Hong Kong Milk Tea is a sweet drink that conjures many childhood memories for me personally. It is very much unlike other countries' versions of caffeinated beverages!
Still, you can brew your version easily at home with a bit of time and patience! So we scoured the Internet to learn more about this lovely beverage and bring you the best recipes from our personal experiences.
What is Hong Kong Milk Tea?
Hong Kong Milk Tea, also known as pantyhose tea, silk stocking tea or nai-cha in Chinese, is black tea mixed with sweetened condensed or evaporated milk and is relatively high in caffeine. As it uses a hearty black and red tea base, one cup of the drink contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
The drink is a fusion of Hong Kong and British tea culture. It became popular during British colonial rule when the British started importing tea. So while Hongkongers were already colossal tea drinkers, the art of tea drinking became even more popular during colonial rule.
The Asian people put a twist to the British version by adding milk and sometimes sugar. They also use a Chinese favourite, the Pu-erh, to make this sweet beverage.
In the past, drink makers used silk stockings or pantyhoses as a filter for Hong Kong Milk Tea as it was supposed to make the drink taste better. This use gave rise to its "pantyhose" or "silk stocking" nickname. So now you know how why this drink has such interesting sounding names!
Imagine a creamy, watered-down version of a softie ice cream to describe the drink. The taste of it is strong, fragrant, and slightly floral. The drink's strength is almost akin to coffee when you take a sip.
The beverage has evaporated or condensed milk for a richer flavour. Sometimes, people make it with a mixture of both types and add even more sweeteners such as honey or artificial sugar.
The Hongkongers created Hong Kong Milk Tea when the region was a British colony. While Asians were already fond of tea and drank it regularly, the British habit of drinking tea inspired the creation of this sweet beverage. Historians say that only the affluent British residents could afford actual tea leaves, so locals brewed them from leftover leave residue.
However, the beverage was so strong and bitter that they had to add creamy evaporated milk as a counterbalance. It was a very clever move that resulted in the Asian beverage as we know it today!
Currently, many teahouses use black and Sri Lankan red tea with a mixture of orange pekoe, orange fannings and tea dust. This floral combination makes the beverage stand out and lends it a slight floral aftertaste when you drink it.
Hong Kong Milk Tea vs Milk Tea
The main difference between the HK style and regular milk tea is the dairy types. The British use fresh milk to make the drink creamy. However, the HK version uses evaporated or condensed milk.
Some Hong Kong cafés prefer using a filled variant of skimmed milk and soybean oil. This method gives it a slightly greasy texture and makes the drink extra smooth and drinkable.
Hong Kong Milk Tea vs Thai Tea
Comparing this classical Hong Kong drink to its Thai counterpart, probably Thai tea is more well-known for its spice mix and coconut cream addition. The Thais use strongly brewed Ceylon or locally grown Assam leaves known as Bai Miang and mix orange blossom water, star anise, crushed tamarind seed and other spices.
Usually, they add condensed milk and sugar, then pour coconut milk to enhance its appearance. Then, they top the drink with ice and sometimes coconut shavings, with red or yellow food colouring drops. As a result, the drink is very sweet, high in caffeine, and looks extra colourful.
According to the 2016 Hong Kong Milk Tea champion brewer, the difference is that HK-style tea prioritises aroma, strength and smoothness. In addition, the usage of several different types of Sri Lankan red leaves brews a special flavour unique to nai-cha.
Bubble tea fans have also used this traditional drink as a base for boba drinks in recent years. They add pearls and other toppings such as grass jelly, creating a modern drink version.
How to Enjoy
Hong Kong milk tea is traditionally served warm or chilled with a slice of toast or wheat crackers, and butter spread generously on the inside. The Hongkongers also eat it alongside dim sum. The best dim sum options to eat alongside the drink include egg tarts and polo bun.
It is also the base for boba drinks, and you can add tapioca pearls to enhance the drink's sweetness. Modern bubble tea houses also introduced additional toppings such as jelly, custard pudding, and you can even add other syrup flavours such as strawberry, taro, honeydew, melon, or tapioca. This combination creates an exciting version of this sweet beverage! You can check out our boba milk tea recipe if you want to know how to make this drink.
Since nai-cha works as a good base, creative chefs have even added it to desserts like tiramisu, creating a Hong Kong Milk Tea tiramisu version. In Hong Kong, you can even find it in cakes, ice cream, macaroons and puddings.
