Cheese tea a weird, brilliant combo

By Michele Rich Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/19 15:03:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

A year ago, if someone had told me I would be queuing up for cheese tea, I would have told them they were crazy.

However, in what seems like an overnight transformation, Beijing's Sanlitun area has been overtaken by dozens of tea shops promoting the creamy drinks, and I have been completely reeled in. The 33 yuan ($5) that I usually save for a Starbucks pick-me-up on my way home from work has been reallocated to a large mango smoothie topped with a giant dollop of, well, cheese.

I don't exactly remember the moment when I decided to take that leap of faith, but when I did, it was with grape juice. My logic was that cheese goes well with wine and wine is made of grapes. To my surprise, the two-inch deep topping of cheese tasted almost exactly like a Panna cotta, an Italian cheese dessert that's usually topped with fruit. It was a dreamy drink, a five-star dessert in a to-go cup.

I'm obviously not the only one to make this discovery. The fad has hit Asian social media hard, enough to draw headlines and raised eyebrows from foodies all over the globe. Hey Tea, a Chinese franchise with local celebrity backing, seems to be leading the pack. It recently opened a new branch in Thailand, spreading the craze even further afield.

It's unclear exactly where the idea came from, but tea and cheese pairing has been slowly gaining steam in the food and beverage (F&B) world in the last couple of years. A 2015 article on, an online platform that publishes articles on the US F&B industry, suggests that tea and cheese was becoming popular in the US because more quality tea brands were available on the market. In China, I remember seeing cheese and tea on the menu at my favorite Boba milk tea chain in Beijing, Happy Lemon, nearly a decade ago. "Rock Salt Cheese Milk Tea" was the English translation of its name.

I always played it safe at Happy Lemon by ordering the classic pearl milk tea with ice. China has a huge tea culture, but it was Boba (bubble tea) that swept me off my feet, keeping me cooled and energized in the hot Beijing summer. The drink, which originally hails from Taiwan, could not only be found on just about every corner in Beijing but had also migrated to the US so that every time I went home, I was able to share a Boba tea with my sister.

However, in the past few years, it has been the more traditional Chinese teas that are starting to become hip among China's trendsetters. Almost as soon as coffee shops and cafes took off among Chinese millennials, entrepreneurs and opportunists, taking their cue from ventures like Starbucks' Teavana in the West, launched brands focused on educating people on the culture of tea by adding eye-catching design and playful store concepts to make it more fun for the younger generation.

It's thus hardly surprising that out of this energetic environment comes the craze that has everyone's jaw dropping.

But tea and cheese, you say? Try not to judge before you try it.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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