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The New Cold Concoction
BY MM PACK
August 17, 2001
I think it's safe to say that cold tea has finally come into its own. While those of us in the southern United States have known forever that nothing beats the heat quite like iced tea with lemon, mint, and sugar, the concept is relatively new to the rest of the world. Just a few years ago, club denizens on the Spanish beach playgrounds of the Costa del Sol were smugly toasting themselves with an exotic new libation: iced tea. This very July, The New York Times reported on a cutting-edge craze in Paris -- glacé parfumé -- iced tea flavored with fruit or flower syrups.
The most interesting variation of iced tea around, however, must be Asian bubble tea, aka black pearl tea, boba, milk tea, zhen zhu nai cha, pearl shake, jelly tea, and QQ (Chinese slang for chewy).
With folk roots in Taiwan, bubble tea drinks spread to Hong Kong a couple of decades ago, and from there to Japan, the Philippines, and the Asian communities on the west coast of the United States and Canada. These days, you can find bubble tea houses in any large U.S. city with Asian populations, and around college campuses across the country. Austin, always dancing on the bleeding edge of trendiness, is no exception.
The variations of bubble tea combinations are vast -- they can be composed of black or green teas, crushed ice, and fruit, flower, or vegetable infusions, such as strawberry, pineapple, black cherry, ginger, lavender, rose, hibiscus, or green bean. The richer, usually sweeter, dessert-like "milk" teas incorporate coconut, peanut, or almond milk, or even ice cream.
"Bubble" refers to the foam created by shaking freshly brewed tea with ice. (Like a classic martini, quality bubble tea must be shaken, not stirred.) "Pearl" refers to the dark, marble-sized tapioca (sago) balls found in the bottom of the glass, meant to be sucked up through an oversized straw. Words cannot describe that first sensation of those viscous pearls coolly slipping into your mouth along with the flavors of tea and fruit. A variation is "jelly," which refers to translucent, chewy, usually fruit-flavored gelatin cubes used instead of pearls in teas. (Don't think Gummi bears; jelly is much softer and more subtle than that.) The art of bubble tea lies in designing the flavor combinations and, believe me, you can have it your way.
So, the next time you feel in need of refreshment on a sizzling Austin summer day, consider bubble tea at one of the following locations. Subtly complex flavors, beautiful colors, interesting variations in texture and mouth feel -- iced tea never had so much fun.