Hong Kong Style Milk Tea – A Carry-Over of Britain’s Early Rule

Hong Kong style milk tea is a hold over from British colonial times when they
ruled Hong Kong  growing out of the British practice of afternoon tea, served
with black tea, and a healthy (or unhealthy) dollop of milk and sugar.  This prac-
tice eventually grew to be popular with Hong Kong citizens.  Using evaporated
or condensed milk rather than regular milk, it was called “milk tea” to distinguish
it from 
Chinese tea.
Hong Kong milk tea is made from a blend of
several different black teas, with the types
and amounts usually kept a company secret
by commercial tea vendors.  It’s likely they
use OP (orange pekoe) or BOP (broken
orange pekoe), possibly a good 
and/or a blend of 
Indian teas, maybe Assam
Nilgiri, all depending on the tastes of the
Evaporated milk and sugar is then added,
with condensed milk sometimes used in place
of evaporated to give a richer flavor as well
as added sweetness.

To make a cup of milk tea, approximately one
to three teaspoons of tea (depending on the
desired strength) is placed in a sackcloth bag,

added to the water, and brought to a boil, simmering for three to six minutes.  Sometimes the
pot is removed from the heat once it’s boiled for three minutes, then brought to a boil again.
This boiling process can be repeated several times, intensifying both the
flavor of the tea and increasing the amount of 
caffeine.  The milk and
sugar are then added to taste, to the 
brewed tea.  (See the link left
for pre-measured portions of milk tea from Lipton Asia)
The sackcloth bag used to filter the tea leaves is a key feature of
Hong Kong style milk tea, however, any strainer or filter can be used.
Sackcloth bags are preferred because they supposedly make the tea
smoother.  The bag will gradually darken in color from the continual
tea boiling and soaking.

Milk tea is also referred to as “pantyhose milk tea” or “silk stocking
milk tea,” nicknamed for the shape and color of the filter and sackcloth, that resembles a
woman’s silk stocking.

As with everything, there are debates over
the proper sequence when making milk tea.
Some argue the milk should be added first,
before pouring the tea, others say the opp-
osite is right, first pour the tea, then add the
milk.  Either way is probably fine.

There are several criteria with which a
good, quality cup of milk tea is judged
by, the first being its smoothness, how
creamy and full-bodied it is. The second
point for creating a proper cup of milk
tea is its froth. Just as in

 Bubble tea,
after taking the first drink there
should remain a ring of white froth just
inside the lip of the cup.  This means it
has the proper concentration of butterfat in the evaporated milk.
The flavor and texture of Hong Kong style milk tea can be influenced by the type of milk
used. Some Hong Kong cafes use a filled milk variant that’s not pure evaporated milk but
rather a combination of skim milk and soybean oil.

There are several other variations of milk tea available, one of
which is iced milk tea.  Years ago, before ice machines were
prevalent, the milk tea was prepared, then poured into glass
bottles, often times using recycled Vitasoy or Coca-Cola glass
bottles, then refrigerated, and sold by the bottle.

Today iced milk tea is available

ready-to-drink (RTD), in cans or
plastic bottles, and can be found in many Hong Kong convenience
stores, including 7-Eleven and Circle K.
Another variation of milk tea is cha chow, which uses cond-
densed milk, rather than evaporated milk and sugar.  The con-
densed milk adds extra sweetness to the drink.  Milk tea and
coffee is another variety, called yuan yang (yin yang). There is
also a different take on silk stocking tea, called silk stocking
coffee, using coffee as the base rather than tea.

Another variety of milk tea that is similar to the Hong Kong style is
boba milk tea.  This is a milk tea with tapioca added, also called
pearl milk tea.  This is sometimes confused with bubble tea with
pearls, which is a

 Taiwanese concoction that’s shaken or whipped
to acquire the frothy foam or “bubbles,” along with large, chewy
tapioca pearls added.
To make your own cup of milk tea you just need your favorite type
of black tea (a bold, brisk BOP (broken orange pekoe works best),
or Lipton black

tea bags work fine, too, evaporated milk and sweet-
ener, or sweetened condensed milk which is already sweetened.

Brew a strong cup of tea (use 3+ tsps), then add milk.  It’s better to start with one teaspoon of milk at a time until
it’s the flavor and consistency you like.  To get the froth bubbles you need only whisk the tea-milk a little until
bubbles form.