If you've been keeping track of this year's food trends, then you have to be exhausted. It seems like seven centuries have passed since we crammed into Starbucks for our first Unicorn Frappuccinos, and we seemed impossibly young when we Instagrammed our hand triumphantly holding a charcoal ice cream cone. But as we limp toward the final weeks of the year, carrying a bleeding veggie burger and a plate of cloud eggs, I guess we should get in line for a to-go cup of cheese tea too.
Yes, you read that right: cheese tea. The questionable-sounding beverage originated in Taiwan five years ago, is still ridiculously popular in China ,and is now available in the United States. Despite the unexpected pairing of those two words, those who have tried it say that it tastes like a "refreshing tea milkshake" and — not to worry — a proper sip will leave you with an Instagram-worthy cheese mustache.
According to Conde Nast Traveler, the original Taiwanese recipe involved powdered cheese, but Nie Yunchen, the CEO of go-to cheese tea purveyor HEYTEA, swapped that for real New Zealand cheese and cream. He started selling the drink in one small shop and, five years later, his cheese tea empire has expanded to 69 stores that can each sell 3,000 cups of the tea every single day.
If you aren't in China — and don't have two hours to wait in line — you can try cheese tea from early adopters like Happy Lemon in Flushing, Queens, or at Little Fluffy Head in Los Angeles. Jenny Zheng, the owner of Little Fluffy Head, was inspired by her own cheese tea experience in China and decided to bring it to the States. "What people initially imagine [is] the actual block of cheese on top of the tea," she tells The Dinner Party Download. "Actually it's the melted cream cheese with the whipping cream, milk and a little bit of salt to give it the sweet and savory taste. So, the taste of the cheese is actually really subtle."
Zheng 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. And because Zheng's original career was in bioengineering, she has designed a special lid for Little Fluffy Head's cups, which allow the drinker to taste both the cheese and the tea in each sip.
We're almost convinced. See you on Instagram, I guess.