Confessions of a Tea Fanatic

Degree of difficulty:
VERY LOW.  It’s so simple there’s even a recipe.  Results are guaranteed, but:
1) don’t skip the crucial bag-squeezing step, and
2) don’t use
low-fat/ low-caffeine substitutes.

Will do again?
Yes with bells on.  This is my daily fix. 

This post is dedicated to the Tea Room Regulars at The Firm. 

Especially those who spotted me using four teabags in one cup of tea but were too polite to comment.  I was trying to replicate my “home brew” at work, but it didn’t taste the same.  Must’ve been the milk.


….was during the uni study vacation in the winter of ’93.

At that time, MOTH (Man of the House) was just another housemate in a five-share rented student house with flowery, velvety wallpaper and an oregano plant with a creeping habit.

On the winter’s night my heart was freshly broken, MOTH brought me a mug of strong, sweet, milky tea with a sympathetic smile.  I was instantly soothed, if only for a while.

“TEH PAENG, KURANG MANIS.”  My usual tea order when in Malaysia.

The best teh paeng I’ve had cost less than A$0.50, from a coffee shop in Kelantan, Malaysia, birthplace of MOTH.  Teh-paeng literally translates to “tea ice”.

First, some explanations.  Teh paeng is English Breakfast tea, brewed strong, very milky and sweet, served with ice.

Lose the ice, add froth on top, and you get teh tarik, available from many Malaysian eateries in Sydney.  Teh tarik is “pulled tea”.  The pulling describes its maker repeatedly transferring the tea between two mugs to mix and cool it, thus producing the froth.

Kurang manis is Malay for “less sweet”.  Standard-issue teh paeng is often too sweet for me.  So this phrase comes in handy when ordering my favourite pick-me-up in Malaysia.

Just to confuse things, when in Singapore, my order changes to “teh C paeng, siu dai“.  But that’s a whole new language podcast for another day.


Picture this:  a cool, dim coffee shop with ceiling fans whirring hypnotically.  An oasis in the humid midday heat of Malaysia.  Narrow, school-tuckshop style wooden benches surround the drinks prep area.

It’s a similar set-up to David Chang’s Momofuku at Sydney’s The Star casino, in that customer seating surrounds the prep area.  Except this set-up was in countless Asian coffee shops before open kitchens were even a nascent trendlet.

So I lob in my usual order.  My teh paeng is skilfully made by a Hokkien-speaking Malay man whose waist is more slender than mine, sigh.  He chats amiably while making the tea with practised, spare movements.

He does it the traditional way, using boiling water, loose tea leaves, and a strainer resembling a wind sock.  He adds condensed milk, then pours the steaming mixture into a tall glass filled with ice.

I drink till the straw makes loud vacuuming noises.  My brain is zingy and refreshed.  Time to hit the mall!


Back home in Burwood, 2122 Tea is my morning fix.

Singaporeans call this drink teh C: tea with sugar and evaporated milk (as opposed to condensed milk).  Evaporated milk is unsweetened.  Using this lets me separately control the sweetness and creaminess levels.  That’s not possible when using sweetened condensed milk.

Now, coffee smells divine and tastes fine, but it makes me climb the walls.  It makes me too hyperactive for desk work, and I end up ringing friends and organising parties.  Quite counterproductive.

MOTH first concocted 2222 Tea, but I have 2122 Tea because I prefer 1 teaspoon of sugar.

See, it is really simple!  But there’s scant wriggle room for variations.

And it’s a bit unorthodox.  To sticklers who believe the only way to take tea is:
~ to steep it for precisely 4 minutes;
~ with just a dash of milk to enhance the hints of terroir; and
~ with an extended pinkie,
please do as Michael Bolton counsels: “Look away, baby, look away.”

Like a spin class, this tea is all high intensity.  No dashes of anything, just lashings of everything.


For added warmth and spice on a cold morning, I have teh halia.

Same procedure as above, except that I add half a teaspoon of ground ginger before microwaving.  Traditionalists use grated fresh ginger, but I’m all about shortcuts in the morning.

Near my parents’ home in Singapore is the Marine Parade hawker centre.  My parents sometimes have breakfast here on the weekend after their daybreak Chinese exercise class.  Teh halia is a popular breakfast drink, and the Indian man at the tea stall there makes a punchy, ambrosial one.



  • 2 Dilmah teapot bags (this is a fee-free, unsolicited product placement)
  • 1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • half tsp ground ginger (optional – use if making teh halia)
  • a 250-ml capacity mug
  • water from the tap or at room temperature


  1. Put teapot bags, sugar and (optional) ginger into the mug.
  2. Fill the mug with tap water at room temperature, to 1 cm below the brim.
  3. Microwave the mixture.  On high power (eg 1100W), 1 min 50 s will do, or else your mixture may spill over.  On lower power, microwave for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove mug from microwave.  Squeeze teapot bags and discard.
  5. Stir tea to dissolve the sugar.
  6. Add 2 dessertspoons of evaporated milk (or enough to get the right colour).  Savour it.
  7. For teh-paeng, pour the contents of the mug into a tall glass filled with ice – great for a hot day.  But the ginger in teh halia always tastes better when hot, in my view.


Anyone can make 2122 Tea with guaranteed results.  That is, if they don’t deviate from two crucial steps and two crucial ingredients.

Tempted to use puny-sized, caffeine-free or fat-reduced substitutes?  You’re on your own, buddy.

Crucial Ingredient #1:  Two Dilmah teapot bags.  These are bigger and contain more tea leaves than tiny, half-filled, stringed and tagged tea bags.  Loose tea leaves might work too, but I use the teapot bags for convenience without compromising on taste.

Crucial Ingredient #2:  Evaporated milk.  The regular, full-fat, lactose-rich version.  Yes, it has more fat than fresh milk.  That’s how the tea becomes unctuously creamy.  Low-fat evaporated milk is a poor substitute; trust me, I’ve tried.  Skim milk?  Don’t go there, mate.


Crucial Step #1:  Microwave the teapot bags in a mug of room temperature water.  If you don’t like using the microwave, you could boil the teapot bags in a pot over the stove.  Whatever you do, don’t just steep them in hot water.

Crucial Step #2:  Squeeze the teapot bags before discarding them.   This is to completely extract the concentrated tea essence.  Pressing them between two spoons works well.


Even with my daily habit, it’s not easy to consume a whole can of evaporated milk before it goes off.

So I store half in the fridge, and freeze the other half.  Evaporated milk thawed in the fridge looks less homogeneous, but tastes just fine in my tea.

Or you could use the remaining evaporated milk in place of cream for creamy soup or pasta, or spooned over mango pudding, yum yum.

Postscript:  My brother, upon reading this post, told me not to forget my sister-in-law’s usual tea order, being “tea with less condensed milk but with additional evaporated milk”.  Colloquially and more succinctly, in Singapore it’s known as teh siu dai kay C

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