New food: bubble tea

March 30, 2011 at 12:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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At the end of our block there’s a cute little cafe called Oasis Tea Zone. Practically every time I walk by it is absolutely jam packed with young Asian people talking and playing on their cell phones.  Now you might wonder just exactly what kind of tea this place sells to attract such a crowd all the time. Well, the answer is… every kind. Case in point:

The most intimidating menu ever

The most intimidating menu ever

Seriously, this menu is practically designed to make you feel stupid. But stupid in a special kind of way… culturally stupid. I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops in my life, and many of them have had big menus. But at the end of the day those menus were filled with things I could understand. Beverages whose characteristics and names made sense. This menu, however, is filled with odd and mysterious things with names that sound benign — they’re in English, anyway — and yet they give you no clue what you actually might want to order: taro milk tea? Chocolate barley tea? Pudding milk tea? Milk pudding? (What’s the difference?) Or perhaps you’d like to go with something that’s chilled: winter melon tapioca juice? A refreshing coconut greenbean slush? Or maybe an almond snow or a green mungbean shaved ice. And while you stand in the undoubtedly long line waiting to order, you look up at this imposing sign and try to figure out the nagging questions: how is slush different from snow or shaved ice? Is pudding milk tea the same as milk pudding? It says pudding is a topping, too — how does that work?

And as you sit there pondering, you hardly notice that you’re slowly stepping closer and closer to the counter while the Asian teens in front of you quickly order and pay. And then, in one horrifying moment, you notice that you’re next in line with no idea how the menu even works, let alone what to order. The people behind the counter don’t always speak English very well — and with their usual clientele, why should they? — but in just a moment you’re going to be holding up the line and all eyes will be on you. The eyes of multitudes of Asian high schoolers who, in your mind, are perhaps wondering how this white girl strayed so far from the Starbucks around the corner.

Some of these are simple and undaunting

It’s time for evasive action. You abandon your grandiose plans of understanding the menu and which drinks are drinks and which are pudding and which are toppings. You’ll have to find out next time. “Surely,” you think, “there are items on this menu that I can understand.” So you scan down the list until you find something benign: almond milk tea. You like almonds, you like milk (kind of), you like tea. So you tell the friendly proprietors and then wait for them to call your name.

 

And everything’s fine. Nobody laughs, everybody is friendly, and they just treat you like all the rest of the customers. While you’re waiting for your almond milk tea to arrive, you look around at the couches and tables and realize that there are actually a few other people there who aren’t Asian teenagers. And that nobody is looking at you and wondering why you aren’t drinking a venti grande latte half caff macchiato. They’re just having grand old times with their friends and phones.

The tapioca pearls

Anyway, once you get over that stress, the almond milk tea is pretty good. It’s often called “bubble tea” because of the marble-sized tapioca pearls that get dumped into the bottom of the glass. Because they’re so large — and chewy and pretty good, actually — bubble tea is served with a super-wide straw so you can suck them all up into your mouth while you’re drinking it. It’s a little strange the first time — and maybe the second and third — but it’s actually very delightful.

 

This past weekend there was a breakthrough in the unending menu mystery: we went to Oasis with our Chinese friends, Terry and Eva! (As we walked in, Eva whispered “I always feel so old when I come in here!”) I was super excited at the impending understanding and I eagerly told Eva that I had about 300 menu-related questions for her. Happily, during our lengthy stand in line I had many opportunities to find out everything I wanted to know. Also, to my great relief, I learned that things that are green-bean flavored aren’t American green beans. They’re mungbeans, which are apparently quite common in Chinese desserts. When I explained to her that “green bean milk tea” sounded a lot like “broccoli milk tea” to American ears, she thought that was pretty hilarious.

Anyway, keep your eyes open if you’re interested in trying bubble tea. There were places that sold it in both Atlanta and Austin, and it’s probably not too hard to find in other parts of the country as well. (I wouldn’t expect quite such a daunting menu, however. I attribute that to Oasis being in the middle of Chinatown.) Just pick one that’s a flavor you like and you won’t be disappointed. Or, if you want something less sugary, go for the original flavor: “royal” milk tea. It’s far more refreshing than the ones with the chocolate or almond or whatever flavoring added on. And if you’d like to try it but don’t have the wherewithall to try one yourself, just come visit us in Seattle and I will be your bubble tea guide. Because really, it’s very simple.

My delicious royal milk tea with delicious tapioca pearls

 

 

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  1. I love bubble tea, but I stopped getting it after my food-poisoning incident at Veggie Heaven in Austin (from rice, not bubble tea). I can’t remember what flavor I used to order, but they didn’t have that many choices.


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