Cheese tea. Yes, it’s a thing. And yes, it really is tea topped with cheese. In fact, Rico sampled some in Downtown L.A. at a cheese tea shop called Little Fluffy Head.
Below and in the audio above, the shop’s owner, Jenny Zheng, explains how she stumbled on the tea, what kind of cheese tops the drink, their lid innovation, and more.
Where does it come from?
Jenny Zheng: It wasn’t very popular in the first place. You know, people were like, “Why would you put cheese in the tea?” And-
Rico Gagliano: I have to admit that I thought the same thing.
Jenny Zheng: Right. And then, it just got viral over the last two years. It’s all over China. I remember when I’m back to Guangdong Province and I have to wait at least an hour to get the cheese tea.
Rico Gagliano: Like a line around the block kind of thing?
Jenny Zheng: Yes.
So, what kind of cheese is it?
Jenny Zheng: Mostly they use cream cheese. And then you can work your way to mild cheddar cheese and then maybe stronger cheese with the tea. For our store, we actually have cream cheese and cheddar cream cheese.
It’s called cheese tea, so what people initially imagine, it’s the actual block of cheese on top of the tea. But then, actually, it’s the melted cream cheese with the whipping cream, milk and a little bit of salt to give it the sweet and savory taste. So, the taste of the cheese is actually really subtle.
Rico Gagliano: That actually sounds delicious. So it’s cream cheese and whipped cream and some salt?
Jenny Zheng: And milk and some salt.
What kind of tea bases are we talking about here?
Jenny Zheng: There are different kinds of tea base. The traditional black tea, the green tea and then we have other, like floral tea.
Rico Gagliano: So which one would you recommend as a beginner? What is going to get me into this idea? What’s the best tea cheese combo?
Jenny Zheng: I guess for a beginner, I would start with the mildest combination, which is, like, floral teas. They’re sweet, you don’t taste that much of the bitterness and then you can pair it with the cream cheese on top.
Their special lid
Jenny Zheng: So, this lid is actually specially designed just for cheese tea. You have a punch out hole that you can put the straw in and then on the other end, you have this, like, specially designed opening where you would sip the tea.
..It’s more recommended to sip it from this hole [points to the sip side of the lid] first, because so that you can try the cheese and then the tea, like, in the separate layers, and then mix it in your mouth.
Rico Gagliano: I see! So first I’ll get a little bit of cheese, and then it’ll be followed by the tea.
Jenny Zheng: Yes. And then, when you drink it halfway, you put the straw in and then you mix it and then it tastes a little bit like the milk tea.
Rico Gagliano: At that point, it’ll be more mixed together and I drink it with a straw.
Jenny Zheng: Yes, that’s correct.
The taste test
Rico Gagliano: Here, let’s take the first sip. Oh, yeah! It’s really good! Before, I actually was a little suspicious when you said floral tea with the cheese. I don’t know why, exactly, but it just seemed like it might be too fragrant. I think of cheese as, like, nice and sharp and the floral would make it kind of maybe sickly or something. But they work together really, really well. It’s delicious.
Jenny Zheng: Right. Actually, I flew back to China just to work with my tea supplier and then together we customized the tea flavors. So all the floral teas, the designed amount of flower buds we’d put in each tea back, so then the flower taste is subtle.
On how Little Fluffy Head got its name
Rico Gagliano: I actually wanted to ask you one more thing. The name of this shop. Little Fluffy Head? What is the story behind that?
Jenny Zheng: So, when I was having this idea of opening a tea shop, my mom was always being very supportive and she, on my 18th birthday, she gave me this self-toy that has my face on it. So, I call it Little Fluffy Head.
Rico Gagliano: This is, like, a doll of you?
Jenny Zheng: Yes. So, the toy reminds me of my mom, so that’s why I named my cafe Little Fluffy Head.
Rico Gagliano: OK. The only thing that this store is officially missing is, like, a rack of Little Fluffy Head dolls that you’ve got to start selling.
Jenny Zheng: You mean putting my face on it?
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, I guess on second thought, that’s a little narcissistic, maybe.
Jenny Zheng: Right! It would be, like, weird. Like when I walk on the street and see everyone carrying a stuffed toy has, like, my face on it.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]