Milk tea kings brew up something special
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on July 29, 2014.
Amid bustling traffic and the chatter of pedestrians, three milk tea masters raise their kettles high - deftly pouring creamy torrents of tea from one kettle to another with a dramatic flourish.
The prize-winning trio are demonstrating their skills from a truck parked in Causeway Bay to promote the annual international milk tea competition, being held next month. "In a cha chaan teng, one cup of milk tea can be said to be its fortune," said Leung Tak-chau, the 2012 winner of the local leg of the competition, referring to the local cafes where the drink is a menu staple. "If the tea is not delicious, that place will [struggle]."
Leung brewed up with Yu Chun-wah, runner-up in 2012, and Chan Wai-ching, 2009 winner, a month after the drink was declared one of the city's 480 intangible cultural heritage items.
"To every milk-tea brewer, this is confirmation," said Yu, who works at a teahouse in Causeway Bay. "[Milk tea] is so important to our culture, and to every person's lifestyle."
Assembled by the government, the intangible cultural heritage list contains items said to represent Hong Kong culture. The Association of Coffee and Tea of Hong Kong applied for the drink to be listed in 2010 and it officially became a heritage item last month.
Served with evaporated milk, it is made by filtering tea leaves through a cloth bag similar to women's tights, earning it the nickname "silk stocking milk tea". "Hong Kong people drink 300 million cups each year," said Leung, who works for Ngan Lung Catering and has made tea for over 20 years. "I like to brew my tea at high temperatures … over 100 degrees [Celsius]."
Co-organised by the tea association and food services company Kampery Development, the international milk tea or kam cha competition will be held in Hong Kong from August 14 to 16.
Since its inception, the annual contest has matched authentic milk tea brewing connoisseurs against one another to compete for the grand title of "Kam Cha King".
During lunch and after working hours, the truck will visit various districts - including Central, Sham Shui Po and Tai Po - and serve free tea brewed by award-winning masters until July 31.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Milk tea kings brew up something special