Situated on Dryden between College and Linden is a new tea house, the storefront of which depicts a graduation cap-donning girl with cartoonishly large eyes and foam-mustachioed mouth closed in satisfaction. Not since my miserable middle school weekends at Kumon has a face on a logo so perfectly embodied my experience of the establishment itself. After a couple of stops to U Tea, I have to admit it’s a thrilling new addition to the Collegetown scene and — dare I say it — presents stiff competition for the folks at Kung Fu Tea and Panda Tea Lounge.
When I set foot into U Tea, I was immediately struck by its fresh and neat interior. It’s powder blue walls are mostly bare, save for the occasional floating wood shelf that holds some vases and trinkets. There aren’t any obnoxious close-ups of its drinks, which many places often resort to as an aggressive combination of advertisement and interior design. The furniture is minimalist yet conducive to group gatherings, as there’s plenty of seating for clusters of college students looking to wind down at the end of the school day. In fact, it would seem that students are actually encouraged to stay in the tea house, whether it’s to use the free wifi or play the board games provided at the counter.
U Tea’s menu consists of 30 drinks, which fall under seven different categories. On my first visit, I decided to try one of U Tea’s signature drinks, the cheese uji matcha. At around $6, it’s a little pricier than what you might usually order from other Collegetown tea houses, but trust me, it’s totally worth it. The cheese component of this drink isn’t a solid chunk of parmesan, but rather a thick layer of foam atop a green tea blend. It’s somewhere between the consistency of cream and whipped cream.
This particular construction means that the drink must be consumed in a special way; according to the “tips” sticker affixed to the top of my lid, “Do not use [a] straw immediately[.] Open cup lid and tilt at 45°[.] Simultaneously drink the two layers[.] Try a few more times if unsuccessful[.]” The recommendations are accompanied by a cute illustration of a cup of cheese uji matcha tilted at the aforementioned angle.
To make your experience a little easier, the plastic lid of the cup can actually be opened by bending back half of it. This way, when you tilt and drink, you don’t have to worry about the foam and tea spilling onto your clothing because the rim of the lid will be holding it back. With such incredible attention to detail, U Tea had already impressed me, and I hadn’t even taken a sip yet! I mean, how many places have their own special instructional stickers and user-friendly lids?
After a couple of attempts, I finally managed to drink both layers at the same time, and the result was a delightful blend of flavors. Although the cheese foam didn’t actually taste like cheese, it had a milkiness and saltiness that complemented the sweetness and herbal taste of the matcha. The creamy consistency of the foam with the liquid state of the matcha green tea made for a light and smooth texture. The matcha didn’t feel powdery at all, and it wasn’t overly sweet, which I had worried it might be. My only complaint is that I wish it had come with fewer ice cubes. Overall, I love this combination because it takes four different flavors and brings them together for a party in your mouth.
My second time around I was deciding between the brûlée bubble milk tea and the rose oolong tea “expresso” with milk foam, but I ultimately opted for the latter because I wanted to explore U Tea’s menu by trying something distinct from the cheese uji matcha. Most items on U Tea’s menu actually don’t come with bubbles (or tapioca pearls, as some call them), but according to the cashier I asked, you can request that they be added to almost every drink there.
As someone who drank oolong tea almost every day of her life until college, I wouldn’t consider myself an authority on all things oolong, but I think it’s fair to say that I can appreciate a good cup of oolong and I was hoping that U Tea would deliver — which it did! Although U Tea’s oolong tea is lighter than what I’m used to, it still had that pretty amber color and rich, slightly smoky-and-sweet taste that I will always associate with my childhood.
However, I couldn’t taste anything remotely rose-flavored at all, which was disappointing since it’s the drink’s defining feature. The milk foam, which is thinner than its cheese counterpart, required that I follow the 45° rule. The oolong tea and milk foam were quite good together and felt like a mellower version of the cheese uji matcha — the oolong wasn’t as sweet as the matcha, and the milk foam wasn’t as salty as the cheese foam. For a little over $5, the rose oolong tea was still refreshing, but I wouldn’t order it again.
Between good service, reasonable wait times and a simple and unique menu, U Tea is off to a promising start, and I can’t wait to try the rest of its menu. Time will tell if it’s just a fleeting fad or a Collegetown hotspot in the making, but my hopes are on the latter.
Serves: fruity and milky tea-based drinks
Vibe: nighttime hangout for the caffeine-inclined