There are many things that have assimilated into the Hong Kong culture since the former British colonial rule and milk tea is near the top of the list that affects Hong Kongers the most on a daily basis. Hong Konger’s love for tea may even transcend that of the British. If you randomly ask 10 locally raised Hong Kong people (especially those from the older generations), you are bound to hear from at least a few of them that they have some sort of addiction to Hong Kong-style milk tea.
So what’s special about Hong Kong-style milk tea and how does it differ from the British milk teas?
To begin, Hong Kong milk tea is a lot more potent than probably any other tea you will find elsewhere. The tea is usually a mix of several kinds of black tea. The exact recipe differs across restaurants and is usually considered a commercial secret which differentiates the best from the good. Rather than ordinary milk, evaporated or condensed milk is used instead to give the tea a richer and creamier texture.
The brewing of the tea is also done in a unique way, so much so that Hong Kong people came up with a distinctive name for the tea, based solely on its brewing method. The tea is often passed repeatedly through a sackcloth strainer (or a large tea sock) to filter out the tea leaves as well as create a smoother texture. The strainer eventually gets dyed by the colour of the tea and resembles a silk stocking, thus resulting in the name “silk stocking tea”.
Traditionally, British people drink tea during afternoon hours, a custom conveniently named “afternoon tea” that is observed mostly by the middle and upper classes. But once this practice was spread to Hong Kong, it became a citywide phenomenon. Hong Kong people from every level of society drink milk tea regardless of the time of day.
One other common practice that utilises Hong Kong milk tea is the mixture with coffee, another classic beverage in Hong Kong named “Yuan Yang”. Legend says it was invented by dock coolies during the British colonial period to replenish energy and to quench thirst but ever since then it has developed into a profound symbol for the blending of Chinese and Western culture.
If you happen to be a foreigner hanging with local Hong Kongers, bring up “silk stocking tea” and “Yuan Yang” and you will have stimulating conversation for at least four minutes.