Hong Kong immigrants crave milk tea from home

HONG KONG (AP) — In London, Wong Wai-yi misses the taste of home.

A year ago, the 31-year-old musician was in Hong Kong, earning a good living composing and teaching piano for television and cinema. Today, besides her musical pursuits, she earns half what she earns as a presenter, working part-time in London. He chose the job in part because it allowed staff members to save money on food.

It’s a tough fit. Leaving Hong Kong with her boyfriend in January, Wong returned to a beloved staple in her hometown: tea with milk. He brings the drink to parties with Hong Kong friends and gives bottles to his colleagues as gifts.

“It’s like reminding myself that I’m a Hong Konger. “As long as we’re willing to take the challenge and work hard, it won’t be a problem,” said Wong, who left as part of an immigration that began after Beijing passed a law restricting civil liberties in 2020.

As tens of thousands leave Hong Kong for new lives abroadMany crave for a flavor that has become a symbol of the city’s culture from childhood: a sweet, heavy tea with evaporated milk, served both hot and cold in diner-like restaurants called cha chaan tengs. Workshops are opening to teach professionals how to brew tea like short-time cooks, and milk tea businesses are expanding beyond Chinatowns in Britain.

In Hong Kong, milk tea is the humble beverage you use to wash down sweet French toast from a plastic plate. It was so popular that members of Hong Kong’s protest movement called themselves part of a “Milk Tea Alliance” with activists from Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar drinking similar drinks.

After a law that silences or imprisons More than 133,000 residents, mostly political opposition, received a special visa allowing them to live and work in the UK and apply for British citizenship after six years. Official figures on how many people went were not released, but most buyers are expected to do so given the cost of the visa.

The passageway was introduced last year in response to China’s enactment of the National Security Act in 2020, which the UK described as a “blatant violation” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The declaration included a commitment to retain their rights and freedoms for 50 years after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Activist-in-exile Lee Ka-wai said it was “luxury” to have a cup of tea with milk at a Hong Kong-style cafe in London.

The 26-year-old fled Hong Kong in March last year for fear of arrest. He is wanted by the city’s anti-corruption agency for allegedly inciting others to boycott the December 2021 legislative elections. He is not allowed to work as an asylum seeker in Britain and lives on savings.

He said that even if the taste is correct, the feeling of a cha chaan teng and the voices of customers chatting in Cantonese cannot be replicated.

“It’s weird because overseas I can feel like I’m at home. But it also has another meaning – something irreplaceable,” he said. “What we miss most is going home and seeing a better Hong Kong. But we can’t.”

Some immigrants, such as Eric Tam, a 41-year-old manager at an insurance company, enroll in milk tea classes before they leave. While visiting Hong Kong this month, she stocked up on a milk tea blend, a recipe developed from British teas from the colonial era.

While tea is easy to find in England, it doesn’t taste the same, he said: “English milk tea is just watery milk,” Tam said.

Before moving to Liverpool with his wife and two young daughters in June, Tam enrolled in classes at the Hong Kong Dairy Tea Corporation. The two-year organization teaches students skills such as pouring tea back and forth between a kettle and a plastic container to boost its flavor before mixing it with evaporated milk.

The school’s founder, Yan Chan, estimates that about 40% of the 2,000 people who study with him plan to emigrate.

Veronica Mak, associate professor of sociology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, said it’s only in the last 15 years that milk tea has begun to emerge as a symbol of Hong Kong identity.

After the government removed Queen’s Pier, a landmark from the city’s colonial past, in 2007, many young people began to think about Hong Kong identity, Mak said. Kong culture.

“When you ask young people what kind of milk tea they like to drink, they’ll tell you it’s sparkling milk tea,” he said, referring to a drink from Taiwan. “But when you get to the ID part… they will say local milk tea, not bubble tea.”

Many of the milk tea lovers interviewed told the Associated Press that milk tea is not political. But Tam said it was a kind of silent resistance.

“We can choose to preserve the culture we want to keep. “Even if others try, it cannot be destroyed,” he said.

Contemporary Asian tea culture is attracting worldwide attention. Outside of Chinatowns, at least five Hong Kong-style milk tea brands have emerged in Britain over the past two years. One opened a pop-up cafe in London’s trendy Shoreditch neighborhood in September, attracting Londoners and tourists, as well as Hong Kong expats.

Tea wholesaler Eric Wong started selling bottled milk tea in 2021 after moving to the UK and offers milk tea workshops. He said he made 500 to 1,000 bottles of milk tea a week and that his business in south London had gone bankrupt after about six months. Trini Hong Kong Style Milk Tea products are available online and in major Asian supermarkets.

The taste of home can evoke strong emotions. Wong said a young woman from Hong Kong shed tears after tasting her tea.

Between people planning to leave and a growing interest in local culture, Chan is busy. On November 3, nine people joined his class, none of whom had planned to emigrate.

Cooking aficionado Dennis Cheng taught a class with him in late September and experimented with autographing as he prepared to leave Hong Kong with his wife and children.

He said the taste would help him remind him of Hong Kong and his hometown friends.

“This might help me feel that immigrating abroad is really not that sad,” she said. “I just need more time to adjust to it.”

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Associated Press photographer Kin Cheung contributed to this story in London.

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