Revolution of Blending Tradition and Innovation: Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice

25 March 2024 by
Daisy Wong

Capture.HK was deeply interested in places that evoke nostalgia and reflect the historical charm of old Hong Kong. During a staff gathering in Central, they stumbled upon a uniquely nostalgic tenement building. Intrigued, Capture immediately searched for information about the establishment and decided to visit the store to learn more. It turns out that Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice, with its 74-year history, is a renowned old-fashioned herbal tea shop. It is particularly famous for its rich and sweet homemade sugarcane juice, while the delectable sugarcane juice cakes served in the store are equally popular. They also offer a variety of traditional herbal teas that are natural and healthy. By incorporating innovative elements while staying true to their roots, Kung Lee has managed to establish a firm footing amidst the gradual decline of traditional herbal tea shops.

Preserving Nostalgic Charm for 74 Years

Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice, established in 1948, is housed in a three-story tenement building, which is one of the few surviving pre-war tenements in Hong Kong with over a century of history. The store maintains the traditional decor and layout of Hong Kong's classic shops. The sugarcane juice, freshly steamed and squeezed every day, is particularly renowned. Let's take a closer look at the nostalgic decor and equipment that have withstood the test of 74 years.

Nostalgic Decor

The store features vintage hand-painted posters and tiled walls and floors, exuding a sense of nostalgia. The retro posters have been passed down from the past to the present, showcasing the distinctive writing style from right to left and the characteristics of vertical format books. Additionally, the store still maintains its original layout, with a ceiling fan for ventilation, reminiscent of the bygone era.

Ancestral Family Principles

Ancestral Family Principles

Photo Source: Openrice

Kung Lee proudly displays ancestral family principles, written in vertical format from right to left, which bears the historical traces of precious calligraphy. The handwritten brush strokes and yellowed paper are truly worth appreciating. These principles likely describe methods for identifying bamboo sugarcane and cultivating specific varieties, such as using peanut bran for planting to achieve a glossy appearance. These ancestral teachings offer valuable insights into the traditions and practices upheld by Kung Lee.

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Juice Extractor

The juice extractor, passed down from the first generation and still in use today, plays a crucial role in producing the rich and authentic bamboo sugarcane juice at Kung Lee. With over 60 years of heritage, this traditional juice extractor allows for a 30% higher juice yield. Despite its age, there is no dedicated maintenance personnel, so it is important to thoroughly clean the machine after each use to prevent any damage. The longevity and proper care of this juice extractor contribute to the exceptional quality of the bamboo sugarcane juice served at Kung Lee.

Upholding Elaborate Production Process

Kung Lee pays meticulous attention to every detail, from ingredient selection to the production process. The founder of Kung Lee came from a background in sugarcane farming, instilling a deep appreciation for sugarcane juice. This philosophy has been carried on by the fourth generation of Kung Lee. They adhere to the principle of using only sugarcane without adding any sugar. However, the resulting juice is remarkably sweet. This is achieved through a series of rigorous steps, including washing, peeling, steaming, and straining the sugarcane. Only by following these steps carefully can the juice be sweet and smooth, without the excessive coldness commonly found in other varieties. Many visitors are drawn to Kung Lee because their bamboo sugarcane water stands out from others in the market due to its exceptional taste. Despite its simple ingredients, the difference lies in Kung Lee’s commitment to maintaining an elaborate production process.

Signature Snacks and Beverages

Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice Cakes

Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice Cakes

Photo Source: Openrice

The “Kung Lee Sugarcane Juice Cakes" are sold in boxes of four pieces. Made with natural freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and water chestnut flour, these cakes have a delightfully chewy texture and a subtle sugarcane fragrance. They are not overly sweet and free from artificial flavours. The taste is refreshingly sweet, making them a favourite among local residents and loyal customers.

Sugarcane Juice

Unlike the diluted and lightly flavoured sugarcane juice commonly found elsewhere, Kung Lee’s sugarcane juice is served in its purest form. It is rich, naturally sweet, and free from any added sugar. Kung Lee’s sugarcane juice is the most iconic and distinctive beverage, offering a refreshing and authentic taste experience.

