Summer is here and what better way to celebrate than with a delicious frozen treat or two. These ice pops are inspired by the classic Hong Kong milk tea, which is hands-down the most popular beverage you’ll find in Hong Kong diners. It’s essentially black tea with sugar and evaporated milk, which I like to call, “The Chinese Double-Double”.
With help from my mom, who is a bit of a milk-tea connoisseur, we made a much more concentrated version of the tea to make up for the lack of flavour you get from freezing tea (tip: whenever you’re making ice pops, make sure the liquid is much sweeter than you think it should be before freezing).
Serve these at the end of the meal in place of tea or coffee for a cool, refreshing treat.
4 Orange Pekoe tea bags
4 cups water
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar*
1. In a pot, pour in the water and toss in the tea bags. Cover and bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the tea simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes.
2. Remove the tea bags. Gradually stir in the sugar, making sure it’s dissolved before you add more. Stir in the evaporated milk.
3. Pour the tea into a pitcher, and then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze overnight.
This recipe yields 4 cups of milk tea, which makes approximately 14 large ice pops.**
* My mom prefers cane sugar, but white sugar is fine.
** You can technically drink any leftover tea but this is a super-concentrated and sugary version. If you want to make a normal cup of hot milk tea, one or two teaspoons of sugar and enough milk to turn the tea into a light caramel colour, is enough.
Hong Kong’s Milk Tea Culture
Many British traditions still run deep in everyday Hong Kong life (it was only in 1997 that they were no longer under British rule, after all). The most obvious is afternoon tea, or “ha oom cha” as it’s called there, which is why many Hong Kong-ers add milk to their breakfast tea rather than drinking it straight-up like the rest of China.
Milk tea is typically made by bringing the tea and the water to a boil together, rather than adding hot water to the tea; the argument is that it brings out more flavour. In old-school diners, you’ll see cooks strain the tea through a sack-like cloth (not unlike pantyhose), which has resulted in locals joking about restaurants using old pantyhose to make the tea in an effort to save money. At least, I hope they’re joking.
You’ll never see milk tea at dim sum or traditional Chinese restaurants. Instead, milk tea is found in more Western-style places where the tea is consumed in the morning or afternoon alongside thick slices of French toast (Hong Kong-ers prefer Lyle’s Golden Syrup since maple isn’t common), or sweet and savoury pastries like pineapple buns (a bun that doesn’t actually contain pineapples, but got its name because it looks like one).
In the summer, you’ll find iced milk tea and you can thank the Taiwanese for combining tapioca and milk tea to create bubble tea. There’s also “yin-yang”, a variation in which milk tea is mixed with coffee, served hot or iced.
Milk tea remains a huge part of Hong Kong culture. In fact, since 2010 there’s been an annual international competition in search of the best milk tea maker, held just north of Toronto in the suburb of Markham. There you can find a concentrated Chinese population and thus, it’s where Torontonians say you’ll find the best Chinese food. But there’s no category for Best Milk Tea Ice Pops—yet.
Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.