November 19, 2020

Yuenyeung, Kopi Cham & Spreeze: Mixing Coffee & Tea Around The World


Tea and coffee are two of the world’s most popular drinks. And while to enthusiasts of both, the idea of a coffee and tea mixture might seem unusual, they are surprisingly popular.

All over the world, coffee and tea are mixed and consumed in a number of different ways as both traditional and comparatively new café beverages.

To learn more, I spoke to experts about combination drinks like yuenyeung, kopi cham, and spreeze. Read on to learn more about why people mix coffee and tea around the world, and how to make some of these combination beverages.

You may also like Why Specialty Tea and Coffee Are Siblings, Not Strangers

Mixing coffee & tea

While the concept of mixing tea and coffee isn’t exactly exclusive to one country or culture, there are three main popular coffee-tea combination beverages. 

Emily McIntyre is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst Trade, a coffee trading platform based in Portland, Oregon. She tells me that combining tea and coffee is popular in Ethiopia, where the resulting beverage is called spreeze or spritz.

“It’s a simple drink made with tea and espresso that’s often sweetened with sugar,” Emily says. “It’s commonly enjoyed in resort towns like Hawassa as well as major cities like Addis Ababa. It tastes pleasant and refreshing.”

She tells me that spreeze is often made using a popular local tea brand and espresso. The tea is steeped in a cup and sweetened with sugar before an espresso shot is poured over the top.

The result, Emily says, is a balanced drink that combines “the light, floral profile of black tea with the heavier, oaky bitterness of dark roast espresso”.

Visit Malaysia or Singapore and you’ll find a similar drink served at streetside kiosks or traditional coffee shops. Many of them will serve something called kopi cham. 

This is a beverage that is made by mixing an intense black tea with sugar, evaporated milk, and concentrated coffee. It can then be served hot or cold. 

Mixing coffee & tea

Yuenyeung: What Is It & How Is It Different? 

While kopi cham and spreeze are popular, the most famous combination of coffee and tea by far is yuenyeung, which originated in Hong Kong.

Mike Kwok is the Shop Manager at HYPEBEANS, located in Central, Hong Kong. He says: “This drink is found in nearly all traditional tea houses and eateries.” 

Yuenyeung is generally made by mixing Hong Kong-style milk tea and coffee. Lan Fong Yuen, a local tea house, claims to have invented the drink in 1952.

Martin Khan is a Café Bar Management Trainee at Chrisly Café in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. He tells me that yuenyeung originates from a time when open-air food vendors (known as dai pai dong) existed to mainly serve drivers and labourers in the city. 

These workers often enjoyed Hong Kong-style tea but often felt it lacked caffeine. Adding coffee to it helped keep them awake during long shifts or when they were driving through the night.

Hong Kong-style milk tea is incredibly popular. It is estimated that some 2.5 million cups of the drink are consumed annually in the country. However, it’s also prepared in a different way to most other brewed teas you can find around the world.

To prepare Hong Kong-style milk tea, crushed black tea leaves are boiled in water at a ratio of approximately 1 tablespoon of tea leaves to 150ml water. A bold Ceylon tea is generally used. 

This mixture is brewed in a pot for about three minutes before it is mixed with condensed milk. For each tablespoon of tea leaves used in the initial brew, around 200ml of condensed milk is added.

The brew is then simmered for another three minutes or so, before it is strained through a “tea sock” and served either hot or over ice. 

Mixing coffee & tea

Finding The Golden Ratio

To create yuenyeung, Hong Kong-style milk tea is added to a concentrated coffee. The exact ratios and mixture method vary. Some recipes recommend the mixture is approximately 2:1 milk tea to coffee, while others are closer to 50-50.

Nigel L is the founder of Thirstea Beverages in Vancouver, Canada. He says: “For the most authentic flavour, the ‘golden ratio’ is 70% coffee and tea to 30% evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is always the choice for this drink.” The use of evaporated milk means that the drink is thick and sweet – but still bitter enough to prevent the sweetness from being overwhelming.

It’s also believed that this balance of flavours is the reason for the beverage’s name. In Cantonese, yuen refers to male ducks and yeung to female ducks. The two words are used together in the drink’s name as an allusion to how the flavours complement one another.

Martin tells me that he doesn’t make Hong Kong-style milk tea before creating yuenyeung, and says that he instead chooses to prepare both coffee and tea separately before adding them both to milk.

Martin starts with a third of a cup of evaporated milk, adds black coffee until the cup is around half-full, and finally tops it up with black tea before stirring well. “With a well-prepared cup of yuenyeung, you can easily taste both the tea and the coffee.”

Mike adds: “It’s the ultimate caffeine drink, combining the silky texture of the milk tea and the rich, fragrant kick of the coffee. It’s smooth and rich, and it’s every Hong Konger’s go-to drink.”

While yuenyeung is still relatively unknown outside of Hong Kong, Nigel tells me it can be found further afield, usually in places that have a significant Asian population.

The drink (or similar variations) has also recently entered the market in other Asian countries. In 2018, Asahi Soft Drink Co. launched Wonda Tea Coffee, an RTD tea and coffee combination beverage. 

This was mainly marketed as a diluted coffee-flavoured tea, with the aim of getting young people or inexperienced coffee drinkers to embrace the flavour of coffee.

Mike tells me that customers also mix coffee and tea in other ways. He says: “We’ve seen some people order a chai latte with a shot of espresso in other coffee joints – creating a yuenyeung of their own.” 

Emily adds: “Humans are endlessly creative when combining foods and beverages we like… I’m sure that people are combining tea and coffee in many ways all over the world since they are both so popular.”

However, she thinks that a lot of people will be against the combination on principle. “Die-hard fanatics of tea or coffee may struggle with fusion drinks because they enjoy the actual products themselves so much.”

Martin says that he thinks yuenyeung will become more popular once the world becomes more familiar with Hong Kong tea culture. He says: “Yuenyeung isn’t too well-known yet; people are still exploring Hong Kong-style milk tea. It will depend on whether [or not] the world is ready.”

Despite the unusual nature of tea and coffee combination beverages, examples like yuenyeung, spreeze, and kopi cham are popular among many people in communities around the world.

Whether or not specialty coffee and the wider coffee supply chain will come to embrace such combinations remains to be seen. Mike remains positive, and says he thinks that it offers something new for people who want a different style of beverage.

“There are many different teas and coffees to choose from, and this selection will only become broader over time as people search for new experiences,” he says. “To me, it’s only natural that tea and coffee end up being combined.”

Enjoyed this? Then read Roasting For Filter Coffee Vs Roasting For Espresso

Photo credits: Denise Chan, City Foodsters, Thirstea Beverages, HYPEBEANS

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