The NZ ingredient that has Chinese tea fans queuing for hours

Heytea
Fans queue for hours. Photo credit: YouTube/Ji Yun Jung

A young Chinese tea entrepreneur has found success by adding an unlikely ingredient to his brews - New Zealand cheese.

Nie Yunchen was only 21, when he opened his first tea shop Royal Tea in Jiangmen, Guangdong in 2012. At first, he had little success, but since rebranding as Hey Tea and introducing the cheese-tea drink, it's become a sensation.

The company, which now has more than 60 stores, reportedly hires security guards to stop people jumping the queues, which can take hours to get through.

Vice reported it took nearly two hours when it visited a branch in Shanghai. One blogger wrote how it took them an hour to make it to the front of the line, only to find there were another 100 orders still in the queue ahead of theirs.

Other reports suggest Mr Yunchen's lack of experience with tea led him to try mixes that other brands wouldn't and combined with a bit of clever marketing, he's found success with cheese. Based on social media research, Mango was something else he tried, but the result "didn't go so well".

"We found that tea and cheese really complemented each other," publicist Xiao Shuqin told Vice. "The cheese neutralises the bitterness of the tea with its smooth and sweet flavour, and as you drink it, you taste the returning sweetness of the tea."

According to tourism site Conde Nast Traveler, the high-quality cheese is imported from New Zealand.

"Tea culture has a long history in China already, but bitterness at the beginning, when people drink it, is off-putting for some younger people," Mr Yunchen said. "We wanted to add a new flavour that young people would like."

Part of the craze has been driven by social media, with photographs of the long queues actually inspiring people to join them, rather than putting people off.

Videos uploaded to YouTube and other sites show queues stretching the lengths of malls and down streets.

But Mr Yunchen hopes the craze settles into something a little more sustainable, before Hey Tea becomes uncool.

"We are not in the business of letting our consumers queue for hours to get our drink," he told Chinese site Shanghai WOW! earlier this year. "Rather, we hope that our products are easily accessible and available, and we are working on reducing queuing time."

Tea was invented in China, despite its strong association nowadays with England.

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