Ever since cheese foam tea, a latte-like beverage topped with a blend of cream cheese and whole milk, became all the rage in LA (by way of China,) I've been craving a taste. I finally got to sample some at Meno, a modern tea house that opened in New York's West Village this summer, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
I went to Meno for the Cheese Foam Fruit Tea, but I was immediately intrigued by other items on the menu, like the mysterious-sounding Dark Tea Specialties and the even more bizarre-sounding Coffee Meets Juice blends. Luckily, I got to sample them all while enjoying the afternoon in Meno's socially distanced outdoor seating area on a quaint West Village street.
I started with something from the Dark Tea Specialties menu. Dark tea sounds like tea that's just been over-steeped, but it's much more than that. Whereas most teas are oxidized before roasting till dry, dark teas are only lightly roasted to preserve some of their moisture. They then go on to a microbial fermentation period that can last up to eight years. This process actually changes the molecular components of the tea, creating a beverage that’s less bitter and astringent. I chose the simple yet elegant Dark Beauty, a mix of the dark tea and milk topped with whipped cream and pecans. I could instantly taste the boldness of the tea, sweetened by the whipped cream and softened by the milk. The depth of flavor was comforting; the stronger tea flavor didn’t wasn't jarring, as an over-brewed cup of regular tea would be. As I drank, pecan topping fell to the bottom of the cup, leaving me with a gentle nutty surprise at the end
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to like my next brews, the intriguing (if not a little odd) Coffee Meets Juice blends, in which coffee and either lemon, orange, or pineapple juice combine in one glass. Meno’s China-based parent company invented these blends as a way of making coffee more palatable for a culture that's not as java-obsessed as the U.S. Hiding the strong, bitter taste behind the flavor of juice allows the imbiber to take baby steps toward enjoying coffee.
Since it’s still summer and I’m feeling all the tropical vibes, I opted for the PPAP, the pineapple coffee-juice blend. It arrived layered like a tequila sunrise, with an ombre look from the bright yellow pineapple juice on the bottom and brown coffee on top. I didn’t disturb the pretty layering with the first sip; I just plunged the straw straight in in and gave it a try. Weird. Coffee and pineapple. Yup, you can distinctly taste them. Hmm. Then I gave the straw a stir to mix the coffee and juice, and the taste was even stranger—because it actually worked. It reminded me of dirty chai (chai tea with a shot of espresso), and I chuckled to myself as I dubbed this the Dirty Pineapple. I mean, this drink was a little dirty—like my pineapple juice had a secret, a refreshing and delicious secret with a little bit of kick.
Finally, it was time to sample the Cheese Foam Tea, the drink I'd expressly come for. If you’re picturing a mug with a hunk of cheddar on top or a cuppa that looks like a crock of french onion soup, you’ll be disappointed. The cheese isn't visible. It's in the drink's foam—a blend of milk and cream cheese. (Many shops now use a powdered version of cream cheese, but Meno still uses the real thing for a more luxurious experience.) The cheese creates a fluffy cap that will make you rethink everything you knew about foam. Unlike the airy stuff that sits atop your cappuccino and dissipates quickly, this topping has a surprising density that hold up well to the liquid below. A mixture of green tea and fruit slush available in your choice of mango, strawberry, or grape sits below the foam, but you can also choose to have that cheesy pillow served over one of the dark tea specialties, which can be served hot or cold.
When I ordered the Highlighted (the mango slushy version of this cold drink), I was faced with two choices: mix to blend the foam into the cool tea or leave it as is, drinking through the layers to experience them separately. I chose not to stir or even use a straw. I came for cheese foam, and I didn’t want to dilute it, so I sipped straight from the cup for maximum exposure. I was immediately pleased and intrigued by the substantial mass of dairy delight against my lips. I realized I'd be left with a milk mustache resembling less Clark Gable and more Magnum PI. The cheese foam's flavor conjured of the world's lightest and fluffiest cheesecake: The cream cheese was detectable but not overwhelming. As the cool mango slush and greet tea mixture hit my tongue, the fruit acid refreshingly wiped away the creamy coating of the foam, harmonizing and refreshing my mouth. When you think about it, fruit and cream have always gone hand and hand (peaches and cream, anyone?!) and that’s exactly what’s going on with this tea. This drink would make an invigorating breakfast, lovely summer dessert, or a bright, happy snack.
I liked all three drinks so much I took them with me to go after the tasting. As I sipped the PPAP (pineapple-coffee juice) on my walk home, I decided it was a fantastic on-the-go beverage, but I preferred savoring the dark and cheese teas seated. I’m already looking forward to a return to Meno this fall to check out the Dark Beast, the dark tea/cheese foam combo. Suffice to say, I'm a cheese tea convert, and I can't wait to happily enjoy cheese teas year-round.