A mysterious tea beverage has taken root around the country with a uniqueness in flavor and texture, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Local forums are chatting it up. Less than a year ago, the trendy drink landed in Dongguan among anticipation and thirst. Some may say this is another milk tea revolution from Taiwan, following the widely spread bubble milk tea shops with a few new items added to the already long tea menu. Let’s explore.
As one of the world’s most consumed beverages, tea has been popular in the East for thousands of years and was enjoyed in a pure way, without outlandish ingredients. It was not until recent centuries that tea found its best buddy, milk, adding smooth and rich to its texture palette. Doodh pati chai in India and teh tarik in Malaysia and Singapore successfully blended milk and tea together. And then we come to milk cap teas—a new combination of milk and tea, reaching to another level of tastiness and dressed up with a frothy hat.
The concept of milk cap tea swept throughout Chinese-speaking regions over the last seven years, and upon its safe landing in Dongguan last year it has been well-received by the city’s youth. There are many brands across the Chinese mainland. In Dongguan, the widest established brand is Royal Tea from Guangdong’s Jiangmen City, with 11 branches throughout the city. Another global franchised brand Gong Cha from Taiwan opened its first store in the Dynacity Shopping Center in September 2013.
The beverage is similar to a cappuccino with a spooned, thick milky layer on top. Appropriately, it has been dubbed the Chinese cappuccino, but it looks more like beer with green or black tea on the bottom. It is often enjoyed cold. The secret lies in the two to three centimeters of foam layered on top. The combination of milk, cream, salt or cheese (yes, cheese) is beaten into a frothy form. The quality of the ingredients and the ratio between milk and cheese can affect the texture and flavor. Recipes vary from brand to brand.
The popular drinking method is to dip the front lip in like drinking a beer. The creamy, salty and cheesy foam hits your tongue first, followed by the fresh fragrant tea. The contrasts of warmth and chilliness, sweet and salty, milk and tea fragrances form a special sensation that neither coffee nor tea can offer. Some mix it together first, though it’s not highly recommended because it losses the novelty and the distinct flavor. But it will avoid the mess on your upper lip.
In every Royal Tea store, a fair line of people is a constant—day or night. They are waiting to try the trendy drink often mentioned on Weibo or WeChat as having the best selection of milk cap tea in town, with dozens of other drink options at reasonable prices from RMB 8 to 12.
Royal Tea offers two kinds of milk cap tea with different combinations. In general, the one mixed with fresh milk and salt tastes lighter and fluffier, and the other one with fresh milk and cheese tastes heavier and thicker. They both have the same base—fresh brewed green, black or oolong tea with a choice of peach, rose or honey flavoring.
The other widely-known brand, Gong Cha from Taiwan, is more expensive with bigger portions, but more than one taster has thought it less tasty. Although the portion is pretty generous, many people can’t finish the whole thing. Still, the small station in the lobby of Dynacity Shopping Center has remained crammed with curious first timers.