When Jenny Zheng traveled to southern china two years ago, she witnessed the popularity of a beverage not commonly seen in the United States.
“When I first heard of cheese tea, I had no idea what it was,” she says. “Like any Millennial, I had to try it, so I went to a cheese tea shop while I was in China, and I fell in love with the taste immediately.”
Only one semester away from graduating college with a Master’s degree in engineering, Zheng was so enamored with the beverage that it set her life on a totally new trajectory. “I knew this was an innovative concept I had to bring back to the United States,” she says.
Yet, she also realized she could improve on the original recipe, so after learning how cheese tea was made, she played around with the recipe. This involved trying different cheese, milk and whipping cream combinations and various types of Blues, Cheddar, goat and cream cheeses. “The first cheese I tried was a sharp Cheddar, but it was really hard and didn’t blend well with cream,” says Zheng. “I came up with 10 different cheese tea flavors and gathered my friends to try them all. We narrowed it down to three.”
Opened last August, her Little Fluffy Head Café in Los Angeles is known for its two versions of cheese tea. One combines white Cheddar with whipping cream, milk, a dash of pink salt and just a touch of sugar, while the other uses cream cheese in place of the Cheddar. “I was also thinking of offering a sharp Cheddar version, but in the end I figured it was best to start with more mild cheese tea,” she says. “Eventually, I’ll add cheeses with stronger flavors.” All the ingredients are blended together and whipped to create a fluffy topping for the café’s green, black and oolong teas. The cheesy topping is made in small batches and layered on top.
Zheng describes cheese tea as tasting both sweet and savory, with the consistency of a latté . The cream on top helps mask the tea’s bitterness, creating a well-balanced concoction that is refreshing and smooth. “We have customers that describe the taste as similar to Thai tea, while others think its flavor is more like a savory milk shake,” she says.
Zheng acknowledges other cheese tea shops are beginning to sell cheese tea in big cities like New York, but her café is the only one she’s aware of that is dedicated to the concept. “Many people are afraid of it because most think it’s about putting a block of cheese in tea, but after they know what it actually is, they’ll try it and love it,” she says.