HK Magazine Archive

Why Is Evaporated Milk So Popular in Hong Kong?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:54pm

It might surprise you in an age of milk powder smuggling, but China has never been big on dairy. Historically cattle were kept for their ability to work the fields, not to produce milk. It’s the reason many Chinese are lactose intolerant: They never developed the ability to digest it properly.

But when the British came to the city, they brought with them a love of tea… with milk. Sacrilege to the lover of a delicate first blush pre-Ching Ming longjing tea, perhaps—but it’s not too bad in a mug of Lipton.

Transporting cows, breeding them, milking them—all of these were considerable inconveniences, and it made milk a rare commodity. Hong Kong’s Dairy Farm, in fact, was founded in 1886 with the specific aim of halving the price of milk in the territory.

But then two things were invented which made milk accessible to all Hongkongers: the canning and evaporation processes. By the 1920s, milk could be reduced down to about half of its original volume, thrown into a tin and shipped around the world.

As the population of Hong Kong exploded after the 1950s, so too did its cuisine. The cha chaan teng rose to prominence, with its own unique brand of food. Not Chinese, not western—but something wonderfully in between.

Including, of course, milk tea. Evaporated milk allowed you to add a concentrated, smooth milkiness—but without adding too much liquid to dilute the incredibly strong tea that Hongkongers loved. It was cheap, easy to store and it created one of the world’s greatest drinks. Why wouldn’t it become popular?

Hong Kong’s best-known brand of evaporated milk is Black & White, a Dutch brand that’s been in the city for over 70 years and is easily identifiable thanks to its red cow livery. Some say it produces a smoother brew; but equally you might just call it brand loyalty. In fact, Black & White is owned by Dutch dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina—which also owns the “Longevity” brand condensed milk. Hong Kong’s milk monopoly—you heard it here first.