Gong Cha is officially dead.
The popular milk cap tea shop known for its addictive – if not nauseating – cream-topped brews has, at long last, been assailed by the explosive popularity of Hey Tea.
To say Hey Tea has a cult following might be an understatement. In the last few months, it’s gone from a small street-side shop in Jiangmen, Guangdong to a nationwide sensation. In Shanghai, the chain's popularity has spawned knock-offs around the city, including at least two branches of "Hi Tea." And just across the road from the Tianzifang location is "Hey Juice," with numerous other locations listed on Dianping (though it's unclear if Hey Juice was around before Hey Tea).
The most confounding thing about Xi Cha (喜茶), as it’s known in Mandarin, however, is how long people are willing to queue for it: nearly two hours, in most cases.
But is Hey Tea really that good or are people just trying to look cool by posting photos with its ultra-slim cup?
We decided to find out.
To attempt to understand the mindset of a typical Hey Tea enthusiast, we ventured deep into classic chou doufu-consuming mallrat territory: China Plaza in Guangzhou. There, on the sixth floor, lies a celestial Mecca of Hey Tea.
On our way up a series of winding escalators, we spot droves of others who have made the pilgrimage: three boys in school tracksuits posing giddily with their prize; a dazed woman clutching an assorted six-pack to her heart; a couple silently slurping the remains of their two-hour wait.
It’s approximately 3.23pm when we step into the line that snakes around the front of the shop and down a long corridor of the mall. Hey Tea personnel shuffle about offering cups of water on trays, ostensibly to avoid a lawsuit. Passersby enjoy asking how long we’ve been waiting and then shaking their heads incredulously at our response.
Though the line is long, the entire process has been streamlined to a T, such that by the time we reach the checkout counter (48 minutes later), we’ve already seen a menu and had our order recorded on a piece of paper. A team of three cashiers then confirm our order and complete the transaction in seconds.
At 4.32pm, we finally get our hands on a cool cup of Hey Tea, making the total wait time one hour and nine minutes – significantly shorter than we’d anticipated going in.
We order the most popular flavor: Jinfeng Chawang (金凤茶王) with a full cheese cap (not the reduced fat version) for RMB23.
There’s specific instructions for how one should drink Hey Tea (because of course), which suggest that instead of using a straw first, you should open the top flap to swig both layers – the cheesy top and the tea – simultaneously.
Being avid Gong Cha fans, however, we have a habit of saving the best – i.e. the cream cap – for last, and do the same this time.
The first few sips bring pure, sweet, flowery tea (Hey Tea allegedly uses high-quality tea leaves and ingredients, one reason, a girl in line tells us, why it's so popular). The tea itself is undoubtedly a step up from Gong Cha’s.
About halfway through, we start to taste a hint of the salty cheese. It’s subtle at first, and seems to complement the tea surprisingly well.
Towards the end of the drink, however, our sips begin to summon something sinister: thick, cloying globs of salty cheesy cream. The sensation is like taking a bag of movie theater popcorn and dumping the liquid butter straight into your mouth. Not good.
Next time we’ll follow Hey Tea’s instructions and drink the cheesy top first with the tea.
So anyway, is Hey Tea really that amazing or does the appeal lie in saying that you tried it?
We’ll let you determine that – by ordering via WeChat, of course. Did we mention you can do that too?
Don't want to stand in line? In Guangzhou you can pay someone to do it for you. Order via WeChat (in Guangzhou only) ID supercatmiumiu.
READ MORE: We Drink It and So Should You: Cheese Tea