Good things come to those who wait in this long line
For six months I have withstood the urge to join the snaking lines in Beijing's trendy Sanlitun, to become one of the many lining up to sip from the holy grail of all cream teas, or so they think.
Popular Guangdong-based milk tea maker, Hey Tea, opened its doors in the capital in September and from that day and every day forth, there have been seriously long waiting times. Rumor has it that if you wanted a cup of tea or three (three being the maximum order at any one time), you'd be lining up for about the same time as it takes to watch Operation Red Sea (138 minutes).
Hey Tea first opened in 2012 in the city of Jiangmen, Guangdong province. Its specialty? Cold tea topped with a frothy layer of a creamy mousse-like substance which is both sweet and salty. Some call it "cheese", but it clearly isn't.
Since late last year, the brand has spread like a wildfire northwards, its fame fanned by social media posts of the winding lines and frothing bright creamy cups of tea, following it wherever it went－whetting the insatiable appetite of the Weibo generation.
Milk tea is somewhat of a national obsession in China, but this kind of viral marketing is the stuff that money can't buy for any business. Unless of course Hey Tea is actually paying people to line up and post pictures to social media, as some speculate, but I saw no sign of it myself.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, a side economy has emerged in Hey Tea's wake with people touting themselves outside its outlets to line up for you for a little extra on top.
For weeks I walked past the long lines and attempted to ignore the social media buzz. The last time I had to line up for two hours for something was to go on a rollercoaster called "Dinoconda" at an amusement park and I felt like emptying my stomach afterwards.
However, six months on I am finally broken. Curiosity may not have killed the cat in this case, but with all the hype, this cat wants to finally get the cream tea.
So, here I am, standing in wait, one among many captured in the line. We sad souls were drawn in, trapped and enveloped by the all-alluring mystery of the line, like naive insects into the waiting jaws of a Venus' flytrap.
I look around, expecting to see a legion of war-weary faces who've seen it all, and just want to finally make it to the holy land. I am, of course, mistaken. Despite the prospect of propping up a spot in the queue for a potential 120 minutes or more, my fellow line languishers are surprisingly chirpy. One says, "I can't wait to see if it is as good as they say!" Another opines, "It is. I came here last week."
Time ticks on. The wind picks up. It's cold out here in early March with nothing but what is left of your dignity and thirst for company.
Despite the bleak outlook, none abandon their plight. Their resolve remains strong, unflappable, fuelled by the frequent sight of victorious comrades clutching their quarry－tea held aloft (to get the best angle), before the climactic crescendo－a tea-themed selfie.
From what others say, Hey Tea's tea is of a fine quality and it uses all of the ingredients it needs to. The price point is more expensive than most other milk tea brands, but then, do those brands have such a long line? My fellow line-up lads and ladies inform me that the wait and higher price are "totally worth it".
As with any great cuisine there are special ways in which you should consume Hey Tea within polite society.
One must avail themself of the caviar spoon while dining on said delicacy, or employ the multi-pronged cake breaker while serving pudding at parties. At Hey Tea it is recommended to do away with the straw on entry, uncap your cup and dive in lip first, thus encouraging an equal amount of cream and tea to accompany each other down your gullet.
As the line inches closer, orders are taken and numbers are given－this is a well-oiled machine. Excitement levels begin to rise.
I edge closer and closer until I am at the very counter itself－I have reached the peak of the mountain. My big moment has arrived and my palms begin to sweat. This is it. What I have been waiting for all this time. I say my number, "138", in a way that only a true champion can.
And finally, after waiting only 44 minutes (half an episode of Street Dance of China), a thin plastic cup filled with chilled and creamy tea is presented to me like an Olympic medal. I raise it aloft like baby Simba. I have done it. I have defeated the unending line of parchedness to achieve ownership of a rarified cup of Hey Tea. Now I can truly soak in my infused glory for the entire world to see.
I clutch my cup steadfast, pop the lid and raise the tea to my lips and...Snap.