It takes Terry Mok Pui-ling less than five seconds for her to pour the perfect cup of the hot, creamy Hong Kong beverage known as silk stocking milk tea. Hong Kong's signature drink is all about the technique, and without years of practice it is easy to make a bad cup. Mok, however, is a master of the arts - and has the award to prove it. She was last year's winner of the International Kam Cha, an annual contest to find "the king of milk tea" organised by the Association of Coffee and Tea. Of course, in Mok's case that should be queen but she points out this has traditionally been a male-dominated career. She is the only female winner since the contest began four years ago. "A good cup of hot milk tea is like this - you can taste the fragrance of the tea, it's not disguised by the milk, and it does not taste bitter at all when it cools," she said. "A master of tea brewing should be a person who can overcome any constraints or circumstances to make a good cup." Expensive tea leaves, the best cups or the most expensive condensed milk make no difference if the technique - recently recognised as part of the city's cultural heritage - is wrong. The tea leaves must be brewed for exactly 15 minutes at exactly 95 degrees Celsius before being filtered through a bag resembling a stocking - hence the name. And woe betide anyone who puts the milk in the cup first. The technique is one of the 480 items on the city's first list of intangible cultural heritage, published in June. The list took the government seven years to compile and marks a big step forward in preserving the city's living heritage. Silk stocking milk tea gets served with breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea at outlets ranging from 7-Eleven convenience stores and local-style cha chaan teng to top hotels. Various blends of Ceylon tea are traditionally used. Hong Kong is the world's biggest consumer of milk tea, with an average 2.5 million cups consumed a day and a market valued at about HK$10 billion, according to Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Association of Coffee and Tea of Hong Kong. Wong, who calculated the estimate from the city's annual imports of 10,000 tonnes of Ceylon tea leaves, said consumption of milk tea was growing at about 8 per cent a year. Hong Kong's milk tea culture could be traced back to 1912, he said. But it was not until the 1950s that the taste for the beverage really took off as tea houses thrived and evolved into cha chaan teng restaurants in the 1970s. During that time, the drink was recognised as the perfect accompaniment for local delicacies such as pineapple buns and egg tarts. Mok, in her early 40s, started making silk stocking tea when she found herself out of work as a school teacher in 2000. "At that time, I happened to come across a job opportunity in a cha chaan teng ," she said. "I said to myself, 'Why not give it a try?'" But initially she could not get the technique right, pouring bad cups of tea over and again. She also felt the pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated working environment, Mok added. "The men in the kitchen stared at me in a way that their eyes were telling me, 'I bet you won't make it'," she said. "But I made it." As for winning the International Kam Cha, Mok said: "Where there's a will, there's a way." There's also a pretty strong pouring arm - Mok made about 900 cups of tea a day at one stage as diners poured into the cafe she now runs in Tai Wo, Tai Po to try her award-winning brew. "Don't fear any setbacks, and keep trying," she advised. Despite rising rents, wages and the cost of ingredients and strong competition, she has kept the price for a cup of milk tea at the same price for the past 13 years - HK$10 a cup. Wong said a cup of milk tea usually cost between HK$15 and HK$20, depending on locations. "The cheaper the tea, the more people can afford it and the more popular it is," Mok reasoned. "My dream is that one day the technique is recognised on a national level around the mainland, and worldwide," she said. She added that Hong Kong's milk tea differs from the milk tea that has emerged in other markets, such as India, Japan and Taiwan despite the fact that they may use more or less the same ingredients. The difference is all in the technique.