While we’re on the subject of what regular people drink, it’s hard not to talk about the traditional Hong Kong milk tea.
Normally, milk tea of any sort usually consist of some milk or cream and a regularly brewed black tea of some type, maybe lipton or something along those lines. Hong Kong milk tea doesn’t follow that. It’s a very heavy blend of evaporated milk and tea. Witness the colour
These things are usually served without any sugar. You can add your own, if you want, as sugar is usually on the table in large quantities. The way this stuff is brewed is what some people call the “stocking milk tea” – it actually is a cotton bag that looks like a long sock, with tea inside. They use two pitchers with no lids. The brewer repeatedly pour boiling water (after the first infusion, tea) back and forth between the two, while having it on the heat source so it’s kept at a very high temperature. They do this until it reaches the desired strength, which is somewhere between super strong and incredibly strong. Then, to serve, they add a few big spoonfuls of evaporated milk and then pour the tea into it with force – the “clash” between the two elements is important, and the resulting drink is a very smooth tea/milk concoction. Without the milk, the tea itself is a very bitter, sour, and strong drink that isn’t very good.
The tea they use is pretty low grade stuff, and is usually a blend of various kinds of teas. The base is this
The right hand bag is the tea (left side is coffee). If you really want, you can buy a bag of this stuff over Taobao at the paltry price of 168 RMB for 5lbs (incidentally the Taobao page also has a couple pictures of people making this tea). They claim this is Ceylon black tea, with different grades mixed in. Oftentimes various restaurants will use these as a base and may or may not add things to the mix to create their own flavour – cooked puerh for example is sometimes used to give the tea more body.
Evaporated milk (right) is the preferred fat source in Hong Kong.
I think in Singapore you see condensed milk instead (left), which is already sweet. The results are very different. There are also different kinds of evaporated milk. Something you run into sometimes is a particularly nasty one – basically imitation evaporated milk made using mostly vegetable fat and milk powder. It looks like the real deal, but the taste is off, and the body is thin and gross.
There are other variations on a theme, most notably the yuenyeung (pinyin: yuanyang) which is a perculiar mixture of half coffee, half tea, plus milk. I’m not a fan, but it has its devotees.
You’d think something like this should be pretty simple, but I’ve been to restaurants where the result is so horrible I’ve never gone back again. It’s really one of those drinks that can define your shop, and if your ability to make this singularly Hong Kong drink is not there, your business will suffer.