If you’ve ever visited Hong Kong and stopped in a local cafe, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen Hong Kong milk tea on the menu.
Many cities have coffee as a staple drink, but that’s not the case in Hong Kong, where milk tea is the preferred drink. Indeed, a typical Cha Chaan Teng (cafe or tea restaurant) can sell hundreds of cups of HK milk tea each day.
But what makes Hong Kong milk tea so popular, what is the authentic recipe for the drink, and can you make it at home? This article answers those questions and more. Let’s get started.
What Is Hong Kong Milk Tea?
Hong Kong milk tea is a strongly brewed black tea with evaporated or sweetened condensed milk. The drink can also be served hot or iced. It has a unique brewing method, with the tea repeatedly poured and strained through a cloth tea bag. The result is a drink with a good amount of caffeine and a smooth mouthfeel. Many people who’ve tried it think it offers the perfect combination of tea and milk.
The drink’s name is also interesting in Cantonese -meaning silk stocking milk tea or pantyhose tea. Some people see a resemblance to a sock from the tea bags, hence the name, while tea masters explain that the smooth mouthfeel has a silky texture.
The drink is a staple of Hong Kong culture and is even on the city’s intangible cultural heritage list. It is also very widely available and can be found in most restaurants. Meanwhile, there is also an annual “Kam Cha Competition,” similar to the coffee community’s World Barista Championship. In the competition, premier tea masters show their brewing techniques as they try to claim the title. In other words, it’s taken very seriously in that part of the world.
How Does A Good Hong Kong Milk Tea Look And Taste?
Milk is an ideal accompaniment for strong beverages. So, while coffee and milk combine perfectly for a latte, tea and milk are also a great fit.
An HK milk tea should be bright golden, typically served in a 5oz or 6oz ceramic cup. There will be a dense texture with a smooth, silky mouthfeel. Meanwhile, the delicate tea fragrance will meld perfectly with the rich and creamy evaporated or condensed milk.
More importantly, tea naturally tastes bitter, especially after lengthy brewing and infusion. However, the unique brewing technique softens the bitterness, so this classic drink shouldn’t taste astringent.
What’s In Hong Kong-Style Milk Tea?
The tea blend is pivotal in Hong Kong milk tea. Even though the drink is incredibly popular in Hong Kong and other areas of Asia, many restaurants and cafes have their own secret recipes, which makes it difficult to ascertain exactly how each outlet’s milk tea is made.
One thing is certain, though – it’s always made with strong blended tea leaves, even though the ratios of tea and varieties may differ to make each unique. Most commercial recipes have a minimum of three varieties of ground tea leaves, including Sri Lankan tea leaves, thicker-bodied and thinner-bodied Chinese tea. Different teas serve different purposes. This ensures the Hong Kong tea is strong, has a beautiful aroma, and looks incredible.
Before serving, evaporated milk is mixed with the strongly brewed tea. Nestle Carnation milk or Black&White full cream evaporated milk are typically used in the tea in hong kong cafés. Other outlets blend the tea with sweetened condensed milk for greater sweetness.
If you want to make HK silk stocking tea at home, opt for black tea, Ceylon tea, evaporated milk, and a condensed milk mixture. However, it’s hard to replicate the authentic taste of Hong Kong milk tea with fresh milk, skimmed milk, or other milk alternatives.
What Do You Need To Make Authentic Hong Kong Milk Tea?
The basic equipment you’ll need is similar regardless of what ingredients you use to make the tea. You’ll need a long cloth tea filter as it allows you to brew larger batches and stops the tea dust from entering your cup.
You’ll also need two kettles for flushing the tea. Once brewed and infused, tea masters will pour the tea through filters into a different kettle and repeat four times. This is known as flushing. This technique softens the astringency and enhances the tea’s flavor. This means you can brew the tea very strongly but still get a notably smooth mouthfeel. If you’d like to make HK milk tea at home, a larger tea infuser and two saucepans will work.
How To Make Authentic Hong Kong Milk Tea – Recipe
You can make Hong Kong milk tea in just five steps – blend, brew and infuse, flush, rewarm, and add evaporated milk. Following those steps is the authentic way to make the drink, but you can deviate a little when making it at home.
- 2tbsp of Lipton Yellow Lable or Rickshaw black tea
- 2tbsp of Ceylon loose tea
- 2tbsp of Ceylon tea grounds
This will give you 80 grams of tea. You’ll need 60 oz (1.8l) of water or about a 1:20 to 1:22 tea to water ratio.
