Cheese Tea Is The Boba Boom's Sweet And Salty New Wave

Cheese foam tea at Happy Lemon. (Photo by Louise Yang/LAist)

After creative companies spawned so many iterations of boba tea that even the New York Times finally discovered it, purveyors of the tapioca-centric libation had to invent a new twist. It's cheese tea, a drink that sounds so awful you won't believe how good it tastes. And it delivers exactly what it promises — cheese and tea, in the same glass.

We're not talking about gooey Velveeta poured into a glass of steaming Lipton or cubes of cheddar suspended in milky oolong (although we might be down for that). This is regular tea, served cold and topped with a creamy, lightly salted foam that tastes like salted caramel. Why hasn't Big Boba hired a savvy young tastemaker to rebrand "cheese tea" as "salted caramel foam"? We don't know. (Call us! We offer a very reasonable commission.)

If you're a regular boba drinker, you've probably already noticed cheese tea at SoCal tea shops but cafés in Taiwan and China have been serving the stuff since at least 2010. Back then, according to Eater LA, "vendors combined powdered cheese and salt with whipping cream and milk to form a foamy, tangy layer on the top of a cup of cold tea."

These days, the basic ingredients are cream cheese, cream or milk, sugar and salt but the proportions vary from shop to shop. The drink also requires new tools for consumption. When it comes to cheese tea, most places have traded in their heat-sealed plastic lids and fat boba straws (and not because of the coming strawpocalypse) for coffee cup-style lids that fold open so drinkers can sip their cheese tea and achieve the perfect Got Milk mustache.

PRO TIP: If you're getting your cheese tea with a straw, you're not getting the full experience!

Instructions for drinking cheese foam tea at Happy Lemon. (Photo by Louise Yang/LAist)

Still on the fence? A glass of cheese tea has fewer calories than a typical glass of boba milk tea. Three ounces of tapioca pearls have approximately 300 calories while a typical serving of cheese foam has approximately 160 calories. Of course, if you combine boba and cheese foam, you'll get all will the calories. But the creamy layer on top looks awfully pretty.

Uji Matcha with cheese foam at Tan-Cha . (Photo by Louise Yang/LAist)

Tan-cha
One of best places to try cheese tea is Tan-Cha, where the Uji Matcha with Cheese Foam is a popular choice. You get almost a full inch of white foam balanced on a pastel green base of mild matcha. This is the most substantial cheese foam we tried, with the gooey consistency of marshmallow fluff. Tan-Cha also has the best cheese tea lid. This marvel of engineering holds back pieces of ice to deliver the ideal ratio of tea and foam while maintaining the distinct texture of both elements.
227 W. Valley Blvd., #118, San Gabriel. 626-872-0582.
18423 Colima Rd., Rowland Heights. 626-723-4306.

Cheese foam tea at Little Fluffy Head Cafe. (Photo by Louise Yang/LAist)

Little Fluffy Head Cafe
Thanks to a minimalist cup design and the store's marble tabletops, Little Fluffy Head Cafe makes eminently Instagrammable cheese tea. For those who aren't keen on new texture combinations, the foam here is less like cumulus clouds and more like the wisps of fog that sometimes blanket L.A. Because of its thinner texture, the cheese foam combines with the tea, producing a smooth, consistent drink that's similar to a standard milk tea. The lids resemble a modified coffee cup with a smaller opening. Try a classic jasmine green tea with half the sugar. That lets jasmine's floral notes come through while the cheese foam prevents the drink from tasting too much like detergent.
203 W. 7th St, downtown L.A. 213-266-8495.

Cheese foam tea at Happy Lemon. (Photo by Louise Yang/LAist)

Happy Lemon
International chain Happy Lemon refers to cheese tea by the redundant term "salted cheese" (what cheese isn't salted?) but the foam here is notably saltier than most of the others we tried. When it comes to texture, it's in the middle, less solid than the stuff at Tan-cha but not as easily diluted as the stuff at Little Fluffy Head. It's more like the creamy foam on a rootbeer float. It's served in a cup with a new-school coffee lid, the kind with a tab that folds back and locks in place. The opening releases just enough tea and foam out so you experience two distinct textures. The green tea with salted cheese, ordered at 50% sweetness, is the perfect starting point. The hint of lemon is a refreshing counterpoint to the salty cheese foam.
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena. 424-329-0542.
18246 Gale Ave., City of Industry. 626-581-8798.

Assorted teas with cheese foam at Tea Maru. (via Tea Maru's Facebook page)

Tea Maru
Tea Maru's claim to fame is its house-made boba, produced by a machine that looks like a fancy pasta maker and sits under a dusting of tapioca flour. Maybe that's why the cheese foam here seems like an afterthought. They serve it with the typical boba straw and heat-sealed lid. Once the foam is slurped through the straw, it mixes with the tea and its texture is completely lost. Despite that, the classic green tea with cheese foam has a good, strong jasmine flavor. The multi-colored boba doesn't add anything in the way of flavor but it's a fantastic Instagram gimmick. Tea Maru even has a designated shelf with wall art so you can take the perfect picture.
709 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel. 626-225-2821.

Cheese foam tea at Noble Tea near Sawtelle Blvd. in West L.A. (Elina Shatkin for LAist)

Noble Tea
Along the Sawtelle corridor, notable for its top-shelf ramen restaurants and its Japanese roots, newly opened Noble Tea makes great cheese tea. The foam is moderately dense, sweet and not too salty. The boba is on-point. You can add cheese foam to pretty much anything so why limit yourself to traditional jasmine? You place your order via touch screens — or online, in advance for pick up — because futuristic world devoid of human service employees is fast approaching.
11307 Mississippi Ave., West L.A. 424-832-7022.

Cheese foam tea at Volcano Tea on Sawtelle Blvd. in West L.A. (Elina Shatkin for LAist)

Volcano Tea House
Like Tea Maru, the cheese tea at Volcano Tea House seems like an afterthought. You can order cheese foam on top of almost any drink Volcano makes but it's served in the typical boba cup with a fat straw and a heat-sealed lid. The foam itself is fairly thin and quickly blends with the liquid, undercutting one of cheese foam's supreme pleasures, its texture.
2111 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A. 310-445-5326.


You made it! Congrats, you read the entire story, you gorgeous human. This story was made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism costs $$$$$. And now that LAist is part of KPCC, we rely on that support. So if you aren't already, be one of us! Help us help you live your best life in Southern California. Donate now.