A hot milk tea or yuanyang served in a HK diner style coffee mug.
A hot milk tea or yuanyang beverage just tastes so much better in a heavy, thick Hong Kong diner style coffee mug. (Photo Credit: Best milk tea I had in HK by Flickr user euqus, original image has been adapted)

So it’s late in the afternoon and you’re debating whether to go for a hot cup of coffee to perk you up or a soothing cup of tea to help you relax after a long day. We’ve all been there. Hong Kong has an answer to your dilemma and its name is yuanyang. It’s also called yuenyeung, yinyong or cofftea.

Yuanyang means mandarin ducks. The male mandarin ducks are colourful and the female ones are blandly beige. Though they look very different, they are always seen together in harmony. That’s why this popular beverage is called yuanyang. It’s a divine hybrid of two totally different beverages – the soothing, silky milk tea combines with the energy giving, strong black coffee. This beverage also represents yin and yang in Chinese philosophy. The softer milk tea embodies yin while the more assertive coffee represents yang. The two opposite forces complementing each other perfectly.

If you think you can make this beverage at home by simply mixing milk tea with black coffee, think again! The coffee-milk tea ratio is delicate and crucial. Some thought yuanyang was simply a 50-50 mixture of tea and coffee. But technically it’s three parts black coffee to seven parts milk tea, give or take. Professionals say that one should not be able to taste either milk tea or coffee in a good cup of yuanyang. It’s an understatement to say that making a perfect cup of yuanyang takes skills. One needs to be able to make a smooth “silk stocking milk tea”, brew some kickass black coffee, and mix the two beverages in a precise ratio. Hong Kong people take their traditional beverages, milk tea and yuanyang, very seriously. The Association of Coffee and Tea of Hong Kong holds the International KamCha Competition every year to identify winners who make the best milk tea and yuanyang.

Meet yuanyang's best friends: pineapple bun and egg tart.
Meet a yuanyang beverage’s best friends: pineapple bun and egg tart. (Photo Credit: Left: 菠蘿油 (Pineapple Bun) by Flickr user denniswong, original image has been adapted; Right: Egg Tart by Flickr user cityfoodsters, original image has been adapted)

Tips for Drinking Yuanyang

  1. To enjoy an authentic cup of yuanyang, try a traditional cha chaan teng (local diners in Hong Kong) or dai pai dong (licensed street vendors in Hong Kong). The hot yuanyang beverage is best enjoyed in a thick, heavy HK diner style coffee mug. The mug not only keeps the beverage warm for longer, but also gives it more character.
  2. Hong Kong people pair yuanyang with anything. It goes down well with a savoury Hong Kong breakfast, as well as some barbecued meat with steamed rice. But I like my yuanyang best with a fresh Hong Kong baked good, like a pineapple bun or an egg tart.
  3. Iced yuanyang is commonly sweetened with condensed milk. If you like your iced beverage less sweet, remember to ask your waiter to go easy on the sweetness. If you want to try your hand at speaking Cantonese, you can ask for a yin yeung siu tong 鴛鴦少糖 – which literally means “yuanyang less sugar”.

Did You Know?

  1. In the old days, ice was not used in iced yuanyang as it would melt and dilute the taste of the beverage. Instead, hot yuanyang was poured into a glass cola bottle which was then put into a bowl of iced water to cool down. Some artisan cafes are trying to bring back this tradition nowadays and call it bing zhen yin yeung 冰鎮鴛鴦.
  2. Some cha chaan tengs also offer a caffeine-free “baby yuanyang” for their young customers. It’s a beverage made of Horlicks (a malted milk drink) and Ovaltine (a chocolatey malted milk drink).

There are so many ways to prepare yuanyang. Here’s how the owner of this small Hong Kong coffee shop prepares his cup of yuanyang.

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).


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