Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea

Hong Kong style milk tea, 港式奶茶 (Jyutping: gong sik naai caa), is quite different than the British milk in tea business. For one, HK style is strong, it puts hair on your chest strong (as far as tea goes anyway). Strong, yet smooth. This beverage is quite popular in cafes, open air food stalls (JP: dai pai dong 大排檔). It is the morning beverage of choice for Hong Kongers as well instead of coffee, after all, the Chinese, heavily influenced by their history and the British, it is a tea culture. According to Wikipedia, Hong Kongers consume about 900 million cups of milk tea a year.

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea
at home

Made with Ceylon tea dust

Teacup: Minton "Sutherland Green"

So, why milk tea today? Well, if you glance over to the side bar, you can see a photo of me and probably can deduce that it may have something to do with my heritage. Ever since moving to Canada, my parents often get a craving for this drink and would attempt to make it themselves. They would come close to be content with it, but personally, I still find it off. There was also a Hong Kong style cafe in Chinatown who makes pretty bang-on milk tea, they were the only place in town who got it right after many years of searching and trying. Unfortunately, the cafe owner decided to retire and there were no takers to continue the business. Even Mr. Meow enjoys this beverage from time to time and wouldn't pass up the opportunity to order one when we are in Hong Kong. So, Meow decided it's time she takes matters into her own hands and did some research on the methods.

Made with whole-leaf single estate Ceylon tea

Teacup: Paragon bone china

It is no secret that HK milk tea is made with Ceylon black tea, however, it is trade secret as to what else to blend Ceylon tea with to give it a full flavour. Blending is not necessary, and it is really a personal preference. Meow just grabbed whatever was available at the local Asian T&T Supermarket.

"100% Ceylon Tea"?  Good enough for me!

It is also no trade secret that it is flavoured with evaporated milk.  Many cafes will advertise which brand of evaporated milk they use in their milk tea even.  "Black & White" brand seems popular in recent years, but I couldn't find any here, so I went with the ol' Carnation brand.

There are some "special" equipment that is required to make milk tea as well.  You'll need a "silk stocking".  Meow actually tried using an actual silk stocking (new one!) the first time around and found that the tea dust escaped into the pot, giving me tea sludge.  When Meow parents took their annual trip to Hong Kong, I sent them on a hunt for milk tea gear.  They came back with a stainless steel stove-top teapot, and a cotton reusable tea filter - large and small sized - as they couldn't find the proper "silk stocking" strainer at the time.  These cotton filters worked wonderfully.

Yes, they also stopped by the TWG tea shop while in Thailand
to buy tea for me.
This is when Meow Mother thought of this idea to replace
the silk stockings that they couldn't find
The large filter fits over the flagon perfectly

 So, let's make some milk tea!

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea
Translated from NaichaDIY

1  1 L - 1.5 L stove top teapot
1  32 oz (~1 L) heat resistant cup/container (flagon works well)
1  Large cotton reusable tea filter

20 g | 3 tbsp of Ceylon black tea dust, or whole-leaf tea (see below for this experiment)
500 mL of water
1 can of evaporated milk, to taste
sugar to taste, preferrably raw cane sugar

1. Fill the stove-top teapot with about 500 mL of water, bring to boil

2. While waiting to boil, measure out 20 g of tea dust into a little bowl


3. Fit the tea filter over the heat resistant container, pour the tea dust into the filter

4. Once the water boils, pour the hot water into the container

5. Transfer the tea filter into the teapot, then pour the water from the container back into the teapot

6. Transfer the tea filter, this time, into the container, then pour the water from the teapot into the container

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 two more times; this can be referred to as pulling the tea

8. With tea, filter, and water in the teapot, return it back onto the stove and simmer on very low for 5 minutes with lid on (first set of 5-minutes)

The teapot lid wouldn't close when I had the filter inside,
so Meow used the lid from her ramekins :P

9. Repeat steps 5, 6, 7, and 8 (second set of 5-minutes)

10. Repeat steps 5, 6, 7, and 8 again (third set of 5-minutes)

11. After the third set of 5-minutes is over, pull out the tea filter with the tea dust inside and allow to cool in the heat resistant container.  Do not squeeze the bag as this will make the tea very bitter, just let it drain

12. Serve the tea while hot into a mug, or fancy cup

If using bone china, remember: place a teaspoon into the cup and pour tea onto the spoon
to divert the heat to prevent crazing in the glaze

13. Add sugar in before milk to taste, then evaporated milk.  Normally, the amount of evaporated milk that is added is such that it will mushroom cloud and bloom in the tea.

