One of the characteristics of people who have real style is their ability to make the ordinary into something special. For many of us, making a cup of tea is something we do so regularly that we barely think about it. Here’s how you can add a little style, make brewing tea an art again, and show your friends something different:
First, let’s take ourselves to Hong Kong, where European and Asian traditions over the centuries regularly combine into something completely original – such as the art of making tea – rich, creamy tea.
The very best way to enjoy this brew is to buy a cup from any of Hong Kong’s tea shops. If you’re a visitor, try the iconic Cheung Hing Coffee Shop for a special experience. Once you know what the real deal tastes like, you are ready to try to make your own at home. A good cup of milk tea balances the strong tea flavor with the creaminess and just enough sweetness. It should feel and taste smooth, silky, and light.
To start, let’s try making it as simply as possible (but not authentically) by simply adding some Evaporated Milk to your ordinary brew. Aficionados would ban me from Hong Kong for life, but I hope once you have tried this you will try one of the proper methods. Let your tea brew until it’s nice and dark (around 3 minutes) and then add evaporated milk – you need from a fifth to a third of a cup. If you want it extra milky, add a tablespoon of condensed milk instead of sugar.
Loose leaves in a strainer will give you a stronger brew than tea bags. If you only have tea bags at home, tear them open. If you have Ceylon or Assam tea, use them; but ordinary English breakfast tea will do fine. Some people suggest adding some eggshell to the tea strainer to reduce the acidity of the tea because it has been brewed for so long, but you may find that the condensed milk is enough to balance the astringency of the tea.
The second method is a bit more complex but is more authentic. It starts with one of those Italian stove-top espresso percolators and will make around 4 cups of tea at once. Drop in 8 to 10 tablespoons of black tea and 4 cups of water. If you have used these pots before to make coffee, you know they need careful supervision and you need to watch the heat on the stove. So, you might need to practice a bit before you get it right.
Turn it off after around 12 to 15 minutes when you should have a strong brew ready. Place your evaporated milk (1/5 to 1/3) in your cups along with a spoonful of condensed milk or sugar, then fill up with tea. You should have a nice light brown or caramel-colored tea to serve your guests.
For iced milk tea, make some milk tea a day before, and then freeze it in ice cube trays. The next day, make your milk tea, as usual, let it cool to room temperature, then add the milk tea ice cubes and serve.
The original authentic method uses a metal hoop with a handle with a cotton bag on it, so it looks like a cross between a tea strainer and fishing net. Drop 8 tablespoons of tea leaves in. Broken tea leaves (fannings) or a tea dust is cheaper and makes a stronger brew. Rest it over a teapot.
Boil 4 cups of water in another teapot on the stove and pour it through your tea strainer. Place the tea strainer over the second pot and pour the tea through the tea leaves again and repeat the process twice more. You should now have a nice strong brew. Prepare your cups as you did before, with evaporated milk and condensed milk and fill up with tea and serve.
Alternatively, you might like to try Hokkaido Milk Tea or Royal Milk Tea from Japan. Simply boil a ¾ cup of water with two teaspoons of tea leaves. Add half a cup of milk and let it simmer – don’t let it boil again. Let it cool for a while then pour it into your cups with water and sugar or honey. Simple and tasty!
For something to awaken the taste buds, you might like to try a spicy Indian Chai. The choice of spices is an individual decision, so experiment until you find what suits you best. You might like to add any or all of these: 2 green cardamom pods (crushed), 2-3 whole black peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1-2 pieces cinnamon, fresh sliced ginger. Cloves and star anise are also options.
Once you have found a selection of spices you enjoy, you can steep them in water overnight to speed up the process in the morning, then add everything at the same time. Leave the ginger out, though, and throw that into the boiling water.
First, add ¾ cup of water to a pot to boil. Add the spices before it comes to the boil, then lower the heat to let the spices simmer for a while. Add ¼ full-cream milk and 1 ½ teaspoons of tea leaves and let it simmer some more, then take it off the heat and let the tea steep for two minutes.
Pour it into a cup through a strainer. Enjoy.
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