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Inmates to take on cream of milk tea makers in competition

Inmates to take on cream of milk tea makers in competition

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on August 9, 2014.

For most people, it's simply a matter of making a refreshing drink, but for two young offenders, brewing milk tea has transformed - perhaps even saved - their lives.

"Everyone thinks people who come in here can't be saved," said one of the pair, 20-year-old Ah Hei. "But the people here kept encouraging me. Now that I can make a milk tea, I have a sense of achievement."

Ah Hei and 17-year-old fellow inmate Ah Yung - not their real names - learned how to brew the milky treat during an eight-month food and beverage training programme at the Cape Collinson Correctional Institution.

So impressed were staff by the pair's brewing skills that they were put forward to represent the institution against top milk-tea chefs in the international milk tea competition, which takes place on Thursday.

It's a far cry from the end of last year, when Ah Hei was jailed for using false documents. Having dropped out of school at about 14, he had given up on his future, had no job, no prospects, and had fallen in with what he called a "bad crowd".

"Before … everything I did was a failure," said Ah Hei.

But the course gave him a passion for milk tea - and he isn't the only one; milk tea was named by the government in June as one of the city's 480 official items of intangible cultural heritage.

Ah Yung, who is also serving time for possessing false documents, has a similar story.

"I easily gave up, and I was impatient," he recalls. "Now I feel I have the power to change. I want to change for the better, walk a more proper road, and not disappoint [my family]."

Tsang Wai-yin, the officer in charge of the programme, said inmates often started out lost and demotivated.

Fellow officer Tse Sheung-wai said the course was intended to "enhance their determination" and "strengthen their employability and self-confidence".

Ah Yung hopes his new skills will be put to good use in a Western food outlet, while Ah Hei wants to work in a cha chaan teng - the local tea cafes where milk tea is king.

"Although making milk tea seems like a small thing, in my life it is very special," said Ah Hei. "My goal for participating [in the competition] is to show people that I can succeed at something."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Inmates to take on cream of milk-tea makers

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