Watch for the nuclear explosion of evaporated milk
to gauge whether you have added enough milk
Colour of tea when sufficient milk has been added

14. Once the tea filter has cooled, dump out the tea dust, soak the tea bag in the container with a scoop of OxyClean or baking soda to lift out tea stains.  Be sure to rinse it clean afterwards.


Meow was curious as to how much tea she got from ~500 mL of water, so she weighed out her final product:

A lot of the milk tea at cafes in Hong Kong are quite "dry", as in, you get this squeaky feeling in your teeth and mouth when drinking, and it definitely feels like it's sucking the moisture out of your mouth.  I always chase my milk tea with a glass of water afterwards.

Meow's version here, I am not sure whether it is due to the method or the blend of tea I have due to the type of tea I was using, it gave me a much smoother texture which I quite enjoy.  It is still very strong as I am still suffering a caffeine headache from my 10 o'clock dose and it is now almost 4 o'clock.

Mr. Meow feels that something's missing in the flavours, and suggests to try with table cream.  To which I just looked at him and cringed.  He knows nothing about naai caa.  I will have to wait for Meow father to try it to give its final verdict.

Milk is still blooming and swirling in the blue cup after its addition

With Whole-Leaf Tea

The next morning, I tried making milk tea using my fancy, sorta expensive whole Ceylon tea leaves that I got from Mariage Freres.  Simply because if you readers wanted to make this at home, tea dust made for this maybe difficult to find, however, I am sure whole leaf Ceylon is much easier to find regardless of your location.  Now, I had actually purchased this whole-leaf tea for this purpose, but that was before I found out the brewing method, thinking that all I need was good quality tea leaves to achieve a strong comparable brew that is for milk tea.  I did not achieve the same flavours just by steeping.  However, I used these tea leaves with the same brewing method above and have actually obtained a flavour that is closer to the taste of many cafes in Hong Kong.  It is a bit more dry, but not dry enough that I needed to chase it with some water.

Single estate fine orange pekoe grade Ceylon tea leaves

20 g of Allen Valley was also used in this method

After first pull

Liquid is still crisp and clear after second pull
It was quite dark and murky with the tea dust in comparison

Clear liquid
You can still see the spoon underneath

Final product
Slightly dry but much closer to the authentic taste

Mr. Meow agrees that this brew with the Allen Valley FOP is much closer to "what he is used to", I chuckled because he had milk tea from all of maybe 4 places around Hong Kong, but plenty from that closed down local cafe.  I don't consider that qualifying him to be a milk tea connoisseur, but at least I got a second that it is closer to the common taste.

Our theory as to why the tea dust is smoother compared to this Allen Valley single estate was that (aside from dust vs. whole) is that the dust could be a blend from several different tea estates from Sri Lanka, where Ceylon tea is produced.  Usually, cafes and dives in HK will blend it with Pu-erh or Darjeeling to achieve a drier taste or to smooth out the flavours.  Since the dust cannister says "100% Ceylon tea", I can be sure there is no blend.  So, that is our theory.  We may get a completely different flavour if I was to use a different estate Ceylon tea even.  I lucked out with Allen Valley.

Now, I have to brew a tea dust batch and a whole-leaf Allen Valley batch for Meow father to try and give his verdict.

*Edit: Meow father tried both versions and personally prefers the tea dust flavour and texture.  He describes the Allen Valley as an "untamed wild horse", very strong tea flavoured.  Though admits that the authentic taste is usually somewhere in between the dust and Allen Valley.

Money-mint idea: Meow Tea Salon that serves HK milk tea as well as fine teas with afternoon tea goodies.  (Patent Pending)

A typical Hong Kong style breakfast
Pineapple bun with milk tea
Though not in fancy dishes like this, more like with plastic ware



  1. I love milk teas. It is so good to taste and very over whelming.

  2. At last! I found this truly amazing article. I am very happy that I found this very good article of yours. Very good info and very creative post. Thanks.


    1. You're very welcome. I'm glad you find it informative.


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