WTF is Cheese Tea? And Where to Try it in Metro Phoenix
These whipped-cream-cheese-topped teas are all the rage in Singapore and China. The Singaporean tea brand LiHO (“How are you?” in Hokkein), claims to have been the ones to introduced the trending beverage to the East and Southeast Asian markets, but now the craze is totally embedded in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia.
The owner of Boba Tea is Chinese, and he imports all his products from Taiwan.
But why float cheese on top of tea?
With a distinct lack of dairy, and especially cheese, in the traditional diets of East Asia, pizza actually is credited as the region’s “gateway” cheese dish. Over the past decade (with exponential growth over the past few years), the popularity and import of cheese in the Far East has surged. This has led to all kinds of interesting, experimental combinations. Especially popular are the Instagram-able foods, like rainbow-colored grilled cheese sandwiches.
And now, cheese tea “mustaches.”
The unfortunately named “cheese tea” sounds pretty gnarly, invoking images of Cheddar melting into a cup of Lipton. In this case, the cheese topping is a whipped combination of milk and cream cheese, sprinkled with matcha (green tea powder). The cheese whip is not very sweet, but not salty either. Or so they say.
Of all the Instagram photos and rave reviews, exclaiming that “It isn’t bad!!” there was no meaningful description of what it actually tastes like. So I headed to Mesa to find out for myself.
The cheerful shop features a flat screen tv on one wall that plays Asian music videos on a loop, and the other wall features a massive mural diagramming how to assemble and then drink a cheese tea.
I ordered a peach cheese tea ($4.99 for a medium, $6.25 for a large), and asked the guys how to drink it.
“Drink it like a beer,” the young tea maker said. “You know, getting a little of the foam along with a little of the tea in each sip.”
The guy standing behind him gestured, making a mustache with his finger.
“Oh yeah, and you know you’re drinking it right if you end up with a cheese ‘stach.'”
I accepted my cup of cheese tea, which actually looked like a draft beer, and took a sip.
The flavor and texture were disorienting, but by no means gross.
The cheese topping was lighter than whipped cream, with a slight saltiness balanced by a subtle sweetness. It was like an airy, delicate cream cheese frosting. It made me want to top all kinds of things with whipped cream cheese, sans the sugar.
The tea upon which the cheese floated was not the syrupy peach tea you might have come to expect. It had the grassy, herbaceous quality of good green tea. It was not sweet in the least, but tasted fresh and earthy.
The combination of the creamy, luscious whip playing against the earthy, icy green tea was unlike any beverage flavor-texture combination I’ve had before. It was so different that I just kept sipping, letting the flavors linger on my tongue while I tried to get over the cognitive dissonance of a grassy, creamy, rich, light combination.
As I struggled to put into words what I was tasting, I kept sipping and sipping until it was gone. The best comparison I could come up with was a tender bran muffin with a lightly sweetened cream cheese spread. But that probably doesn’t help you imagine it one bit.
It’s a good drink. It is unapologetic in highlighting the complex savory-sweet line that cheese can walk, as well as the almost bitter flavor of a good green tea, its tanins balanced by the unexpected foil of creamy, whipped cheese and milk.
This is a drink better experienced than described, and well worth a drive to Mesa.
Try cheese tea at Boba Tree1139 South Dobson Road, Mesa Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday.