Milk Tea

updated Jan 18, 2024

This Hong Kong-style milk tea skips the condensed and evaporated milks.


MakesMakes 4 1/2 cups

Prep10 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 1 hour

Jump to Recipe
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I was introduced to Hong Kong-style milk tea way before I had ever had coffee. My family would eat in Hong Kong-style cafés where almost everybody would have a steaming mug of sweet, strongly caffeinated milk tea in front of them to go with any meal, from breakfast to dinner. If you’ve ever had bubble tea (also known as boba tea), milk tea is one of the most common drinks to order with the chewy tapioca balls.

Hong Kong-style milk tea is usually made with a combination of canned evaporated and condensed milk, but I figured out how to make this strong, sweet brew without any canned products at all. It takes a little bit of time, but the amazing flavor is worth it. In fact, it’s so good I made two batches of it in one week!

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

What Is Milk Tea?

Milk tea is a very generic term for tea with some kind of milk product in it. Many cultures have some form of milk tea, which can range from just a splash of milk poured into tea, to one where the milk is a significant portion of the tea. This is a recipe for Hong Kong-style milk tea, which is a strongly brewed, creamy, and sweet black tea that can be served hot or cold over ice.

Hong Kong-style milk tea is traditionally made with canned evaporated and sweetened condensed milks. While it’s delicious, I set out to make milk tea without the canned milks so that I could control the amount of sugar while still making a delicious brew. To achieve this, I cooked down dairy and sugar to replicate the flavors and textures of the canned milks into one mixture for the creamy milk tea base, and then mixed it with tea.

Ingredients You Need for Milk Tea

  • Black tea: Use ceylon or orange pekoe tea, either in tea bags or in loose-leaf form. Don’t use overly perfumed black teas here. Rickshaw black tea is the brand most often used in milk tea.
  • Milk: Whole milk makes up a big proportion of the creamy milk tea base. Stick with whole milk rather than lower-fat milks, as you need its richness.
  • Cream: Heavy cream is also important for the milk tea base. It adds a richness in flavor and body.
  • Sugar and salt: Granulated sugar and a pinch of salt round out the milk tea base ingredients.

How to Make Milk Tea

  1. Make the creamy milk tea base. Start by simmering whole milk, sugar, cream, and salt together until thickened into a gravy-like consistency that is a shade darker in color. Depending on the size of your saucepan, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Brew the tea. While the milk tea base is reducing, simmer water and black tea together for 5 minutes, then let the tea steep in the water for 10 minutes more. This helps to extract all the flavors of the tea out. The brewed tea will taste pretty tannic on its own.
  3. Blend the milk tea base. When the milk tea base is ready, it will be a little lumpy. Blend it until really smooth first.
  4. Blend in the tea. Add the strained, brewed tea to the blender and blend with the creamy milk base. Stick to low speed so that you don’t end up with a lot of froth at the top.

The milk tea can be served hot (just reheat on the stovetop if you want it really hot), or cold. To serve cold, let it cool completely first before pouring over ice. Don’t pour hot milk tea directly over ice, as it will melt the ice too much and dilute the drink. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: James Park

3 Tips for Making Milk Tea

  • Use the widest saucepan you have. The milk tea base will reduce the quickest in a wide saucepan, so use the largest, widest one you have.
  • Monitor the base while it’s cooking. While you want the milk tea base to cook down as quickly as possible at a brisk simmer, keep an eye on it, as it can bubble over quickly. Give it a whisk every 10 minutes or so to keep the bottom from burning.
  • Don’t skip the blending. You might be tempted to just whisk the milk tea base and tea together, but blending it is important to really help the two parts emulsify and not separate.

How to Serve Leftover Milk Tea

Leftover milk tea keeps very well for a few days in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop, or serve over ice instead when you want a jolt of caffeine and something sweet. Whether you go hot or cold, you should still give the milk tea a whisk first, as a layer of milk solids will float to the top upon refrigeration but will quickly reincorporate.

Milk Tea Recipe

This Hong Kong-style milk tea skips the condensed and evaporated milks.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 1 hour

Makes Makes 4 1/2 cups

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the sweetened milk base:

  • 2 cups

    whole milk

  • 1/2 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the tea:

  • 5 cups


  • 12

    black tea bags or 1/2 cup loose-leaf black tea, preferably Ceylon (also known as orange pekoe)

  • Ice, if serving cold


Make the milk base:

  1. Place 2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a large saucepan (the wider, the better). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Reduce the heat as needed to maintain a brisk simmer. Cook, whisking and scraping down the sides of the saucepan with a flexible spatula every 5 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup, 35 to 60 minutes (a wider saucepan will be faster). The mixture will be thickened to the consistency of gravy and slightly darker (it will not be perfectly smooth). Meanwhile, make the tea.

Make the tea:

  1. Bring 5 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 12 black tea bags or 1/2 cup loose-leaf black tea. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 5 minutes.

  2. Take the saucepan off the heat and let the tea steep for 10 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium heatproof bowl. Gently press on the tea leaves or tea bags with a spoon to release as much liquid as possible; discard the tea bags or leaves.

  3. When the milk base is ready, transfer it to a blender, making sure to scrape the mixture from the sides of the saucepan into the blender; blend on low speed until smooth. Add the tea and blend again on low speed until smooth. To serve hot, pour back into a clean saucepan and reheat over medium heat if desired. To serve cold, refrigerate until chilled, rewhisk or reblend, and pour over ice.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Let the milk tea cool to barely warm, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Serve chilled or reheat over medium heat, whisking to recombine as needed.