African Smoky Milk Tea

When you travel, what is it that most inspires you? Is it the landscape, the food, the culture? For me, it is all of the above and then some. I always try to learn something new when I venture to another country, something I can bring back with me and share with others. My friends Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell recently returned from a trip to Africa, specifically the Samburu region of Kenya, and brought back with them a host of new ideas and experiences that they were anxious to share with readers of their blogs at Beekman1802.com - a lifestyle website designed to inspire and teach. There was one post about their trip to Africa that really capitvated me. It was about a delicious tea they had tried while in Kenya called Smoky Milk Tea.
The key to its flavour is its smokiness, which is traditionally achieved by inserting a smoldering stick into the vessel the tea will be made in. The Samburu people use a vessel carved out of wood or a hollowed-out gourd, shown below, to store their goats' milk. Brent and Josh were told that this vessel could store milk for up to four days without any refrigeration. The intense heat of the embers at the tip of the burning stick acts as a sterilizer but has the added benefit of imparting a luscious smoky taste to the milk. When they tasted tea made with this milk for the first time, they knew they had to see how it was made. Below are beautiful photographs taken by Josh of the tea and its various components. Following the photos is the recipe that Brent and Josh developed to replicate the same delicious smoky milk tea. In the midst of a cold February weekend, I can think of nothing I'd rather try! Please click here to read the full story.
This is the traditional vessel that the Samburu use to store their goat's milk. It is usually carved out of wood or made from a hollowed-out gourd. It is shown here with a stick that will be burned at the tip and then inserted into the vessel to sterilize it. Next to it is a drinking vessel made from the same material.
Inside one of the small Manyattas, Josh and Brent witnessed how the vessel was sterilized by fire. Here, one of the tribeswomen demonstrates the process.
This young boy had the task of whisking out the vessel after it was sterilized. Presumably, this is done to remove any excess soot.
Back at their farm in Sharon Springs, New York, Josh replicated the process by using a heavy-duty thermos as the vessel, filled at the bottom with 1/2 cup of water at room temperature. Josh suggests using applewood to impart the smoky flavour to the thermos since it contains no toxic compounds when burned. Select a stick that is at least 1.5 to 2 inches thick and cut to a length that will fit entirely inside the thermos. Light one end, letting it burn until embers form. Insert the smoldering stick (burned side down) into the water at the base of the thermos. Quickly secure the cap and then swirl it around gently for about a minute. This will allow the smoke to fill the container.
Open the cap of the thermos near an open window or a vent to allow the smoke and steam to escape and remove the stick. Pour the water through a fine sieve into a saucepan. The sieve will catch any excess soot. Add another cup of water as well as the tea and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about four minutes.
Add the milk and sugar and bring to a high simmer, just below boiling point. Once warmed, pour the mixture through a fine sieve directly into the serving mugs.
And voila! You have Smoky Milk Tea! A big thank you to Josh for the use of his photographs on this blog and to both Brent and Josh for sharing this amazing treat. Here is their recipe.


Prep time: 15 Min
Cook time: 10 Min
Total time: 25 Min


1 ½ cup water
2 bags of black tea (not herbal,) or 1 ½ tablespoons of loose black tea.
8 crushed cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick (or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
6 whole cloves (or 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 inch segment of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
2 cups milk
½ cup sugar or honey


Follow instructions above for making “smoky” water. Heat the water in a heavy saucepan with tea, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns & ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer over low heat for four minutes.
Add milk and sugar (or honey.) Bring back to simmer (not boil) while stirring over low heat.
Strain directly into mugs and serve immediately. (Strained mixture can also be chilled and served over ice.)


Janet said...

I am blown away by these photos, Andrew! WOW! What an adventure!

And, that tea looks ah-mazing, which of course, after reading about it and what it takes to create, it is!!

Thank you!


Rowaida said...

Hi Andrew,
Amazing photos! I was born and raised in West Africa, love it there, I would love to visit Kenya!
The recipe looks delicious with all the ingredients, on my list!