In our travels through Hong Kong, we have fallen in love with the creamy sweetness of Hong Kong milk tea. The custom of milk tea was pioneered in China as a result of early British colonial rule where the practice of afternoon tea, served with milk and sugar, was inspired. The Chinese have tailored the drink using evaporated milk or condensed milk instead of ordinary milk. Now, Hong Kong Milk Tea is found at almost any dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong, with purveyors showcasing their secret unique blend of tea and milk.
Because Ceylon is extremely flavorful and aromatic, it is able to stand up to the rich flavor of condensed milk. The practice of using canned sweetened condensed milk, and sometimes evaporated milk, had evolved almost out of necessity, as milk cows weren’t quite as plentiful in Hong Kong as they were in England. We like the change! It gives the tea a creamier, richer taste and feel. Vendors will compete with each other on taste, each using different proportions and ingredient variations - the recipes of which are a source of pride and treated as a commercial secret.
Curiously, Hong Kong Milk Tea is often called pantyhose tea or silk stocking milk tea because of the unique way it’s made. The long sackcloth, almost like a long cheesecloth, is attached to a metal ring with a handle. Dried tea leaves are placed in the sackcloth net, and the net is placed in a large metal container with water that is then heated to a boil. The tea net may be removed from the boiling water, set to cool and then re-immersed for another boil. This may be repeated multiple times. As a result, the filter bag develops a dark brown color after repeated tea drenching, making it look like a pantyhose.
For serving, the tea is poured into glasses - not mugs -that are already half full of milk. The result is a strong, smooth, velvety and creamier version of black tea. A signature characteristic of Hong Kong Milk Tea is the white foamy layer on top from the fat in the milk. You’ll never find fat-free Pantyhose Tea...and honestly, why would you want to?
An afternoon tea time for Hong Kong Milk Tea is also often accompanied by a classic Hong Kong pastry, an egg custard tart. Most likely also born out of British influence, these tarts are a crumbly custard-filled shell that people will wait on long lines in the afternoon to get. The tarts are prepared fresh daily, and come out of bakeries ovens at 3pm each day and are typically sold out by 5pm.
In Hong Kong, where class divisions are sharp, afternoon tea breaks are a respite for all - regardless of class, age or background. At 3:15 each afternoon, you’ll find most everyone lining up for their milk tea and tart, enjoying a break from the business of city life to relax and visit with someone - a tradition that is uniquely Hong Kong. It's all about time out to treat yourself and connect with those around you in light conversation. For that reason, we're happy to share the recipe for making Hong Kong Iced Milk Tea at home.
You will need:
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup whole or alternative milk of your choice
1 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
2 cups ice
For more cool, crisp and colorful iced tea ideas, download our free Iced Tea Recipe Guide!