The top 5 Hong Kong milk tea in Toronto
Toronto has some of the best milk tea outside of Hong Kong. For those unfamiliar, milk tea is a fixture of Canto-Western (Hong Kong-style Western) cuisine. The milky beverage, made from a combination of black tea (and sometimes different kinds of teas), and evaporated/condensed milk using a discoloured filter that is often referred to as a pantyhose, is such an integral part of the Hong Kong coffee shop experience that it's really difficult (impossible, really) to imagine not finding it in any respectable Hong Kong cafe.
Whereas one of my previous posts was focused on where to find quality Hong-Kong Western food in Toronto, this one will focus on the drink itself. It is such a popular beverage that many purists will often tolerate a mediocre cha chaan teng experience if they enjoy the tea, and it usually comes down to very minute details which distinguish one milk tea from another, considering they all use very similar ingredients, with mostly the technique, and the timing of the preparation that are distinct.
To keep things short and sweet, I've decided to just focus on where I like to have my milk tea, as opposed to overly dissecting the "why's" of it. And yes, I've definitely noticed a heavy suburban bent. I've tried many milk teas in downtown Toronto, and they're just too "flat" in my opinion.
Here are my top 5 places to drink Hong Kong milk tea in Toronto.
Marathon Donuts and Coffee Shop (3300 Midland Ave)
This small, old-fashioned stall shot to superstardom a few months ago when its owner won the International Milk Tea competition in Hong Kong (no, seriously, there are such things), beating out more illustrious competitors from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China while upholding the honour of Scarborough. In other words, this is actually (supposedly) the best Hong Kong milk tea in the world. I'm going to let that sink in for a second. The tea served here is full-bodied, with a smooth texture that's not too overpowering. It's not too sweet either (which would've been my personal preference, but I'm no judge) and the balance of flavours feels just right. While it is undoubtedly very good tea, I personally don't think it quite lives up to its hype. However, this place is definitely worth a visit, even if it's just to try out the drink that put Midland and Finch (for a time at least) in the international culinary world's limelight.
Ming's Noodle Cafe (3447 Kennedy Rd)
Another Scarborough hidden gem of sorts, this place serves more of a comprehensive Hong Kong meal than many other cha chaan tengs, with dishes such as tenderloin steak with rice, and the delicious baked pork chop (with rice again, of course). The milk tea here has a sharper/stronger taste than Marathon's, which is actually more to my liking. It's more defined in taste and less smooth, but still one of the best ones I've had. Bonus points for having lots of cheap, comfort Canto-Western dishes surrounding me as I sip my tea Gangnam-style. This place does get really loud and busy during mealtimes, as it's very popular with locals, though in my experience, the staff seems to handle these crowds very quickly and efficiently.
Fuji Mountain Bakery (350 Highway 7 East Unit 110)
Serving oodles of freshly baked Chinese buns and pastries, this place offers a simple Hong Kong milk tea that is a hit with many, including myself. The abundance of baked goods that surround you, and are practically asking to be bought as a companion to the tea, are always a treat, if you can excuse the rather no-frills look of the place. Then again, as there's no real seating inside, perhaps its utilitarian atmosphere serves its purpose of 'in-n-out' perfectly. Or maybe that's just my custard bun whispering at me.
Metro Square Cafe Restaurant (3636 Steeles E Avenue)
Located in the Chinese food wonderland of Metro Square and bearing the same unimaginative name as the mall itself, this rather spacious cafe provides good milk tea to go with their rather large assortment of offerings. The best part is that they feature all-day breakfasts, with service that's efficient without being curt. Aside from their rather thick milk tea (which is served with almost all of their dishes), they also offer excellent egg sandwiches. The combination of fluffy egg and smooth creamy tea is definitely one to try out. Keep in mind that the place's ambience is nothing to really write home about, but then again most cha chaan tengs aren't either.
Leslie Cafe (149 Ravel Road)
The first thing you'll notice about this rather well-hidden cafe is that its clean, bright, and relatively modern interior makes it look like the Ritz-Carlton of all cha chaan tengs (seriously, you'd think there was a hidden contractual agreement that most Hong Kong cafes have to be set in dreary '80s interior). The food on offer is also quite diverse, with an assortment of pork chops, steaks, and sandwiches to try, while the milk tea is flavourful and satisfying. I'll admit that I may think that the tea tastes even better because of how much of a pleasant upgrade this place is visually, and its location across from a Chinese supermarket is another bonus point--so you can immediately get the ingredients to try to replicate your milk tea experience at home (a futile attempt, I may add).