Hong Kong tea culture and its history

The great city has a unique tea drinking culture​

Tea culture in China and Hong Kong is millennial. Indeed, tea originated in Southwest China during the Shang dynasty, where it was used as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text written by Hua Tuo. The Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to the mythical Shennong (in central and northern China) in 2737 BC. Almost five thousand years ago!

The only way to truly taste tea is through a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. This will take you through the special Gongfu style of brewing the leaves, where you’ll learn about when to let it breathe, for how long and offer tasting notes for when you actually get a mouthful. It’s a fantastic experience that’s full of tradition.

Yum Cha, or “drinking tea”, refers to the custom of eating small servings of different foods, in particular Dim Sum, while sipping tea. It is a popular family tradition at tea houses on weekend mornings. It’s claimed the tea helps to digest rich foods.

This tea approach is suggestive of the British style of enjoying tea where hot black tea is better with milk and sugar.

It has become a prominent aspect of Hong Kong tea culture. Hong Kong-style milk tea is a drink consisting of black tea mixed with either condensed milk or evaporated milk and sugar. The proportions are one part milk to two parts tea and sugar to taste. The tea is over-steeped to make an extra strong brew that can stand up to the milk.

There are many tea houses in Hong Kong where you can have tea with noodles, cakes or desserts. Popular types of tea include Sao mei, Bo lei and Tik guan yum. Tea is often poured as a sign of respect, with the younger generation showing respect to their elders by offering tea. Inviting and paying for older family members to go to tea houses is still a traditional holiday activity.

Cakes and desserts with Chinese tea include Bow law yau, a steaming hot bun. The bun has a butter stuffing. But also Daan tart, a baked egg custard or Yau char gwai, a deep fried dough.

There may be artisan coffee shops on seemingly every corner and real ale might be on the menu at many restaurants, but Hong Kong is still tea country. From a cup over breakfast to some bubble tea on a night out – Hong Kong runs on the stuff. It’s even one of the few cultural traditions that bind the cities dual British and Chinese identities. Indeed, both believe there is nothing that can’t be fixed by a good brew.

Drinking different types of tea in different seasons can keep you healthy.

What are snacks without tea? Hong Kong, with its unique mix of Chinese and British traditions, has to be tea’s cultural capital. Apart from yum cha places, there are tea cafes (cha chaan tengs) that serve the beverage with British-meets-Chinese snacks. Scrambled eggs and macaroni with Chinese twists! There are fancier relics of colonialism that offer loaded afternoon teas, sandwiches, scones and black tea.

The peninsula’s high tea still has many takers. This thriving tea culture combined with Hong Kong’s trading might as an entry port into China’s huge market and vice versa means that this is just the place to catch tea trends dominating the business and consumer palates worldwide. That is all for our Hong Kong tea culture article!