Top 5 Hong Kong Café Drinks
Shaped by seasonality, convenience, pricing, and a cultural hack from the British, these beverages represent the quirky and unique concoctions of the Hong Kong culinary mind.
Hong Kong isn’t much of a drinking culture. Yet the city’s ability to create some pretty darn addictive drinks is worthy of mention and praise. And no, we’re not talking alcohol. Think local Hong Kong cafés, or cha chaan teng in Cantonese, and a blend of G-rated liquid fun. Shaped by seasonality, convenience, pricing, and a cultural hack from the British, these beverages represent the quirky and unique concoctions of the Hong Kong culinary mind.
Presenting: an insider’s guide to picking the right tasting thirst quenching glass of goodness. And don’t worry, if you’re time constrained, these drinks are happy to follow you on the go.
Here are 5 Hong Kong cha chaan teng drinks you must try:
1. Milk Tea 奶茶 naai cha
Like coffee is to the Italians, the milk tea is the reigning beverage of Hong Kong. Heeding the characteristics of the English cuppa, the Hong Kongers have poured their own brewing and flavour preferences into the mix. Otherwise known as ‘silk-stocking’ milk tea, this local drink is strained repeatedly through a tea sock, leaving behind a velvety liquid. The tea is brewed from a blend of black tea leaves, although the exact recipe will vary from place to place. Rather than regular milk, evaporated or condensed milk is used for the reward of a richer and creamier texture.
Looking for an extra kick of caffeine? Kill two birds with one stone by ordering the yin yeung, a popular variation that is ‘Milk Tea with Coffee’. But be warned, this combination will easily keep you buzzing for the day.
2. Red Bean Ice with Ice Cream雪糕 紅豆冰 syut gou hung dau bing
Whether young or old, this beverage is the ultimate summer treat. The perfect prescription of sweet, cold, crunchy and creamy to cure your sweaty self. Often served alongside your meals, this ice-cream-laden glass of layered delights transcends the definition of ‘dessert’.
The layers? From the bottom: milk (sometimes evaporated milk is added), crushed ice, sweetened red bean, and finally, a guilty scoop of ice-cream. The stirring is fun as it is imperative. An osmotic dance in motion as the milk, cream, ice, and ribbons of red swirl into formation. If you’re worried about calories, some cafes serve Red Bean Ice, less the ice cream. It’s good, but not as good.
3. Ovaltine阿華田o waa tin and Horlicks好立克 hou laap hak
Holding fast to the gastronomic remnants of British colonialism, Ovaltine and Horlicks play the classic sibling duo.
Developed by the Swiss but popularised by the English, Ovaltine is a milk flavouring product made with malt extract, sugar, cocoa and whey. Presented as a powder, it is commonly diluted in water and milk. Horlicks, named after its English founders James and William Horlick, is a similar malt-based drink. Omit the chocolate and you’ll get a mug of milled malted barley, wheat flour and dairy powder.
Often served cold (though hot option is available), they are most popular amongst the younger demographic. Quick to make, cheap to buy.
4. Hot Coke with Ginger and Lemon檸樂煲薑ning lok bou goeng
If you like Coke, ginger and lemon, then believe us when we tell you this: your life is about to change (possibly). As the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ goes, this hot beverage is testament to flavour experimentation gone surprisingly right. Boiling the Coke will erase the fizz but retain the sugar. Add thinly-sliced ginger and lemon, and voilà, a rewarding zing of gingery spice and lemony tang.
Believed to hold remedial properties to combat the cold, this drink can soothe the throat and warm the belly. But let’s give the medicinal credit to the ginger and lemon.
5. Lemon Iced Tea凍檸茶 dong ning cha
Homemade lemon tea is always better. Costing no more than HK$25 (or free with a set lunch) and served within five minutes, the lemon iced tea is a classic summer favourite. With the choice to trade tea with water and/or cold with hot, this drink does a superb job of healthy hydration. Add a few lemon pieces and syrup (level of sweetness is adjustable) and you’ve got yourself a summer cooler or winter warmer.