Hong Kong Milk Tea
I want to make it at home and it never tastes the same as when I buy one. I use sweetened condensed milk and plain black tea. Is there a secret ingredient I'm missing?
Use evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed milk. Add sugar to taste. The most commonly used brand in H.K. is Carnation and should be easily found all over N. America.
What kind of tea have you been using? Can you find Lipton's Yellow Label loose tea where you are? Not the US Lipton's in bags, but the loose Yellow Label brand - I can find it here in many types of "ethnic" food shops, my neighbourhood Middle-Eastern grocer's carries it, as do most Chinese shops around here. Ah, I see you are in San Fran, so I'd imagine it won't be a problem, looks like this:
How I make mine is I bring filtered water and tea to the boil - the stronger you want it, the more tea you add. Reduce heat and simmer slowly for about 15-20 min, then add milk. Evaporated milk will be more authentic, but it's a bit expensive given the quantities I make, and I find it perfectly fine w/2% milk (not sure what you call that in the States - low-fat milk? whole milk?). Again, add the milk to taste, depending how strong or milky you want it. I take mine without sugar, but you can add sugar if you like. I agree with "smel" that I'm not sure if sweetened condensed milk usually goes into HK milk tea (Vietnamese iced coffee - yes, but that's another topic and passion of mine!) so that may be what's throwing things off. If you want to get really fancy, you can also pour the tea back and forth through a filter (I use a fine mesh strainer) to build up body. In HK they apparently use a very fine pantyhose-like filter, but I haven't tried that.
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!