- Hot water
- 1/3 cup of evaporated or sweetened condensed milk (30% milk, 70% tea per serving cup)
- One Cloth Filter
- Two kettles (or two saucepans)
1. Blend The Tea
As we mentioned earlier, most cafes have their secret tea blend formula, but it usually consists of three tea blends. When making the drink at home, you can blend regular black tea with Ceylon tea for enhanced flavor and complexity. Then, mix the tea in a cloth filter and add it to the kettle or saucepan.
2. Brew And Infuse
Pour hot water into the tea grounds, cover the lid, and leave the tea steep for 10 minutes. If the tea isn’t strong enough, simmer the tea on low heat.
Pour the brewed tea through the tea bag. This is what makes the drink so unique. After brewing the tea, lift the cloth filter and transfer the tea to another kettle (or saucepan), then pour the hot brewed tea through the grounds from one kettle to another. Repeat this step four times. If you’re using saucepans, take extra care not to burn yourself.
After flushing the tea four times, the temperature of the tea will have inevitably dropped. Place the kettle or saucepan back onto the stove and bring the temperature up to 194F (90C). At this stage, it is ready to serve. However, some like to soak the tea in the bag for another 20 minutes, depending on the recipe they’re following.
5. Add Milk And Serve
Add 1/3 cup of evaporated milk to a 5oz cup, and pour the brewed tea over the milk. Aim for about 30% milk to 70% tea. Add condensed milk if you prefer a sweet beverage.
Hong Kong Milk Tea Recipe (Homemade Version)
- 1 Cloth tea filter
- 2 Kettles Or use two saucepans instead
- 2 tbsp Lipton Yellow Lable or Rickshaw black tea
- 2 tbsp Ceylon loose tea
- 2 tbsp Ceylon tea grounds
- 60 fl. oz hot water
- 1/3 cup evaporated or sweetened condensed milk fill 1/3 of the serving cup
- Add and mix the tea ingredients into the cloth filter. Aim for a 1:20 ratio, for example,
- Put the filter into a kettle or saucepan. Pour hot water through the tea grounds and let it steep or simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
- Lift the cloth filter from one kettle ot another, then pour the hot brewed tea through the tea grounds. Repeat this flushing for four times.
- Place the kettle on a stove and reheat the tea to 194F (90C), keep it warm for serving.
- Fill the serving cup with 30% evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk. You can also add brown sugar or granulated sugar for extra sweetnerness.
- Pour the hot brewed tea over the milk and fill the cup.
- It’s not simply a case of the more you flush the tea, the better. Three to four times should be fine. If you overdo the flushing, you may lose the smooth mouthfeel.
- Use loose tea instead of tea bags for better extraction.
- The tea should be served in a 5oz ceramic cup, which will help maintain the temperature and improve the mouthfeel.
- If you are making the iced version of the tea, don’t simply drop ice cubes into the hot tea. Instead, chill the tea, then add ice cubes.
- Any remaining brewed tea can be kept in your fridge overnight. Then, if you’d like more, you can reheat the tea in a microwave, add milk, or make iced milk tea.
- If you add half brewed tea and half coffee, you’ll have another drink that’s popular in Hong Kong – Yuen Yueng. If you add tapioca pearls, you can make beautiful bubble tea or Boba tea.
- The tea is ideal for Hong Kong-style pineapple buns or egg tarts.
- Some people add cracked egg shells into the tea bag to reduce the bitterness of the tea.
- Local cafes use kettles. The lid can’t fully cover the kettle with a cloth filter inside. To counter this, they unscrew the knob on the lid and reinstall it upside down. Doing this allows the lid to fully cover the kettle for better heat retention for infusion.
How Much Caffeine Is In Hong Kong Milk Tea?
The drink has a similar strength to coffee. According to the Hong Kong Consumer Council, 30 local café-style milk teas were tested and measured with an average of 170mg of caffeine per cup. That’s more caffeine than a tall cup of Americano at Starbucks.
Depending on the tea variety, ratio, grind size, and brew time, some milk tea can have all the caffeine you need for a day.
Hong Kong’s famed café-style milk tea following regular coffee, taken en bloc as a category, came up with average caffeine content ranging from 73 mg to 220 mg, or an average of 170 mg per cup.consumer.org/hk
Hong Kong milk tea is an extremely popular drink in the city and other areas of Asia, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll know why. It gives a similar caffeine boost to coffee and has a smooth mouthfeel and a delectable flavor, making it a wonderful alternative to coffee if you fancy a change.
Even better is you don’t need to travel to areas where it’s sold to try it, as making it at home is both simple and satisfying.
We’re confident that, if made correctly, Hong Kong milk tea could very quickly become one of your new favorites – and for those who have been to Hong Kong and sampled it there, trying it at home is sure to evoke memories of your visit.