Hong Kong-style milk tea

Hong Kong-style milk tea is a tea drink made from Ceylon tea, black tea and milk (usually evaporated milk and condensed milk). It is usually part of lunch in Hong Kong tea culture. Hongkongers consume approximately a total of 900 million glasses/cups per year. Although originating from Hong Kong, it can also be found overseas in restaurants serving Hong Kong cuisine and Hong Kong-style western cuisine. In the show Top Eat 100, which aired on 4 February 2012, Hong Kong-style milk tea was listed as the 4th most popular food/drink in Hong Kong. The unique tea making technique is listed on the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong-style milk tea
Hot milk tea
Place of originHong Kong
Serving temperatureHot or iced
Main ingredientsCeylon tea, Black tea, evaporated, condensed milk, sugar
Similar dishes
Hong Kong-style milk tea
Cantonese YaleGóngsīk náaihchà
Literal meaningHong Kong-style milk tea
Alternative Chinese name
Cantonese YaleHēunggóng náaihchà
Literal meaningHong Kong milk tea
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese大排檔奶茶
Simplified Chinese大排档奶茶
Cantonese YaleDaaihpàaidong náaihchà
Literal meaningdai pai dong milk tea


Hong Kong-style milk tea originates from British colonial rule over Hong Kong. The British practice of afternoon tea, where black tea is served with milk and sugar, grew popular in Hong Kong. Milk tea is the same except with evaporated or condensed milk substituted for traditional milk.[1]

A dai pai dong-style restaurant called Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園)[2] claims both silk-stocking milk tea and Yuenyeung were invented in 1952[3] by its owner Mr. Lam. Its claim for the latter is unverified, but that for the former is on the record in the official minutes of a Legislative Council of Hong Kong meeting from 2007,[4] lending it significant plausibility.

It is called "milk tea" (Chinese: 奶茶; Cantonese Yale: náaihchà) to distinguish it from "Chinese tea" (Chinese: ; Cantonese Yale: chà), which is served plain. Outside of Hong Kong it is referred to as "Hong Kong-style milk tea". It has another name, "silk stocking milk tea" which originates from the appearance of the sackcloth tea leaf filter bag. In the 1950s and 1960s, the main customers of Hong Kong style milk tea were workers and labourers, who thought that the sackcloth looked like pantyhose.[5]

Cultural heritage

In 2017, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong declared "Hong Kong-style milk tea making technique" as one of the intangible cultural heritages (ICH) of Hong Kong, under the domain "traditional craftsmanship" as specified by UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the ICH.[6][7]


"Silk stocking" milk tea
Making milk tea with a "silk stocking"
Traditional Chinese絲襪奶茶
Cantonese Yalesī maht náaihchà
Literal meaningsilk-stocking milk tea

Hong Kong-style milk tea is made of a mix of several types of black tea (in the Western sense, often Ceylon tea), possibly pu'er tea, evaporated milk, and sugar, the last of which is added by the customer unless in the case of take-away. The proportion of each tea type is treated as a commercial secret by many vendors.[8] Cha jau (Chinese: 茶走) is a variation that uses condensed milk instead of milk and sugar, giving the tea a richer feel. Still other cafés prefer using a filled milk variant, which is a combination of skim milk and soybean oil.

The key feature of Hong Kong-style milk tea is that a sackcloth bag is used to filter the tea leaves. However any other filter/strainer may be used to filter the tea.[9] Sackcloth bags are not necessary but generally preferred. The bag, reputed to make the tea smoother, gradually develops an intense brown colour as a result of prolonged tea steeping. Together with the shape of the filter, it resembles a silk stocking, giving Hong Kong-style milk tea the nickname of "pantyhose" or "silk stocking" milk tea (Chinese: 絲襪奶茶; Cantonese Yale: sī maht náaihchà). This nickname is used in Hong Kong but less so in mainland China and overseas communities.[10]

There is some debate over the most authentic way of making milk tea, i.e. the sequence of adding each ingredient. Some have argued that milk should be added before pouring the tea, while others hold the opposite view. Though, to most people, both methods are acceptable.[1]

Hot milk tea in a coffee cup accompanies a breakfast.

Milk tea is a popular part of many Hongkongers' daily lives, typically served as part of afternoon tea but also at breakfast or dinner. It enjoys nearly the same ubiquitous status that coffee holds in the West. Whilst not offered by more traditional Cantonese restaurants or dim sum teahouses, milk tea is standard fare in Hong Kong-style western restaurants and cha chaan teng, as well as Hong Kong's historic dai pai dong, with a price between HKD$12–16 for a hot serving and two to three dollars more for a cold serving. A cup of hot milk tea is usually either served in a ceramic cup (often referred to as a "coffee cup" 咖啡杯) a tall cylindrical glass, or a metal cup.

The first criterion of a good cup of milk tea is its "smoothness" (香滑); in other words, how creamy and full-bodied it is. Another criterion for tasty milk tea (and also bubble tea) is some white frothy residue inside the lip of the cup after some of it has been drunk. This white froth means that the concentration of butterfat in the evaporated milk used is high enough. There is also another way for locals to distinguish high quality by identifying hints of oil on top of the drink after it has been properly brewed. This is the oil remains from the roasting process during tea production.


Ice bath milk tea. The cup of milk tea is placed in an icy water bath so the tea can be kept cold without getting diluted by the melting ice.

Iced milk tea is usually prepared with ice cubes. However, in the past when ice-making machines were not common, the iced milk tea was made by filling the hot milk tea into a glass bottle and then cooled in a refrigerator. In the past, milk tea was sold in Vitasoy or Coca-Cola bottles. Today this type of "bottle milk tea" is rare in Hong Kong. Iced milk tea in cans or plastic bottles can be found in many of the convenience stores around Hong Kong such as 7-Eleven and Circle K.

In the case of milk tea with ice cubes, the melting ice will dilute the content, thus affecting the taste of the drink. Some cha chaan tengs serve ice-less iced milk tea, made by pouring hot milk tea into a plastic cup and then cooling it in a refrigerator or by placing the container into a cold water bath, which is called "ice bath milk tea" (Chinese: 冰鎮奶茶; Cantonese Yale: Bīngjan náaihchà). Some restaurants simply use ice cubes made of frozen milk tea. All these methods are often used as selling points.

Cha jau
Traditional Chinese茶走
Simplified Chinese茶走
Literal meaning"tea without [evaporated milk]"

Milk tea and coffee together is called Yuenyeung (Chinese: 鴛鴦; Cantonese Yale: Yūnyēung). A variation on "silk stocking tea" is "silk stocking coffee".

See also


  1. R. Wertz, Richard. "Hong Kong Style Milk Tea". CULTURAL HERITAGE OF CHINA. ibiblio. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  2. "Lan Fong Yuen (Central)". OpenRice Hong Kong. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  3. "Brand Story_LAN Fong Yuen milk tea". www.hklanfongyuen.com. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  4. https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr07-08/english/counmtg/hansard/cm1219-translate-e.pdf
  5. "Hong-kongers crave their iconic pantyhose tea". Reuters. 27 December 2007. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  6. "First HKICH inventory" (PDF). ICSD.
  7. "Hong Kong-style Milk Tea Making Technique". Intangible Cultural Heritage Office. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  8. PeoplesProductionHK (9 November 2011). "《飲食男女—大廚秘技》第廿四回 奶茶 (Cantonese)". youtube.com. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  9. "Best milk teas in Hong Kong (Page 1)". CNN Go. 7 June 2011. Archived from the original on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  10. CNN Go 40 Hong Kong foods we can't live without Archived 5 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine 13 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011
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