A major gripe amongst my Asian friends and me is the lack of bubble tea shops in Dallas. When the trend hit fever pitch a few years ago in other major cities, I figured it was only a matter of time before Dallas jumped in on the craze. Unfortunately for us, the drink never caught on like other sweet fads such as cupcakes and fro-yo. On the other hand, I'm grateful to see that it never went through a Starbucksification like I feared it might. Whenever I need my bubble tea fix, I have to drive a bit out of my way to an Asian neighborhood or to a Fat Straws. Or I could get lucky, like I did last week.
Not having had bubble tea for a while, imagine my delight when I not only once, but twice, found myself in front of a bubble tea shop after lunching with friends. Bubble tea, aka boba tea or pearl tea, is a drink indigenous to Taiwan. Originally a drink with only tea, milk or cream, and tapioca "boba" balls, the drink has expanded into including smoothies, slushies, coffees, and a cornucopia of exotic flavors. The many different varieties of the drink are due in part to its spread in popularity throughout Asia, with each culture adding its own twist.
After dining at the disappointing I Luv Pho last week, my friend and I spotted a sign, Cafe Boba Shop, in the same Irving shopping strip as the restaurant. Walking in, I saw that the shop was a simple bare-bones operation, without the same mod furnishings and plasma TVs in trendier bubble tea establishments. Behind the counter, working alone, was a tiny middle-aged Chinese woman. After sparking up a conversation, she revealed an obvious pride in her craft, as she proclaimed that she had been serving bubble tea for close to two decades. Even with something as seemingly simplistic as bubble tea, however, the proof is in the drink. There are a million ways to screw up the beverage: artificial taste, chalky or icy texture, and undercooked or overcooked tapioca bubbles are just a few examples. Café Boba Shop showed no sign of these common mistakes.
I stuck to one of my two regular choices, a taro-flavored slushie. My friend ordered a strawberry yogurt icy, as I watched skeptically. My skepticism was proven wrong when I tried her drink. The strawberry yogurt icy was smooth, creamy, and tasted of fresh strawberries, not at all like the grainy and artificial mess I expected. A hint of tartness added a refreshing quality to the drink. My taro slushie, despite being made with only a powder mix, water, and ice, was surprisingly not too sweet and quite light. The delicate and airy tapioca balls were skillfully mastered and exuded the proprietor's 20 years of boba-cooking experience.
A few days later, I found myself at another boba shop after lunching in Richardson. Not having visited the Richardson location First Chinese BBQ for some time (my Richardson treks usually are Jeng-Chi, May's, or are dim sum-oriented), I was pleasantly surprised to find a bubble tea shop, Boba Latte, next door to the restaurant.
The small store was packed on the Saturday afternoon that we visited, and I took that as a good sign of things to come. The store is quaintly cute and was filled with young Asians, striking a balance of traditional Chinese boba shop and hip hang out. I immediately fell in love with their drink menu, which listed several options from which to choose. I fell even more in love when I discovered they offered skim milk for their smoothies, and that I could tailor the drink's sweetness level to my taste. Between powder mixes, added sugars, and syrups, a recurring problem with many boba drinks is the cavity-inducing level of its sweetness.
While the boyfriend opted for a taro smoothie, I decided to try the red bean slushie. I am a huge fan of red bean desserts, and not every bubble tea shop offers the red bean flavored beverages. Seeing as how I was in Chinatown, I wanted to take full advantage of the fact that Boba Latte offered the red bean drink on their menu.
The boyfriend's taro smoothie was a creamy success. Made with whole milk, ice, and taro-flavored mixed powder, it tasted like a milkshake without being too sweet or artificial-tasting. Sadly, I couldn't say the same about my red bean slushie. It wasn't the most terrible version I have ever had, but it was disappointing. Slushies are made without any milk, and the dairy component was missed. While the slushie contains actual azuki beans, without some creaminess to round it out, the drink was too sweet and delivered an unappealingly grainy and artificial aftertaste.
The red bean lapse doesn't mean I won't be returning ever again. After all, the taro smoothie was delicious, and there are so many more flavors to try. Although, seeing as how far I'd have to drive for some boba, I'm hoping this isn't a sign of inconsistency. The abundant amount of tapioca pearls Boba Latte put in our drinks is another reason to return. They are extremely generous with their divinely chewy pearls, which is something I can't say about every bubble tea shop. As my boyfriend so poetically described it, "It's like a machine gun going off in my mouth." Maybe I should let him write sometime.
8350 N. MacArthur Blvd, Ste. 170
115 S. Greenville Ave., Suite 112