An airy wave of cold foam drinks drifted into Vancouver this summer. Some spots offer a couple of carefully calibrated options, while others serve a free-for-all of customized whipped dairy and non-dairy milks to cover whatever suits your fancy.
First, a bit of background. Around 2010, cheese foam — a whisked cloud of milk and cream sprinkled with salt layered over cold tea — became popular in the night market stands of Taiwan. The trend spread to China and other parts of Asia such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
The term “cheese tea” didn’t appeal to cold-drink lovers in the United States. People in the U.S., unfamiliar with the Asian trend, envisioned tea drinks smothered with melted cheddar or coffee sprinkled with Roquefort.
Starbucks used the term “cold foam” to describe a frothed cloud of non-fat milk layered over its cold-brew coffee when introducing this drink at its roastery in 2014. Four years later, the company successfully launched these cold, creamy drinks throughout the country.
The traditional way to drink cheese foam is to keep the foam separate from the underlying drink. Popular chains like Happy Lemon, which has locations in Portland’s western suburbs, serve the drink in cups with a small hole and recommend tilting the cup 45 degrees to let the sweet and salty foam hit your lips before the tea flows through to mix with the cream.
These special cups aren’t prevalent in Vancouver, so to follow this method, drinkers need to be creative. I admit to sipping my cold-foam drink through a straw due to lack of proper cups and my unwillingness to rig something up to imbibe in the traditional manner. It still tastes fine.
Here are three local shops serving these trendy, foamy drinks.
817 Washington St., Vancouver; 888-723-2007
Andrew Chumbley, specialty program director at Compass Coffee Roasters, added foam drinks to the seasonal menu last year when he noticed this concept at other coffee chains. Disappointed with the cold foam offered at those businesses because it seeped into the coffee drink below, Chumbley was determined to create a thick foam that stayed intact over the coffee or tea below. He developed a recipe using flavored heavy cream frothed to order with a high-powered hand frother. Cold foam was so popular that a drink topped with pumpkin foam appeared on the fall seasonal menu.
Compass Coffee’s seasonal drink menu includes two foam drinks: a salty cream-top Americano with housemade vanilla syrup and coarse flake salt ($6.50) and an agave cream-top matcha in which the foam is enhanced with blue agave syrup ($7). I highly recommend both.
The Americano has just a touch of salt that complements the coffee. The matcha is topped with a slightly sweetened cold foam that pairs well with the subtle floral flavor of the tea.
Compass uses Mizuba matcha green tea, a well-balanced powdered tea that isn’t grassy or bitter.
2004 S.E. 192nd Ave., Vancouver; 360-314-6569
Sadly, Di Tazza Bakery and Cafe is permanently closed. Owner Dana Carpenter plans on opening a new spot for indoor dining next year. In the meantime, the drive-thru across the street still offers a wide variety of drinks and pastries, as well as endless foam possibilities.
Di Tazza’s cold foam is made by frothing whipping cream. It’s made to order for freshness. Customers can add flavors like chocolate, salted caramel, lavender, honey, white chocolate, strawberry or raspberry to pour over their drink. You can also get vegan foam made with oat milk. Cold foam can be layered over any cold drink, including Americanos and lattes.
Recently, Di Tazza offered a caramel cheesecake drink — 9 Bar Espresso cold brew topped with a salted caramel syrup cold foam (priced from $4.07 to $5.10 after tax).
1125 S.E. 163rd Place, Vancouver; 360-314-6542
Since opening in Taiwan in 2007, Ding Tea has expanded to more than 1,000 locations worldwide. The closest Ding Tea shops are in east Vancouver and north Portland.
These franchises have different owners, so they vary in decor and menu items, but each has advantages. I slightly prefer the Portland location (4225 N. Williams Ave.) because it has an interesting secret menu that’s not so secret: It’s posted on a sign by the register.
I’ve had a Cap’n Crunch drink featuring taro milk and a strawberry shortcake drink that is the best thing I’ve ever sipped through a straw. In addition, the Williams Avenue location has a variety of cute boutiques, eateries (like XLB), bakeries (like JinJu Patisserie and Dos Hermanos) and a wishing tree. The Vancouver location is wedged in a strip mall with Little Caesars next to Regal Cinemas.
Both locations offer cheese foam and sea foam. The cheese foam is thicker than the sea foam. On a recent visit, I noticed that the Vancouver location also offers a tiramisu foam that has chocolate syrup in it and tastes like the famous Italian dessert. I ordered strawberry milk tea ($4.95) with sea foam (add 75 cents) at Ding Tea in Vancouver to create a strawberry-shortcake-flavored drink.
Future of foam
Will pumpkin-spice lattes elbow aside cold foam drinks as we head into fall? We’ll see as the days grow shorter and cooler. I’m betting there will be some diehards who enjoy sipping cold drinks on a winter day, just as many crave an ice cream cone in December.
Chumbley at Compass Coffee hinted that a Christmas-inspired cold foam may land on the end-of-the-year seasonal menu if there’s enough customer support for a Yuletide foam.
Rachel Pinsky: email@example.com