San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Boba crisis? Let cheese foam float your boat
My goto order at my local boba shop doesn’t contain boba at all.
Boba, or bubble tea, has become synonymous with the chewy balls from which its name is derived. However, as shipping delays threaten the supply of boba in the U.S., customers may soon be deprived of the iconic tapioca pearls. I believe this shortage presents bubble tea devotees with an unprecedented opportunity: Now is the time to hop on the cheese foam bandwagon.
When my friends and I would visit our favorite bubble tea shops before the pandemic, my order would often look different from theirs. Rather than being filled with boba, my drink would be topped with a layer of foam made from milk, cream cheese and salt. That combination might sound unusual to the casual boba fan, but to those of us who enjoy it, cheese foam isn’t just a replacement during times of boba scarcity — it’s the best drink on the menu.
While boba creates a textural contrast between the chewiness of the tapioca and smoothness of the drink, cheese foam creates its contrast through flavor. The salty cream cheese balances out the overpowering sweetness of the milk tea to create an unexpected yet delightful blend of flavors. It’s the salted caramel of the dessert drink world, bringing together salty and sweet to create a decadent pairing that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The final sips of boba are often the most disappointing — the last few pearls can be difficult to reach with your straw and the halfmelted ice waters down the remainder of the tea. Cheese foam, on the other hand, rewards you at the end. Your anticipation will build as the topping approaches the bottom of the cup, and after the tea runs dry, you’ll immediately be greeted by a savory mouthful of foam. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the drinking experience that boba could never hope to replicate.
Cheese foam certainly isn’t new; Taiwanese night markets began serving it around 2010. The drink gained popularity across Asia and made its way to the U.S. through chains such as Happy Lemon. Despite being around for a while, cheese foam has yet to reach the level of popularity that its round, chewy counterpart has in the West.
And it is possible to have both boba and cheese foam in a drink, but I think too many conflicting elements make it difficult to appreciate the contrast that each individual piece provides.
Cheese foam is available all over the Bay Area: The chain Happy Lemon specializes in the drink and has locations in San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley and more. If you already have a favorite boba shop, check their menu — there’s a good chance you’ll find cheese foam. Depending on where you go, it might also be called “cheese tea,” “milk cap” and “milk foam,” but it’s all the same, and always delicious.
If boba does, in fact, disappear from your local shop’s menu in the near future, you’ll still be able to get your fix of sugary tea. Since its ingredients don’t have to be internationally sourced, cheese foam isn’t going anywhere. Even if the prospect of cheese in your drink doesn’t sound appealing at first, I recommend giving it a try — you might miss boba a lot less once you do.
The salted caramel of the drink world, it unites salty and sweet