[Hong Kong] Who would have thought that a simple drink called the “Brown Sugar Milk Tea” has taken Hong Kong by storm. (Also read: 12 Brown Sugar Milk Tea In Singapore)
The trend has caused such a fever that has people queuing for hours under the summer heat and humidity.
From a quiet walking lane in Causeway Bay, the recent entrance of a few very popular Taiwanese bubble-tea brands has crowded that street beyond walking space.
Garnering a cult-like following, young Hong Kongers have popularised these drinks through their social media feeds and hash tags.
According to locals “It seems that if you didn’t have to stand in line for this long, you wouldn’t appreciate how good this tastes.”
Is it just marketing gimmicks, chic packing or supreme taste?
Currently there are already the usual players like Sharetea, Gongcha, Tea Ren in the market but the new players are capitalizing not just on the usual bubble teas, but on their premium Brown Sugar Boba Milk.
These have boba pearls cooked on low heat in brown sugar so the bubble could absorb the flavour from the brown sugar, and then topped off with fresh milk.
As simple a concoction as it may sound, the top brands (all hailing from Taiwan) have differing tastes and their own fan bases.
The Alley 鹿角巷
1) Shop F, Alpha House, Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
2) Shop No.3, Sun Kong House, Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mong Kok
The first of the 4 to enter the Hong Kong market, The Alley’s first store opened in Tsim Sha Tsui more than a year ago and the queue hasn’t stopped since then.
During peak hours, you are expected to queue for an hour or so. Subsequently, another outlet has opened up in Mongkok and even then, a queue was already forming before they are opened.
The Alley’s concept is more modern and trendy, with other very photo-worthy ombre drinks on the menu like matcha latte, all served in their unique rounded base cups.
Their Brown Sugar Deerioca Milk (HKD28, SGD4.90) is smooth and their deerioca (boba) pearls are of a very nice texture with a delectable brown sugar taste in every mouthful.
I didn’t queue more than 10 minutes before getting my hands on the drink (tip: go to the newer outlet at Mongkok and at the earlier opening hours before most people get out shopping).
The Alley allows sugar level adjustments for their drinks.
And in case you plan to take a photo of this drink, be forewarned that their brown sugar stains dissolve rather quickly so remember to act fast.
15 Lee Garden Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Another super popular one when they first opened, JenJuDan literally stole the show from Milksha, located next door.
Started as a humble shop in Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market, JenJuDan is popular for their Brown Sugar Boba Milk, Thai Milk Tea with boba pearls as well as their Matcha Milk drinks.
Fever for this brand has died down quite a fair bit since the opening of the others and judging from the speed they serve their drinks (5 minutes to prepare each order, with the cashier being the only one really busy), maybe this is the reason why the queue is so “long”.
Taste-wise, their Brown Sugar Boba Milk (HKD30, SGD5.30) didn’t wow me, compared to the others, especially if it involves queuing 20 minutes.
The brown sugar taste and milk wasn’t as distinct as the others, not sure if it’s because I ordered “half sugar”.
Tiger Sugar 老虎堂
36 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay Hong Kong
¬¬(Mongkok outlet, opening soon)
Supposedly the pioneer for creating the “striped effect” on the cups of boba milk, Tiger Sugar opened here a few months ago to much fanfare.
Currently still the one with the longest queue and the strongest fan base; be prepared to queue at least an hour during peak hours.
It makes you wonder how good can it be to deserve such a long wait.
I was there on a weekday afternoon and with the maniac level of queuing at this shop, I almost thought I was going to be there all afternoon.
Good thing the staffs move the orders quickly and I managed to get my drink under 30 minutes wait time even with over 20 orders ahead of mine.
I ordered their recommended Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cream Mousse (HKD30, SGD5.30) at full sweetness since sugar levels cannot be adjusted. A small dollop of cream mousse is topped on the drink before being sealed.
This was the strongest contender and I see now why Tiger Sugar is the crowd puller.
The milk they used is smooth and creamy; the brown sugar taste was really strong and went very well with the milk. Pearls are on the slightly softer side but still chewy and really good.
Their first Hong Kong shop is located side-by-side to XingFuTang.
Xing Fu Tang 幸福堂
Located right beside Tiger Sugar, it is not hard to make comparison between the two. Distinctively, Tiger has a longer queue but Xing Fu Tang has a bigger and more eye-catching shop front.
Xing Fu Tang’s Brown Sugar Boba Milk (HKD30, SGD5.30) was the most photo-worthy among the lot because of the strong brown sugar stained cup and the torched cream on the top of the drink.
Other very IG-worthy drinks on their menu include their Strawberry Boba Milk and Matcha Boba Milk – both for ombre drink lovers.
They pride themselves on their traditional cooking method of preparing the pearls and at their shopfront, you will be able to see their staffs stirring the ultra thick brown sugar boba and topping them into every cup. It all looks very promising.
After all that gimmick and look appeal, this was a quite a let down and we had some trouble finishing it. The milk wasn’t as smooth and the pearls were salty with a grainy texture. Not my personal favourite.
G/F, 17 Lee Garden Road, Causeway Bay
Milksha which is located right next to Jenjudan, specialises in using fresh milk from its own pastures in Taiwan.
While it is also relatively popular, the line is much shorter than the rest, possibly because it has been around for a while and specialises in other drinks such as Cheese Milk Tea, Fresh Milk Tea and Tea.
They do also offer a Bubble Brown Sugar Fresh Milk (HK26, SGD4.56), which has delicate, smooth milk texture though the brown sugar is not as pronounced and sweet as the rest. Perhaps it is also because all the drinks are ‘covered’ with its opaque cup, and thus loses some of that ‘instagrammable’
I had different taste buds do a sip-test and all agreed that Tiger Sugar is our favourite, followed by a tie between The Alley and JenJuDan.
Our least favourite was Xing Fu Tang, despite it being the most instagrammable.
This Brown Sugar Milk Boba fever has gone on for a few months by now and it looks like there are still no signs of slowing down.
The mad queue felt like a crowd cheering different soccer teams – each one has their favourite brands. And at fever pitch, even I got a little too engrossed in it that I queued off the walking path and got rescued from a moving vehicle coming in from the side of the lane.
That is how fanatic things can get.
Many here are looking forward to the opening of HeyTea, which originated from Mainland China and has a strong following of Hong Kongers heading across the border to queue for their cheese-topped tea every weekend. It has an even more crazed following, with a recording breaking queue that lasted 5 hours.
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* Written by DFD’s Hong Kong Correspondent @kara_the_explorer, who is the Singaporean “tai tai” living the foodie dream in Hong Kong. DFD paid for food reviewed unless otherwise stated.