The drink has 180 calories for an average cup size of 240 ml, with 7g of fat, 26g of carbohydrates and 4g of protein.
Let's look at what you will need. First, you will need these Hong Kong Milk Tea ingredients at the store: tea leaves or instant powder evaporated and condensed milk.
When choosing leaves, be sure to select black and red tea leaves. You can try our recommended flavours of Sri Lankan orange pekoe and add orange fannings, also known as tea dust. Tea dust is crushed or broken processed pieces of the leaves that you usually see in tea bags, although they are sold in packaged forms too.
Besides cups, another piece of equipment you will need is a filter or a strainer. A tea infuser works too. The art of tea pulling or pouring tea from one container to another is essential and requires a filter to achieve a smooth texture.
If you're confused over what Hong Kong Milk Tea leaves to purchase, try HK Style Tea leaves from Amazon, which is a conveniently packaged set of mixed black and red tea leaves. To make the drink from leaves, you will also need a cloth filter such as this one made from organically grown material.
Tea leaves vs instant powder
Tea makers create instant tea powder from water with tea compounds dissolved to reproduce the flavour. It is made to be dissolved within the water, so when you use it to make Hong Kong Milk Tea, the final product is a dehydrated version of the actual tea.
Other ingredients such as sugar, critic acid or unique flavours are added to preserve and market the product. On the other hand, HK Style tea leaves are loose solid leaves that have to be blended and steeped into a cup of hot water. Since the leaves are insoluble, you will need a filter or an infuser to suspend the leaves until the flavour is achieved.
To use instant powder, you will need about six cups of water and two standard tea sachets or premix tea bags. Tear open the packets and pour out the premix if you use teabags. Stir to dissolve into water. If that's too much fuss for you, get a pack of instant Hong Kong Milk tea instant powder, which saves you a lot of time from second-guessing how many sachets or tea bags to use.
How to make Hong Kong milk tea
This section summarises how you can make your own homemade drink from fresh tea leaves. A tea infuser is required.
- First, you will need two teaspoons of tea leaves for every six ounces of water.
- Then add the tea leaves to your infuser and place them in your mug.
- Heat a pot of filtered water until it reaches a maximum boiling temperature of roughly 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celcius.
- Place your infuser in the mug and pour hot water over it.
- Finally, add evaporated or condensed milk. You can add both types too.
Here are some quick tips for making a nice cup of Hong Kong Milk Tea. First, the water must be piping hot when steeping your leaves. This tip brings out the aroma of the leaves. Secondly, when you add milk, we recommend trying a third of a cup of evaporated milk. If that suits your tastebuds, then the drink is good to go.
If not, add a tablespoon of condensed milk. Condensed milk is usually cloyingly sweet, so if you like that, then this is perfect for you. It will also make your beverage extra creamy. You can also add artificial sweeteners or honey for that excellent syrupy taste.
When choosing tea leaves, look out for Sri Lanka as the country of origin. Some exporters still use its old name, Ceylon, for branding purposes. The country is well-known for its nutty and malty flavour of leaves, so this will make your Hong Kong Milk Tea extra smooth and delicious. Also, choose a mix of black and red tea leaves to get a flavour similar to the Hong Kong cafe-style drink.
Hong Kong Milk Tea Recipe | Easy Chinese Milk Tea
- 2 cups water
- 4 tablespoon black tea leaves
- 1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk
- Combine the water and tea leaves in a small pot over medium heat.
- Bring the pot to a low boil. Slowly reduce heat and let simmer for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat.
- Stir in the sweetened condensed milk to taste before placing it over medium heat.
- Remove the tea from heat and add condensed milk. Boil and simmer for three minutes.
- Strain the tea and condensed milk mixture. Drain the mixture. You can serve your Hong Kong Milk Tea hot or over ice.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Our recipe above is the best and most straightforward of preparing this comforting beverage. However, there are many ways to prepare this classic drink! The most popular method used in restaurants requires the usage of the 'stocking' filter.
Laughing Shrimp on Youtube has a great video that showcases the method that uses a fine cloth filter. We recommend you check out their video recipe below.
We hope you have enjoyed making your very own creamy Hong Kong Milk Tea. Whether you serve it warm or ice-cold, it will taste great! One of our favourite drinks to sip and pass away time, we think it is reminiscent of the 80s era.
If you can purchase tin cups, your guests will be impressed. The sight of nai-cha in tin cups conjures romantic scenes in Chinese movies where lovers look at each other while drinking their beverages.
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