We’ve nearly made it through 2017, a year that gave us the unicorn frappuccino, pea milk, the gummy bear juice cleanse, pumpkin spice deodorant, and its greatest (worst) gift, microwaveable mug cakes for one.
But just when you thought we were out of the woods, along comes 2017’s final salvo: cheese tea.
You are thinking: Those are two words that do not go together. Cheese! In tea! But we’re not talking Humboldt Fog or Camembert here. The cheese used in cheese tea is usually a cream cheese — sometimes sweet, sometimes salty — combined with condensed milk. It forms a tall, frothy head at the top of the beverage, sort of like whipped cream in a frappuccino. The teas are often matcha, oolong, jasmine and black, and you can customize them with fruits and other flavor infusions. They’re kind of like bubble tea, which has made its way into mall food courts across America.
Shops in Taiwan and China are both credited for starting the cheese tea fad, and some Chinese cheese tea shops command queues 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, and Little Fluffy Head, a Los Angeles shop that specializes in the beverage, among others. Some shops are even starting to riff on the ingredients, like a place in San Francisco that uses Mascarpone and Meyer lemon. The trend has also made its way to England, where people care deeply about their tea and are feeling very threatened. But if you aren’t in any of those cities, you can try a DIY version at home.
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.
If you decide you want to hate cheese tea, you should probably hate it because of the selfies, not the flavor, which fans say is pretty subtle and surprisingly delicious. At this rate, it will probably be a special Starbucks promotional item in a year or so.
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