Herbal Jelly

In addition to sugarcane juice, Kung Lee’s other signature item is the herbal jelly. The other popular item is the sugarcane juice cakes. Many customers visit specifically for these two specialities. The hot herbal jelly is kept warm in a copper electric steamer crafted by Bing Kee Copperware, adding a distinctive touch to the experience.

Reform Blending Tradition and Innovation

Kung Lee opened its store selling sugarcane juice in Central in 1948. The 1970s were the golden age of herbal tea shops, with popular beverages like chrysanthemum tea and Twenty-Four Flavours. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, fewer people intentionally visited herbal tea shops as other drinks such as Vitasoy, Cola, Yakult, and bottled beverages emerged, leading to a decline in the herbal tea industry. In recent years, the rise of Taiwanese tea shops further impacted traditional herbal tea shops. Fortunately, the fourth-generation leader of Kung Lee, Man ban, expressed gratitude for the increasing interest and support from younger customers who appreciate the nostalgic charm of the store. Despite the changing times, Kung Lee has chosen to introduce new products while never abandoning the intricate production of their signature beverage. This commitment allows them to continue serving a refreshing drink that quenches the thirst of multiple generations.

Mak's Brewery: Kung Lee Handcrafted Sugarcane Beer Collaboration

Kung Lee Handcrafted Sugarcane Beer

Photo Source: Openrice

Kung Lee has collaborated with the local craft beer brand "Mak's Brewery" to create Kung Lee Handcrafted Sugarcane Beer. This innovative beer combines Kung’ Lee’s homemade sugarcane juice, prepared using traditional methods, with handcrafted beer. The creation of Kung Lee Handcrafted Sugarcane Beer was initially met with some disapproval from family members. However, the response proved to be positive, as it resonated with individuals who appreciate Hong Kong's local characteristics and nostalgia. This locally crafted beer has not only gained popularity but has also brought greater awareness to this longstanding herbal tea shop.

Collaboration with Deliveroo

Ban believes that in order to sustain the family business, it is important to keep up with the pace of the times. Therefore, even before the widespread use of food delivery apps, Kung Lee had already partnered with a delivery platform such as Deliveroo. Coincidentally, during the pandemic, their main source of income came from food delivery, and their business doubled compared to before. The lack of collaboration between traditional herbal tea shops like Kung Lee and food delivery platforms in the market made this innovative collaboration stand out, ensuring that they are not left behind and remain relevant.

Collaboration with Papabubble


Photo Source: Discover Hong Kong

In an effort to sustain the development of a traditional Chinese old shop, Kung Lee has combined Chinese herbal tea with Western influences by collaborating with the Spanish artisan candy brand, Papabubble. They have introduced four varieties of handcrafted candies under the name "Handcrafted Herbal Tea Candies." These include Sugarcane Candy, Sesame Candy, Sour Plum Soup Candy, and Five-Flower Tea Candy. This collaboration brings a unique and novel twist to the traditional concept. Kung Lee hopes that these candies can serve as souvenirs from Hong Kong, representing its culture and be enjoyed by people around the world.

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As the weather begins to warm up, it's a perfect time to enjoy a glass of Kung Lee Genuine Sugarcane juice. The employees of Capture.HK have all tried the sugarcane juice cakes and sugarcane juice, which were incredibly sweet. They also had the opportunity to meet Ben, who shared the historical significance behind Kung Lee. It’s rich history is worth preserving, and blending tradition and innovation can extend its lifespan. Ben expressed regret that the previous generation didn't take many photos, but fortunately, old photographs of the shops can be found online, allowing for some sharing of the past. However, photographs have a limited lifespan. Thankfully, new technologies can prolong their existence. Through photograph digitisation services, old photos can be digitised, allowing you to access them anytime, anywhere on your mobile or other devices. This ensures the preservation of memories and the continuation of history, just like Kung Lee’s historical photographs.

Learn more about Capture's photographs digitisation service.

*This article is brought to you by Capture HK.

Capture HK is the premier analogue media digitisation company in Hong Kong.

Capture HK's business covers photographs, photo album digitisation, videotapes digitisation, including VHS, S-VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS-C Hi-8, Video8, Digital8, DV, DVCAM, MiniDV, DVC and digital media digitisation, including Secure Digital (SD), Smart Media (SM), MultiMediaCard (MMC) Compact Flash (CF), xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick, USB Drive, CDROM, DVD.