I was on a sugar high during my stay in Hong Kong. I blame the milk tea.
Hong Kong-style milk tea is in a class of its own, different from other forms of milk tea you’re likely to encounter. Also called pantyhose milk tea or silk stocking milk tea, it gets the signature intense, smooth flavor from the being strained back and forth through a long cloth sieve that resembles women’s stockings. In this episode of an HK food show on Youtube (in Cantonese only), the proprietor of one cafe explains how he uses a blend of six types of tea leaves and boils and strains the tea eight times. At the end, evaporated milk and a heaping spoonful of sugar is mixed in to create the final cup of pure caffeinated bliss.
Granted, pantyhose milk tea, known as “si mut naai cha” in Cantonese, can get a bit heavy at times. But for me, it’s about as addictive as Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea. Since I can’t get milk tea this good in Beijing, I spent my trip in Hong Kong indulging in this thick, sweet concoction in almost every shape and form.
For the summer time, of course, there’s iced milk tea, best drunken on a lazy afternoon in a cha chaan teng with a newspaper and pineapple bun. But some cha chaan tengs (Cantonese cafe/diner), acknowledging that melted ice can dilute the tea too much, have devised some quirky ways to keep the drink cold without flavor loss. One spot I visited serves their milk tea in plastic cups nestled in bowls of ice. In the aforementioned Youtube video, the shop makes its ice cubes out of the same hand-pulled milk tea.
And if tea alone doesn’t give you enough jolt, there’s always the yuanyang (yinyeung in Cantonese), a half milk tea and half coffee blend, usually served hot. Note that this is only good if you’re not a coffee purist. Most places use instant coffee.
As for foods to go with your milk tea, there’s instant noodles with canned luncheon meat…
…macaroni with Spam, which will appeal to anyone who grew up in Hawaii or a former British or U.S. colony…
…or more egg tarts.
Hong Kong-style French toast and beef brisket noodles (ngau lam fun) are also pretty spectacular accompaniments. Almost anything goes, as long as it’s no frills, cheap, and can imbue a sense of nostalgia for colonial Hong Kong.
Some favorite spots for Hong Kong-style milk tea (絲襪奶茶 si mut naai cha):
Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) – A popular and legendary little metal shack in Central, where pantyhose milk tea was supposedly invented.
2 Gage Street, Central (also a newer branch down the street)
2544 3895/ 2854 0731
Honolulu Coffee Shop （檀島咖啡餅店） – Very old school 1950′s style cha chaan teng, with an effortlessly retro mint and pink decor.
33 Stanley Street, Central
Tai Hing (太興燒味連鎖店) – Modern, clean, has full menu of HK-style Cantonese food.
26-31 Tai On Building, 57-87 Shau Ke Wan Road, Sai Wan Ho
Cafe de Coral – It’s a chain, but serves better milk tea than many establishments around the city. During afternoon tea a hot milk tea is only $6, the cheapest I’ve found in the city. Locations all around HK.