What’s the difference between milk and “milk drink”?
Taste—and a whole lot more besides.
Hong Kong’s food labeling laws mean anything that’s not pure 100 percent milk must be labeled as “milk drink” or “milk beverage.” So, for example, a full-fat milk with added calcium would come under the “milk drink” label.
Whereas overseas it’s common to find fresh skimmed or semi-skimmed milk—in which the cream and fat content is taken off the top of the milk—in Hong Kong, many low fat milks are made another way. Much of the city’s low-fat milk is made by adding water to milk powder, giving it that uniquely watery, flavorless taste—and really earning that “milk drink” label. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
If you’re looking for fresher, better milk, you have a couple of options: There’s “red carton” fresh (not UHT) milk, produced by Trappist Dairy, Nestlé and Kowloon Dairy; this milk is produced at dairy farms in Guangdong province, then pasteurized and bottled in Hong Kong. Then there’s imported milk, generally from Australia, which tends to be of a better quality—and a higher price. But if you’re really jonesing for the fresh stuff, then you’ll have to look up Farm Milk (78 Lui Kung Tin, Kap Lung Village, Yuen Long, 28329218, farmmilk.com.hk). The farm’s cattle are all in Hong Kong, and it delivers fresh milk in whole, skimmed or semiskimmed varieties straight to your door.
Why is milk so unpopular in Hong Kong? For one thing, it mostly has to be imported: It’s way easier to bring in powder and make it up on-site than bring in notoriously spoil-prone fresh milk. For another, up to 90 percent of those of Chinese ethnicity have at least some degree of lactose intolerance, which puts increasing the quality and availability of fresh milk pretty low down the agenda.
My advice: Stick to Hong Kong milk tea, made from evaporated milk. That’s my milk drink of choice.