Is Hey Tea Worth the Wait? We Stand in Line for 2 Hours to Find Out

By Yuka Hayashi and Noelle Mateer, October 10, 2017

1 0

Hey Tea is a Guangdong-based milk tea chain making headlines and long lines. Images of the shops’ storefronts went viral for their consistently winding queues, filled with customers willing to wait hours for their zhishi jinfeng chawang (cheese-topped tea).

The first Hey Tea opened in Jiangmen, Guangdong, a wee village of 4 million, before the chain moved northward. Its first location in Shanghai spawned knockoffs across the city, including a ‘Hi Tea’ and a ‘Hey Juice.’ It was even rumored online that one savvy Shanghairen waited in line all day, every day to buy and resell Hey Tea at a markup – and made RMB50,000 in one month.

Alas, this good fortune does not await us. The capital’s first branch of Hey Tea debuted in Taikoo Li South last month, and as expected, lines snaked around the building. But wait – there’s controversy. Some say Hey Tea pays people to wait in line and drum up buzz, and that this is all an elaborate publicity stunt. Others say its tea is substandard, and that it’s a boring, run-of-the-mill tea place from Guangdong that had a clever rebrand.

There is only one way to find out.

The Line

It’s a Thursday afternoon, not even a weekend. But the line is as long as a Disneyland ride’s on a Saturday. We were expecting a 30-minute wait. A staffer tells us we’re in for two hours. We have underestimated Hey Tea.

We see no evidence of paid line-waiters – everyone we speak to appears to be trying it out for the first time.

“We decided to stop by because we saw that people are obsessed with Hey Tea on Weibo, and we were curious,” says the girl just ahead of us, waiting in line with her friend. “We didn’t really have anything else in mind for our meet-up, so, yeah…”

They give up 30 minutes later.

The line moves slowly – it truly is a two-hour wait. Crowds are messy and frustrated. But the staff is incredibly patient, informing customers of wait times and explaining the best way to drink the teas (use a straw to open the cap’s flap and swig both layers – the cheesy top and the tea – simultaneously). To our astonishment, we see that some customers, upon receiving their teas, get right back in line for another round. That means being in line for three to four hours altogether.

This is because Hey Tea follows a strict code. One cannot purchase more than three drinks per order. One must select from a detailed list of milk tea characteristcs: added sugar or no added sugar, ice or no ice, cheese foam or no cheese foam. Hey Tea staffers are quick to share what they believe to be the ideal formula: 50-percent ice and no sugar, definitely cheese foam.

A fleeting moment of reprieve comes halfway through the wait, in the form of a bench. We sit for a few minutes, before the line slogs onward and it is someone else’s turn. We recommend wearing sneakers. Ideally, you’d also bring a friend, or someone you can talk to. Very few people come alone.

At the front of the line, hangers-on ask if anyone is ordering fewer than three drinks, and offer to pay to get in on others’ orders. Almost everyone orders three drinks. They don’t ask us, though. Weird.

The Tea

Take a big gulp. The cheese on top is so sweet and creamy (no need to add sugar) that it’s best with the tea, not as a mush at the bottom.

Altogether, it’s surprisingly filling – and most of all, rewarding. After two hours of waiting, it tastes heavenly. Even the cute logo tickles us: a tiny cartoon man having a cuppa, totally unfazed by this whole circus. And the RMB20-30 price tag for drinks is cheaper than Starbucks. Not bad.

Maybe we’re delirious after waiting so long, but we’re tempted to say this was all worth the mafan. (Seriously though, bring comfortable shoes.)

The Competition

There’s a Hey Tea rival in town. Enter Yidiandian.

Yidiandian feels like a low-rent version of Hey Tea. Literally – its Beijing locations are tucked away in forlorn corners of retail spaces that have seen better days. We visit the one in Shangdu SOHO. (Yes, we’re knocking Shangdu SOHO.)

Yidiandian’s line looks paltry in comparison to Hey Tea’s. Twenty people? Pshh. And yet again, we underestimate. What looks like morning-rush-at-Starbucks ends up costing us 45 minutes. What with its slow-moving line and the store’s blaring hip-hop soundtrack, we feel like we’re waiting for coatcheck at some brightly-lit nightclub. In Shangdu SOHO. A building which, we repeat, sucks.

But here’s the good part: Yidiandian’s teas are dirt cheap. We grab our basic lemon variety for RMB6. (We were going to try something more exciting, but that’s all the cash we had, and Yidiandian doesn’t take WeChat. Who doesn’t take WeChat?)

Our tea, albeit basic, is undeniably delicious. And at RMB6, it’s practically free – just with the soul-crushing additional cost of spending the entirety of our lunch break in line.

We later found out they had delivery the whole time.

Additional reporting by Jocelyn Richards

Find Hey Tea locations in Sanlitun’s Taikoo Li South and Chaoyang Joy City. Yidiandian is in Shangdu SOHO, Chaowai SOHO and Zhongguancun.

more news

Beijing F&B Could Take 6 Months to Recover from Coronavirus: Ignace Lecleir

Ignace Lecleir runs the TRB Hospitality Group, which consists of four restaurants: TRB Hutong, TRB Forbidden City, Hulu by TRB and Merci French Food TRB.

Ultimate Restaurant Guide for Guangzhou and Shenzhen on Sale Now

Our comprehensive dining and drinking guide informs expats, visitors and locals alike on the F&B options available in the Greater Bay Area.

Getting Moderately Deep With... The Owner of a Small Japanese Restaurant

In our monthly series 'Getting Moderately Deep With... ' we ask a food vendor tough questions. Well, sort-of tough.

This Beijing Restaurant Was Just Ranked the World’s Best

TRB Hutong is number one on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for Fine Dining Restaurants.

Brew Review: Jing-A's Collaboration With Shanghai's Brewful Life

Together, these forces of craft combined to create a new beer that rings the bell for both Shanghai and Beijing, and lucky for us That's columnist Chris Foste gave the new brews a try.

Brew Review: Joe's Greenwich IPA Paired with Pineapple Pizza

That's columnist Chris Foste (aka Bearded Bear) is a bearded beer fanatic whose frothy pint glass of knowledge flows over with wisdom on the wetting of one's whistle.

Shake Shack is Finally Coming to Beijing! Here’s When It’s Opening

Forget the 2022 Winter Olympics – this is Beijing’s biggest upcoming event.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at thatsonline for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in China With

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday


Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's Magazines!

Visit the archives

Get the App. Your essential China city companion.