How do you take your tea? With cream? Sugar? How about some cheese? That’s right: Cheese Tea is the latest food craze. Also known as Heytea, the cheese tea trend started in Taiwan and China, says the Washington Post—and now, you can officially get it in Newtown, too.
You are thinking: Those are two words that do not go together. Cheese and Tea! But we’re not talking Humboldt Fog or Camembert here. The cheese used in cheese tea is cream cheese — a little sweet and a little salty — combined with sweetened cream. It forms a tall, frothy head at the top of the beverage, sort of like whipped cream. The teas are often matcha, black and fruity. They’re reminiscent of bubble tea, which has made its way into mall food courts across America.
Because those pastel green cups of matcha look so pretty, and because they require the commitment of waiting in line, cheese tea is a status food, like the Cronut once was. To try one is not mere curiosity about a new beverage. It is a social signifier: It means you think you are a person with interesting taste, with disposable income, and the kind of lifestyle that permits you to casually wait in long lines for tea. So naturally, people are Instagramming the hell out of these. Many of the photos tagged with #cheesetea are selfies of people with frothy mustaches, because shops tell customers not to use straws, so they can taste both flavors of the drink at the same time.
The drink has been popping up in US over the last couple of years, and a cult following has been steadily growing. But if you still can’t get into the idea of pairing cheese with your tea, then perhaps the next evolution will strike your fancy.
According to Conde Nast Traveler, the original Taiwanese recipe involved powdered cheese, but Café Xpresso has swapped that for real cream cheese, vanilla and cream.
Shops in Taiwan and China are both credited for starting the cheese tea fad, and some Chinese cheese tea shops command lines 75 people long. It spread to Singapore, Hong Kong and other large Asian cities before it came to New York and California via the bubble tea chain Happy Lemon a shop that specializes in the beverage, among others.
“It’s the melted cream cheese with whipping cream, vanilla and a little bit of salt that gives it the sweet and savory taste. So, the taste of the cheese is really subtle,” according to Bob Schlump, owner of Café Xpresso. He recommends that first-timers start with a floral tea base for the mildest flavor before moving toward the shop’s other offerings, which also include green, black, and matcha teas.
Stirring the drink is discouraged because it mixes the two layers, and you may end up tasting nothing but tea. Bob Schlump, owner of Café Xpresso in Newtown, said 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.