When you can’t find exactly what you want at the supermarket, why not make it your self?
That’s the question Eileen Leung and Winy Cheung asked themselves a few years back.
“We really like yogurt,” says Leung, an urban planner. But the Hong Kong-based couple couldn’t find any that weren’t laden with preservatives, stabilisers and other additives.
“We discovered that we could make it ourselves, and it wasn’t too difficult,” says Cheung, an architect who was born and raised in the Netherlands and moved to Hong Kong a decade ago. “Before we knew it, we had friends trying out our first flavours and they were very enthusiastic about them. We thought that we’d better take it more seriously. Before we knew it, we were on a boat to Discovery Bay, to our first market.”
Canadian-raised Leung says the pair’s desire to make something locally led them to launch the Sour Times Dairy Company in 2012.
“A few years ago, you didn’t see many Hong Kong products from companies that were really proud of the fact that they were local. This is our home [both Leung and Cheung’s parents are from Hong Kong] and we wanted something that was reflective of Hong Kong, something handcrafted.”
The local angle is especially evident in the flavours of their yogurt, such as warm red ginger, inspired by the ginger and red sugar in tofu fa, the traditional soft-set dessert; and cocktail bun, based on the coconut-filled bread roll.
They also have a range of seasonal flavours. The strawberry-mint yogurt was the result of a visit by Cheung to a New Territories farm while the fruit was in season and he was able to pick it himself.
Setting up and running a business in Hong Kong, however, is no mean feat. Faced with exorbitant rents, it took a year to find a space that fit their budget.
“[Making yogurt] was meant to be a part-time thing. We kind of fell into it. We weren’t sure if we wanted to take the plunge, because it is quite a bit of time and money,” says Cheung.
The couple, who met while working at an architectural firm in the city, say they are lucky to have found a space in Wong Chuk Hang that was already licensed as a food factory. This meant expensive structural requirements, such as plumbing and exhaust fans, were already in place, making it easier for them to obtain a food licence.
The pair make about 30 litres of yogurt a week, catering to private clients and restaurants such as The Bottle Shop Central. Sour Times Dairy also accepts online orders through its website, www.sourtimes.hk, and delivery service providers such as Jou Sun and Deliveroo. They sell at markets, too, including the one in Tong Chong Street, in Taikoo Place.
“Going to markets is exhausting but it’s important for us to chat with customers,” says Leung, adding that it helps them to gauge what people want.
Cheung says, “A couple of years ago, people were asking, ‘How do you produce it? Is it made in Hong Kong?’ Now people are asking, ‘Do you have dairy-free yogurt?’”
So in addition to their usual range of dairy yogurts, bircher muesli and yogurt cheeses, their next product is likely to be a non-dairy coconut yogurt.
“Everyone asks [about non-dairy yogurts],” says Leung. “We find it really challenging to make it taste good, but we’re working on it.”