Cheese tea. An unlikely pair of words to find next to each other, so it would seem, but this unique drink is developing popularity in defiance of its strange name thanks to an addictive flavor combo of bitter, tangy, salty, and sweet.
What is Cheese Tea?
The base of cheese tea is black or green teas, hot or cold, topped with a layer of cream cheese that has been whipped up into a thick foam, finished with a sprinkle of salt. When sipped at a 45-degree angle, the drinker gets a taste of the tea’s slight bitterness cut by the cool tang of the cream and a hint of saltiness that keeps you going back for more.
Night market vendors in Taiwan are said to be the inventors of cheese tea, which appeared on the scene around 2010. Originally, Taiwanese tea shops used cheese powder, whipping cream and milk to make the foamy topping. Eventually, its unique flavor attracted tea purveyors in China with slightly deeper pockets, who substituted real cream cheese for powders to create a more decadent drink.
Every shop has its own variation of cream cheese foam. Some blend it with milk, others use whipped cream, sweetened condensed milk, or any combination of the three. It all depends on the thickness and the balance of sweet and salty they are trying to achieve.
Currently, the best-known cheese tea shops Stateside are the Little Fluffy Head cafe in Los Angeles and Happy Lemon in New York City – both popular for their boba teas.
Of course, you can find your own perfect combo by making it yourself, especially since the cheese tea trend hasn’t yet gained the same notoriety in the United States that it enjoys in Asia. We’ve got some instructions further below!
Is Cheese Tea Healthy?
The health benefits of tea are well known. Both green and black tea are chock full of antioxidants.
Green tea is rich in catechins, a compound that is converted to theaflavins during the oxidation process which turns green tea into black tea. Both types can help to halt oxidative damage to cells by binding with free radicals — harmful byproducts of normal metabolic processes. 
Antioxidants have been linked to a number of health benefits. Multiple studies have shown that regular tea drinking can support healthy metabolism and weight management, as well as a healthy immune function and reduced risk for a number of diseases when included as part of a healthy diet. 
But the question is whether those benefits are offset by the addition of full-fat dairy and sugar.
It’s important to be mindful of the amount of fat and calories in a cup of cheese tea. A tablespoon of cream cheese contains about 45 calories, 41 of which come from fat. At 3.5 grams per serving, that tablespoon accounts for 16% of the daily value for saturated fat. The nutrition facts look similar for a tablespoon of heavy whipping cream. 
Powdered sugar – often incorporated for sweetness and to help the cheese foam maintain its soft and fluffy texture – also adds about 8 grams of simple carbohydrates and a little more than 30 calories per tablespoon.  Plus, excessive sugar intake can be harmful in a variety of ways.
A standard cup of cheese tea could easily pack a minimum of 150 calories and roughly 10 grams each of fat and simple sugar. The more indulgent the mix, the more those numbers rise.
How to Make Cheese Tea Healthier
Fat and sugar certainly have their place in any balanced diet, and savoring the occasional treat is important in maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
While cheese tea may not be exactly what the doctor ordered, it can be a delicious way to take your afternoon tea once in a while.
Here’s the standard recipe, followed by ideas for lightening up the cheese topping: Start by dropping 4 ounces of cream cheese into a mixing bowl, along with 2 tablespoons of milk. Using a hand mixer, beat the two together until they are fully incorporated.
Then add a half-cup of whipping cream and 2 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar. Beat on high speed until they become thick and aerated.
Spoon the mixture evenly over 6 glasses of either iced or hot green or black tea and sprinkle each with a little sea salt.
To cut down the calorie and fat content, opt for light cream cheese and unsweetened plant or nut milk. Calorie-free sugar substitutes can also be used in place of regular powdered sugar, such as stevia or monk fruit — or omit the sugar altogether.
Plant-based dairy substitutes are also great options. Vegan cream cheese can be made from a variety of bases, including coconut cream, almond milk, and tofu.
Choosing your Tea
Since half of the flavor profile of cheese tea comes from the tea itself, you’ll want to consider the differences between black and green.
Black tea is generally characterized by roasty, malty notes, sometimes with caramel or nutty undertones. It’s a deep and rich flavor that comes from the oxidation process, and it’s notably different from the more astringent and sometimes grassy flavor of green tea, which undergoes no oxidation at all.
Both flavors pair well with the tangy sweetness of the cream cheese foam but in different ways. The dairy lightens up black tea while cutting through the sharpness of green tea.
The choice of iced or hot tea can also affect your drinking experience. Tea’s aromas and flavors tend to be more pronounced when it’s freshly brewed, but the warmth can melt the foam more rapidly. Iced may be the way to go if you’d prefer to keep the two layers separate. Just make sure to prepare your iced tea well ahead of time to ensure it’s properly chilled.
Unusual as it sounds, cheese tea offers a unique way to enjoy a traditional cup of tea, adding a layer of tangy and sweet foam atop hot or iced black or green tea. Though it can still be hard to find in local tea shops, it’s easy to make at home. Be mindful of the amount of calories, fat and sugar in a single serving, however, or make some substitutions to lighten it up. Give it a try and see if this new twist on an old favorite is for you!