In August, an article in the New York Times proclaimed it had “discovered” boba. The article promptly drew heavy criticism, understandably so. While certain folks in New York City newsrooms were trying to wrap their heads around “bubble tea,” the drinks scene in the San Gabriel Valley had already evolved far beyond.
If anything, 2017 in the SGV has been the year of drink trends. Cheese foam tea, which is actually whipped cream with a light cream cheese or mild cheese flavoring blended in, became all the rage in China. Trying to determine who served a particular food or drink first is often a fool’s errand, but the chain Heytea! had people lined up for hours for a cheese foam tea. It arrived in the SGV in the waning days of 2016, and literally took off this year.
In the months since, the prime chains from China and Taiwan have thrown their foamy caps into the SGV ring. A few established local tea houses have also jumped on the trend and cheese foam tea can be found in Dowtown L.A. and the South Bay. Many have written about cheese foam tea, including Eater. Though the cheese foam trend dominates, if that doesn't sound appealing, there have been a couple of other openings of note featuring different drinks. Here’s a look at the key players and some of their drinks:
Tiramisu Puff Tea at Tan-Cha
The first to serve cheese foam in the SGV, it originally opened in the last days of 2016 as Tancca, an offshoot of the popular San Francisco tea house of the same name. Re-named since as Tan-Cha, they also were the first to serve tiramisu puff cream. They proudly proclaim the tiramisu puffcream teapresso as their creation and boast of using only 100% “real” dairy in their milk teas. The sweet tiramisu puff cream can top one of three different milk teas, while pu’er tea is a unique option for cheese foam, as is lychee black tea. The foams are dense and thick, with drinking tips provided on both the wall and menu, to insure one gets the perfect blend of both tea and foam/cream.
18423 Colima Rd., Rowland Heights. 227 W. Valley Blvd., Suite 118-B, San Gabriel.
Salted Cheese Tea at Happy Lemon
A drink chain from Taiwan and China that has branched worldwide, their first SGV location opened in January inside the first outlet of Taiwanese bakery chain, Sunmerry Bakery. In the time since, they’ve opened inside another Sunmerry outlet, and recently opened their first standalone, in the City of Industry, on a 96-degree day with a BOGO offer. Lines were as expected. Their salted cheese series features a sweet, salty foam atop black, green or oolong teas, or for something different, chocolate or coffee. Combining the trends, Happy Lemon also serves a couple of tiramisu salted cheese drinks.
5728 Rosemead Blvd., Temple City (inside Sunmerry Bakery). 500 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park (inside Sunmerry Bakery).
18246 E. Gale Ave., City of Industry.
Ovaltine and Red Bean Tea Lattes at Wushiland Boba
This is the first L.A. area location of Taiwanese chain, 50 Lan (wu shi is 50 in Pinyin + land for lan, get it?). A spacious and modern location in San Gabriel’s Focus Plaza serves sweet or savory waffles alongside a fairly small and fairly standard drinks menu, which stresses tea quality. The most unique drinks are ovaltine or red bean tea lattes. Wushiland’s mascot is a flying fish holding a boba cup on his back, and apparently his name is Larry.
140 W. Valley Blvd., Suite 104, San Gabriel.
Mung Bean Milk Tea at 7 Leaves Café
Now, for something completely different. A small chain that originated in Orange County’s Little Saigon in 2012, 7 Leaves features a small drinks menu that skews Vietnamese. This means favorites such as café sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee), but for the most unique, there’s a mung bean milk tea made with jasmine tea and pandan leaves. It’s very sweet with the coconut notes that often accompany pandan.
151 N. Garfield Ave., Alhambra, CA
Cheese Foam Tea at Heektea
With a name derived from the China-based chain known for popularizing cheese foam tea in mainland China, Heektea opened in the City of Industry in August. The most unique versions of cheese foam teas at Heektea are uji matcha and white peach oolong. Heektea also serves tiramisu puff cream milk teas.
Cream Cheese or Sea Salt Foam Tea at Heekcaa
The original name of Heytea!, a chain that originated in Southern China and popularized cheese foam teas. Any of their five fruit teas, four milk teas or three traditional teas (oolong, black, jasmine green) can be served topped with cream cheese or sea salt cheese cover. Special cups come with a flap and instructions on proper foam drinking.
18938 Labin Ct., Rowland Heights.