Fans of the famous pizza chef Tony Gemignani are used to his perfect blend of ricotta and mascarpone at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, but fewer can claim familiarity with Gemignani’s blend of mascarpone and green tea. That could change on November 11, when his “cheese tea” collaboration with Steap Tea Bar founder Emil DeFrancesco kicks off at Steap’s storefront in Chinatown. A cheese tea launch party starts at noon on the 11th, with free slices of pizza for the first 100 customers.
The duo’s Italian-American spin on the cream and tea combo is certainly novel, and it’s likely to introduce many new customers to the genre. But for others, as DeFrancesco acknowledges, cheese tea — zhī shì chá in Mandarin — is already a booming business, the stuff of long lines and food and travel trend pieces.
The combination has already made its way to some San Francisco boba shops, particularly newer ones. “It’s just a really thick cream that you put on top of a milk tea,” explains Maggie Guan, an employee at the recently opened OMG Tea on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola. OMG Tea calls its version “creama,” made with a mix of whipped cream, cream cheese, and salt. “It’s a pretty popular thing now,” says Guan.
Tea Hut, which opened just two weeks ago on California Street in Lower Pacific Heights, is also playing around with cheese tea. “You can add it to anything, it’s kinda sweet, a little salty, and creamy,” says owner Aaron Quian. He recommends adding the cream cheese topping to strawberry or mango tea, introducing a new layer to the drink.
DeFrancesco, Steap Tea’s founder, expects some customers will be taken aback by the term cheese tea — it’s “a horrible name,” he says. But putting that aside, it’s a combination of flavors that aims to please rather than shock. “It’s like lemon creamsicle,” says DeFrancesco, “there’s a familiarity.”
Ever since Gemignani helped launch Steap Tea by encouraging DeFrancesco to pop up outside of his North Beach pizzeria in 2014, the two have been looking for an opportunity to collaborate. Several cheese and tea combination experiments never took off — mozzarella pearls in lieu of the traditional tapioca balls kept getting stuck in straws, and ricotta would break apart. Finally, they settled on their own cheese tea, with green tea, Galbani imported Mascarpone, and a blend of lemon and Sicilian sea salt.
“The acidity in the tea was important to balance out the creaminess of the cheese,” Gemignani explains. But most of all — and as the multitude of cheese tea examples might suggest — the combination isn’t some “been there, done that,” one off.
“It’s not an acquired taste,” Gemignani insists. “It’s not like your first Guinness, its not like that at all. For me, it’s just super delicious.”
Starting with the launch party on November 11, Steap Tea Bar (827 Sacramento Street) will serve cheese tea during regular hours: 12 p.m. 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, Saturday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m..