Up until recently, cheese and tea were two things most of us thought of as being a) delicious and b) mutually exclusive – both excellent in their own right for many reasons, but not to be taken together in the same mouthful. This was, of course, prior to discovering that cheese tea is very much a real thing in China and Singapore.
The latest beverage trend gripping Asia comes courtesy of Singaporean tea brand LiHO (which means “How are you?” in Hokkein), and brings with it the potential to topple bubble tea from its 20+ year reign. Earlier this year, food and beverage group RTG Holdings were moving bubble tea chain Gong Cha outlets out of Singapore, and rebranding them as LiHO (although Gong Cha has since announced a Singapore comeback). The new brand claims to offer “unique drinks catered to local taste buds,” which apparently translates to milk tea topped with whipped cheese.
Thailand, too, is embracing the cheesetea:
But before we toss our tapioca balls down the sink and welcome our new cheesy overlords, there are a few questions that need answers:
1. What even IS cheese tea?
Simply put, cheese tea is any milk, fruit or green tea topped with frothy cream cheese. The Straits Times reports that Malaysian brand Regiustea actually uses Australian cream cheese (about 20 kilos a week), churning it with condensed milk, chocolate, matcha, or other ingredients. Straws and blending aren’t recommended – the two elements of the drink (cheese and tea) should remain distinct. Instead, the cup should be tipped into the mouth, invariably leaving a highly Instagrammable “cheese ‘tache”:
2. Is it sweet or savoury?
The short answer is both. Cheese teas are customisable depending on your own personal palate – you can opt for a cold honey milk tea with cheese made with 50 per cent sugar, or a cheese Jing Syuan served hot for a more savoury flavour. The cheese’s slight saltiness is said to offset the tea’s tannins, and a party in the mouth ensues.
3. But why?
Asia’s love affair with cheese is in its bold, experimental infancy. But it’s a growing passion – take China. In 2014, The Daily Beast reported that America sent less than 2000 metric tonnes of cheese to China in 2009, and 11,000 metric tonnes in 2013.
Unusual as it sounds to those of us who haven’t tried it, #cheesetea may soon become a frequent sight on your Instagram feed, and if recent Asian viral food trends are anything to go by (remember the sensation/queues caused by Uncle Tetsu’s unbelievably fluffy cheesecake?), we’ll be sipping it on our shores before you can say “cheese”.