Cheese Tea: a tea fad here to stay or fade away?

Bubble tea, make way for the new kid on the block. Cheese tea is the latest tea trend that had spread from China to the west.

Funny how in life, somethings always make their way back to – not necessary to haunt you, but to make a connection in a ‘aha’ or eureka moment. I suppose this is what is meant by déjà vu.

While walking in a mall recently, I passed by this tea shop called LiHo which specializes in cheese tea in Singapore. I wanted to give it a go as I read about it in The Independent, but was too discouraged by the queue. I did a bit of sleuthing online and discovered that cheese tea trend originated in China by another tea chain called Heytea. Aha! I’ve never visited Heytea but I know Heytea. Early this year, Quinteassential’s founder, Bernadine, met with a Chinese lady based in Munich, and she suggested Heytea as an interesting concept.

cheese tea
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We did not think much about it at the time except looked at its tea infusions and concoctions. Reading about it now on how people queued for hours in China to buy this cheese tea only added to my curiosity. From China, cheese tea shops have sprouted in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York and likely more in the works in other cities. One fine morning, when there was no queue, I finally got my hands on not one, but four cheese teas from Liho; Cheese Black Tea, Cheese Guan Yin, Cheese Green Tea and Cheese Jing Syuan. I am clueless about Jing Syuan but according to the tea barista, she said it’s a stronger green tea.

cheese tea range
Left image: From left – Cheese Black Tea, Cheese Guan Yin, Cheese Green Tea and Cheese Jing Syuan

Cheese, tea and drinking modes
There are other extra add-on to the tea like extra cheese, sugar, pearl (bubble tea tapioca balls), Oreo bits among others. I opted for cheese tea in its purest form, just the tea and cheese. Forget about asking where the cheese comes from, the people are more tight lipped than President Trump’s White House staff. I visited four Liho stores around where I was staying, and all directed me to the parent Facebook page. I tried but all I got out of one of them was the cheese comes in powder form and is blended with cream and milk. Apparently, the cheese contains gouda, a kind of Dutch cheese made from cow’s milk according to some online articles.

First impression, because I ordered four cheese teas in a go, they sit in a tray and came in a nice craft paper bag that you’d expect from a clothing boutique. The cheese to tea ratio is about 1:4. On the menu, there are three recommendations on how to enjoy the tea. First, drink it straight up which you will take in some of the cheese cream and inevitably the base tea as it’s fluid and not viscous like the cheese. Second, use a straw to slurp, and lastly stir it and drink it.

cheese tea
Left image: Jars of cheese cream ready to be poured over tea

Tasting the cheese cream, I find it slightly sweet and savoury that has a dairy aroma. Some aptly describe it as Japanese cheese cake in cream form. Finally the base teas. Personally, I find the Cheese Black Tea to have a malty beer flavor. Next, the Cheese Guan Yin is my favourite. Though I can’t detect any floral notes typical of oolong, I like the chocolaty notes. The Cheese Green Tea I like it least as it was over brewed and was bitter. The Cheese Jing Syuan was better as I could taste the grassy notes but was still bitter.

My best way to drink cheese tea
Among the three suggested drinking modes, using a straw is the least viable to me. You’d be drinking all the base tea at the bottom, followed by the cheese cream. Drinking the cream by itself would be too rich and cheesy for my taste. To stir it and make it into tea shake really depends on the base tea. I’d like more apparent sweetness for my shakes, and Cheese Guan Yin had the most pronounced sweetness. I feel drinking it straight is the best. Especially for Cheese Guan Yin, when the sweetness and savouriness of the cheese mingles with the chocolaty notes of the tea in the mouth, it’s like drinking salty caramel.

Cheesy dessert

Tea purists may find cheese tea an abomination, but I’d suggest keep an open mind. Until recently, cheese is always paired with wine as a dessert, but we had suggested pairing it with tea to our partners during last year’s International Cheese Awards in Nantwich. For example, soft, mild, creamy cheeses goes well with crisp black tea like Signature Breakfast. Salty cheeses is perfect for floral teas like Garden of Eden and our Imperial Earl Grey will stand up well against strong goat cheese or cheddar.

The moral of the story – you never know. I wouldn’t queue for cheese tea, but bring on the Cheese Guan Yin anytime!

Alisha McKenzie is a drama graduate in university and likes to think she is in the people business in real life as a business development executive. Away from work, her two cats keep her sane and on the straight path. Also cutting down on her consumption of coffee helps as she rediscovered the aromas and flavours of different teas.