Monday, February 18, 2008

Talking in the Tearoom - Bubble Tea

Each weekend, several people stop in the shop and ask me "What's Bubble Tea?". Each weekend, I also have regulars who travel to the warehouse for their weekly bubble tea, and also new people who find The Good Leaf because they are searching for bubble tea. The bottom line is that there is always lots of talking in the tearoom about bubble tea. Today, I'll do the talking and answer the question, "What is Bubble Tea?". I'll also describe my approach to a healthier, and I believe, tastier bubble tea.

To keep it brief, bubble tea is a frothy, sweetened iced tea drink with chewy tapioca balls or fruit jellys at the bottom of the cup. Many people think that it's called bubble tea because the tapioca pearls are shaped like bubbles, but actually the bubbles refer to the generally "bubbliness" of the shaken drink. I admit, it sounds strange, but it's really delicious. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, and bubble tea shops began popping up in the USA (at first in Chinatown areas) in the late 1990s. Today, in major cities, especially in California, bubble tea shops are common.

Traditionally, bubble tea is made with tea, fruit juice or other sweetener, sometimes creamer, and of course, texture. Large black tapioca pearls known as boba (I'll tell you the origin of that term if you ask) are most often the textural component of bubble tea, but many shops offer alternatives including lichee or coconut jelly. At The Good Leaf, we use coconut jelly cubes for texture in our bubble teas and they are really tasty.

Aside from a sweet and tasty drink, the fun of bubble tea comes from the "big straw". In order to suck up the chewy treats at the bottom of the cup, you need a wide mouthed straw. When people take their first sip of bubble tea, they often look surprised, then curious. Then they smile.

In my travels, I have noticed that many bubble tea cafes use powdered mixes to make their bubble teas. I have to admit, they do taste pretty good. When I was preparing to open the tea bar, I ordered some of these mixes and was really unhappy to find a long list of chemicals including loads of high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats. We are not supposed to eat that! A bubble tea made with these mixes is awfully bad for you, and very fattening too. What's more, the bubble tea recipes that accompanied the mixes often noted that tea is an optional ingredient in bubble tea.

I couldn't deal with it. I'm went into the tea business to offer health and well-being to my customers and deliver it deliciously. Even if the powdered bubble tea mixes taste good, how could I sell a drink I wouldn't be willing to drink myself. I solved this problem by developing my own bubble tea recipes. I don't use any mixes, and all of my bubble teas actually include TEA! They're much lower calorie, free of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup, don't taste like chemicals (something I've occasionally noticed in bubble teas from mixes), and they're really good.
I don't offer some of the flavors often available in Chinatown shops like Taro (it's purple and I don't know why that is), but I do offer some traditional flavors such as Almond Milk Bubble Tea, as well as new combinations I'm constantly creating, such as Caramel Cream, Cherry Vanilla and Berry White. I also encourage my customers to design their own bubble tea combos if they want to.

I invite you to stop by and try a bubble tea at The Good Leaf.

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