When I first heard the words “cheese” and “tea” in the same sentence, I had to ask my friend to repeat herself. I understand that in the world of Instagram creativity is key, but the flavor profiles of cheese and tea are two worlds that should never collide. So, who came up with this idea and why are people lining up for over 2 hours for this “cheese tea”?
The craze started with a tea store called HEYTEA (喜茶). Opened by then 21-year-old Nie Yunchen, HEYTEA elevated the concept of adding “cheese” into China’s national beverage- tea.
No one knows who created cheese tea, but it seems to have started in 2010. Out of nowhere, Taiwanese people started adding powdered cheese to their tea.
Yunchen then ‘leveled up’ the trend by using New Zealand cheese and cream. Its this twist that led to the global ascent of cheese tea. Now, HEYTEA has 69 stores in 12 cities across China. It’s so popular that they sell 2,000 to 3,000 cups daily at each branch.
Still feeling confused? Let me break down the elements of cheese tea.
First, you choose the base of the tea: jasmine green tea, oolong tea, black tea, white tea, or fruit tea. Then, you add your extras: fresh fruit, fruit sauce, fruit aromas, bubbles (we’re writing from the East Coast here~), grass jelly, aloe vera, etc. Obviously, the options depend on the store. In fact, some stores only specialise in fruit cheese tea. After the tea and extras are blended well, the cream cheese mixture is gently poured on top of the drink.
There are two ways of drinking this unique concoction of flavors:
(1) mixing it thoroughly, or (2) popping off the lid and carefully drinking from the side of the cup (and get a Got Milk-stache while you’re at it).
Everyone has their own drinking method to get the best balance of flavors. Yuchen says that you shouldn’t mix them. He believes that you should taste the layers independently and it’s probably best to listen to the OG.
In an interview with Conde Nast Traveler, Yunchen discussed why cheese tea is popular:
“Tea culture has a long history in China already, but [the] bitterness at the beginning [of the drink]…is off-putting for some younger people. We wanted to add a new flavor that young people would like.”
Not only does the frothy layer cover the bitterness of the tea, but it also complements the flavors perfectly.
A little more convinced that this drink isn’t as weird as it sounds?
It’s more of a cheesecake flavor, than the a salty cheese you’d find on a pizza. Think creamier milk tea.
Want to try tea cheese?
However, there are independent tea stores in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco that are bringing this tea craze to the U.S.
If you’re in New York, try out Debutea, Mi Tea, Happy Lemon, 80’s Tea. In Los Angeles, you can check out Little Fluffy Head Tea, White and Brown, Tan-cha, Boteaga and Bubble Crush.