On May 5 Humphry Slocombe will launch a Whole Foods exclusive flavor that can only be purchased in person at Northern California stores. While on the surface this might not seem like that big of a deal, it’s important to remember that exclusive releases are generally reserved for brands like Ben & Jerry’s at stores like Walmart and Target; and this merging of a smaller craft ice cream brand with Whole Foods is a significant leap for the gourmet company. The flavor, Hong Kong Milk Tea, is inspired by the sweet caffeinated beverage that keeps Hong Kong (and the bay area) hustling. The ice cream is a fusion of Numi organic tea, sweetened condensed milk, and almond cookies, and arrives as the creamy brain-child of Slocombe’s Jake Godby and Whole Foods Market Chef Ambassador Melissa King. The awesome folks at Humphry Slocombe sent over a pint so I could get an advance tasting of their latest creation and I’m eager to scoop into it.
When I think of milk tea I think of boba tea, and imagine a syrupy sweet beverage with chewy tapioca balls and silly colored wide straws. I know that that type drink is much newer and less traditional than the Hong Kong variety, but I have more experience with it, and luckily this ice cream is almost nothing like that. The sweetness is incredibly subdued, with a wonderful melty mouthfeel and smooth malty black tea finish that is genuine and refined. The flavor of the Numi tea coats my tongue with the dairy and tastes like a perfectly steeped cup of tea with a generous helping of sweetened condensed milk.
The most impressive aspect of this great tea base is the lingering aftertaste, which even after a minute or more of not eating has left a nice sharp tea flavor that is pleasant and not bitter in the least. This is a perfect frozen rendition of a drink usually served warm and preserves all the tannin-y nuances of tea balanced out by repeated licking sweetness.
The almond cookies in place of tapioca balls (in my boba-mind) also elevate this to a more “adult” version of the milky beverage, adding small bursts of almond-y chew that add just a touch more sweetness but not too much additional flavor. The cookies remind me more of softened, soggy cereal in milk than they do snappy cookies, and I wish the pieces were bigger and/or caramelized in the way that HS does in their fantastic flagship flavor Secret Breakfast. As the lone mix in I don’t get a ton of crunch or almond taste from the cookies, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity considering how simple and delicate the base is. The idea makes sense, having an almond cookie with a cup of milk tea, there just needs to be something else done to make it all really click.
Full disclosure: I’m not the biggest fan of tea-based ice cream, or coffee for that matter. I like drinking my coffee and tea straight and my ice cream to be caramel-y and chocolate-y and salty sweet peanut butter pretzel-y intense. That being said, if you like tea in your ice cream bases (like my girlfriend), you will undoubtedly love this pint. It has a tremendous balance of flavor that captures the simple magic of Hong Kong milk tea.
If you’re in the bay area and want to sample Hong Kong Milk Tea, they will be giving away free scoops at a public preview on April 29 from 12 PM to 3 PM at Whole Foods Market Oakland, where there will also be $1 off pint coupons, Numi tea samples, a lion dancer, and tons of happy ice cream enthusiasts.