Cheese tea? Are we serious with this one?
Yep. Well, sort of. It’s tea with cheese on it rather than in it. And before you start grating a layer of cheddar onto your PG Tips, let us fill you in on the essentials.
This Tawainese concoction, which has gained phenomenal popularity in its home country and across China since it was invented around five years ago, actually features a whipped cheese topping; a mixture of naigai powder (as the cheese powder is known in its home continent), whipped cream and salt.
Baristas beat the topping together with evaporated milk until it is light and fluffy, then pour it over a handful of ice and cold tea. It’s more akin to sipping your tea of choice – generally black, matcha, oolong or jasmine – through a mild cheesecake than through, say, a tangy stilton.
According to HeyTea in China (who claim to have been first with cheese tea), this masks the bitterness of the tea and makes it more palatable.
Cheesed to meet you
So why is this suddenly heading to UK shores? Well, in February of this year HeyTea expanded out of its southern Chinese roots into Shanghai. So cheese tea hit a bigger audience (it’s so popular that some reports claim queues can be five hours long) and began its social media ascendance.
It then made waves at food stalls in Hong Kong and Singapore, and by March had gone on sale in New York, LA and San Francisco, with Taiwanese bubble tea chains including Happy Lemon and Little Fluffy Head Café whipping up their own versions using real cheese – mostly mozzarella - and cream.
The next logical step on this trajectory is an appearance in the UK capital.
And it just so happens that Happy Lemon already have UK roots – in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry – and the rest of its best-loved beverages have all made their way over here. Meanwhile Chatime already offers a mousse tea, which may lack the cheesy element but has paved the way for fluffy sweetness atop bitter tea.
Starbucks in the US has been playing around with weird toppings for their drinks, but they rarely seem to make it to the UK. Additionally, bubble tea in Britain is still a niche market, because we don't tend to like that slimy texture – or solids in our drinks in general – so I can't see the cheese version taking over. However, it might be a niche success to small companies who try it out through social media advertising. We know BIJU Bubble Tea on Old Compton Street have salted cream teas on their menu that are quite similar in concept; the salted cream is a mixture of sweet and savoury.
We will definitely see more of this going forward, but I'm not sure as to what level and trend traction would require the bigger boys to introduce it, and without larger companies jumping on board, it will probably remain a fad.