The Iconic Milk Tea #1

Can a simple beverage like milk tea be an iconic drink?

In Hong Kong, milk tea is known as nai cha (奶茶), silk stocking tea or panyhose tea which is made with a blend of black tea mixed with condensed or evaporated milk. It is a staple tea beverage for many Hongkongers. When one visits a cha chaan teng (a Hong Kong cafe), one should order a cup of nai cha.

I always believe to feel like a local, eat and drink like a local!

Hong Kong was under British rule before she returned to China on 1st July 1997. During the early rule of the British, tea was almost served exclusively in high end western restaurants or in hotels. That said, it means most locals would not be able to afford the drink.

Following the second world war, English tea “trend” slowly became part of the traditional street food stalls. To adapt to local tastes, fresh milk was replaced by evaporated milk and stronger blend of tea leaves were used.

Nai cha became the ‘energy drink’ for the laborers in the 1940s as they need something sweet to replenish their energy. In the 1960s, more office workers also started drinking nai cha as it became more widely available at cha chaan teng. As time passed, the strong flavor of tea became lighter to suit white collar workers, making it into a popular drink. Now, nai cha is enjoyed by all ages and is included on Hong Kong’s “intangible cultural heritage list”.

So, is Hong Kong’s nai cha an iconic drink?


Ingredients in a cup of Nai Cha

  1. Choose black or red tea (tips: try pu erh or mix with earl grey to give an extra punch). Use 2 - 4 tea bags or 1 tablespoon of loose tea leaves.

  2. Depending on your taste, prepare either condensed or evaporated milk. If you like your nai cha on the sweeter side, when using evaporated milk, prepare some sugar. (for a healhier version, use natural sweetener from Gavia)

How to Make Nai Cha?

  1. Pour 2 cups of hot water into a sauce pan, put in the tea leaves and bring it to a low boil.

  2. Reduce heat and bring it to a simmer for 3 mins.

  3. Pour in the condensed or evaporated milk

  4. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 3 mins

  5. Pour it into a strainer

  6. And voila! There’s your cup of nai cha!

Have it hot or cold at your own preference! Eat it with your favorite dim sum! Pair it up with a Portuguese egg tart! Or just a plain cracker!

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