, but evaporated and condensed milk are used for teh tarik. Historically, the water used for making teh tarik was boiled in aluminium pots over an open flame.
Teh tarik is made with tea leaves placed in water just before it boils. Spices such as cardamom, cloves and ginger can be added together with the tea for added flavour. Teh tarik can be made with any type of tea, but tea dust is preferred as it results in a stronger flavour compared to tea leaves and gives teh tarik its characteristic orange colouring. Tea dust is a lower-grade tea made of broken tea leaves ground into dust. Sri Lankan tea dust is regarded as producing the best quality brew. For home brews, teabags are used as an alternative when tea dust is not available.
The process of making teh tarik starts with adding evaporated and condensed milk to boiling water. Once the brew is bubbling, it is taken off the heat and the mixture strained into a tin mug. The tea is then poured from a height of about a metre into another mug. This process of “pulling” the tea is repeated a number of times until a layer of froth forms over the drink before it is served. The tea should preferably be “pulled” longer than an arm’s length. The “pulling” process cools the tea and enhances its flavour.