You thought cheese had run its course. You thought that by now, culinary innovation had tried out every possible cheesy combination on this green earth. You, my friend, were wrong. Allow me to introduce you to cheese tea, the latest drink trend originating in Asia to hit American shores. Bubble tea had better step up its game, because there's a new treat in town, and everyone knows that cheese conquers all.
According to Condé Nast Traveler, the basic idea comes from Taiwan, where people began adding powdered cheese to their tea around 2010. In the intervening years, cheese tea makers tossed out dairy powder, replacing it with a thick layer of whipped white cheese. The resulting drink has spread to China, Malaysia, and recently, American cities like Los Angeles and New York. It might sound outlandish, but apparently, cheese and/or tea lovers have been lining up in droves to get a taste. In Guangzhou, the writer for CN Traveler waited two hours to order — and apparently, the tea was worth it.
So what is cheese tea, exactly? It's a pretty simple idea. Pour some cold tea — flavors range from fruity to the more traditional green or oolong — into a plastic cup. Top with an inch or so of fluffy, flavored whipped cheese topping. Stick a lid on the cup, et voila! You're ready to try the most Instagrammable drink of the season.
While the idea of say, mozzarella-topped tea might make you feel a little unwell, the topping's base is generally cream cheese or mild white cheddar. The overall flavor can go salty or sweet, depending on the drink, and Food & Wine notes that some cafes add condensed milk to their topping as well.
In the end, cheese tea resembles nothing so much as a macchiato.
By the way, you'll probably want to ditch the straw. According to Star2, stirring the drink is discouraged because it mixes the two layers, and you may end up tasting nothing but tea. Regiustea's COO, Tyson Tee, told the news outlet that he recommends popping off the lid and drinking from the side of the cup. "When you drink this way, you can feel two layers of taste — cheese followed by tea," he said.
To be fair, you did pay for the drink, so you're technically entitled to drink it any which way you want. But it's easy to see how the tea flavor would overwhelm the whipped cheese; I would take the man's advice.
Cheese tea flavors vary from the light and fruity to the decadent. At Little Fluffy Head, a boba tea shop which recently opened its doors in Los Angeles, the Dirty Mess tea comes topped creme brûlée cream and crushed Oreo topping. Hong Kong's Floral Bloom, meanwhile, offers an ultra-light, fluffy cheese topping as a healthier option. According to CN Traveler, the Chinese-based tea house Heytea allows customers to customize their cheese with fresh fruits.
As any foodie worth their Instagram follower count knows, this is hardly the first tea sensation to reach the United States from offshore. Bubble tea, which adds tapioca balls to milk or fruit teas, was created in Taiwan in the '80s. Over the next few decades, the drink spread to neighboring areas and eventually reached the good old United States. Today, boba tea houses are practically as common as frozen yogurt shops, which speaks volumes about their popularity.
So will cheese tea shops be the Next Big Thing (capital letters very much necessary)? It's too early to tell right now, but several shops across the country have started offering the drink. In addition to the aforementioned Little Fluffy Head cafe in Los Angeles, cheese tea has been spotted at shops in San Francisco and Flushing, New York.
Cheese and tea lovers alike should keep an eye out for the drink at their favorite bubble tea shops over the next few months. Until then, maybe don't try to make it with the stuff you have on hand at home — something tells me it's best left up to the experts.