With demand for authentic Asian cuisine growing, restaurants are adding more than just green tea to the drinks list. Less familiar beverages such as cheese tea and taro milk tea are infiltrating the U.S. market. “Asian drinks are catching on because they are exotic, have a striking visual feature and boast health attributes,” says Aaron Jourden, Technomic’s global expert. While most are still pretty niche, they may start popping up more at the coffee counter.
Flavor-boosted milk teas
Asian ingredients such as taro and ginger are making waves in Taiwanese-style milk teas at TeaMoji, a new cafe in Allston, Mass. “We wanted to bring the Asian featured products to America,” says co-owner Wenting Ye. “Taro milk is light purple—it has a very energetic feel. We wanted to feature it on our menu to represent our [energetic] branding.”
Lychee milk tea is another popular option at TeaMoji, says Ye. “[The fruit] tastes sweet, not too sweet, but refreshing. We mix that with jasmine green tea,” she says.
Hefty foam toppings for tea
Cheese tea, which launched in China and continues to grow across East and Southeast Asia, is also starting to trickle into the U.S. market. Tan-Cha in Rowland Heights, Calif., offers the thick foam topping—a whipped combination of milk and cream cheese—on top of roasted oolong and matcha teas. “The foam aspect is a way to add visual and textural appeal, and maybe even some contrasting and unexpected flavors,” says Jourden. “It’s red-hot in Asian countries.”
Tiramisu Milk Tea is a best-seller at Tan-Cha. It, too, features a thick topping—tiramisu cream—atop milk tea. The beverage resembles a latte, making it a little more familiar for an American audience.
Turmeric is making its way into lattes at fast casuals, such as The Organic Grill and Corner Grocer in New York City and As Quoted in San Francisco, adding both its signature yellow-orange color and anti-inflammatory health benefits. “The basic ingredients are turmeric and ginger, and then you make a tea out of it. Then from that tea base, you add milk,” says Chris Dumesnil, general manager of As Quoted. The concept uses almond milk for its recipe and finishes the drink with coconut oil and coconut sugar. Starbucks, too, added a turmeric latte in the greater London area, specifically noting that the color is a marketing perk, since it makes “Instagram-able latte art.”
The lattes—also called golden milk—aren’t the only colorful, health-enhancing Asian beverages trending. Blue tea, colored by dried flower petals, is one of the newest to emerge. The blue brew boasts a higher antioxidant content than green tea and is caffeine free. “Its subtle flavor may be a new experience for the mass-market American consumer,” says Jourden. Rose tea, which is set to hit the menu at TeaMoji, also has health attributes that can serve as a selling point.