Tea was likely introduced to Malaysia by Chinese traders, and has been enjoyed in the country for hundreds of years. The local preference is for strong, full-flavoured black tea, usually sweetened with large amounts of sugar and often a good dollop of milk. Served hot or cold, this fortifying beverage is a staple on the menu of most Malaysian kopitiams, or coffee shops, which are also important social hubs for the local community where people gather to chat, watch sport, or simply relax with a warming brew.
As Malaysians become increasingly health-conscious, there is also a growing market for herbal and fruit teas, as well as lighter green and jasmine teas imported from China and other Asian countries. In the capital of Kuala Lumpur in particular, there are many shops and cafés that cater to connoisseurs by serving a good selection of rarer loose leaf teas.
The majority of Malaysian tea is produced in the Cameron Highlands region, sometimes referred to as Malaysia's "Green Bowl". Located about three and a half hours by car from Kuala Lumpur, this rich agricultural region is situated on the scenic Titiwangsa Mountain Range, which is also a popular destination for tourists and day trippers.
Its hilly slopes and cooler temperatures are ideally suited to the production of teas with brisk, full-bodied flavours, which have been grown here since the early 20th century, when the first plantations were established.
Malaysia's most distinctive tea product is the world-famous teh tarik, or pulled tea, which originated in the country. Essentially a mixture of strong black tea, condensed milk and sugar, the mixture is "pulled" (or poured) at high speed between two vessels held as far as a metre apart. This serves to create a rich, sweet, frothy blend that has been cooled to the optimal drinking temperature before serving.
The preparation of teh tarik is viewed almost as an art form in Malaysia, with top pourers exhibiting a thrilling display of showmanship as they whip streams of milky tea through the air before their audience. Some even take part in competitions or other demonstrations designed to showcase their advanced skills. Teh tarik is widely recognised as a significant part of Malaysia's food heritage, and is well worth trying during a visit to the coffee shops of Kuala Lumpur.