“Mom, I love it when Mr. Lee makes my drinks,” Sophie said, scanning the receipt, “He always gives me extra balls and doesn’t even charge me!”
My daughter, Sophie, had recently discovered bubble tea. As a result, we were quickly developing an afternoon routine of driving over to Fortune Noodle House in the Renton Highlands where I waited in the car as she rushed inside.
Four minutes later, she would return with a huge smile and some new bubble-tea flavor combination.
I didn’t get this new obsession. Hadn’t bubble tea been around forever? I had tried it once and assumed that the “bubble” part of the tea was effervescent, not chewy balls, a nearly fatal mistake.
OK, I’m being dramatic. But I never went back for bubble tea. There was something about drinking and chewing that didn’t feel right.
Besides, I’m a coffee drinker, and if I’m honest, a snobby one. There is nothing like a great cup of Joe in the morning!
“Mom, I love swirling the tapioca balls on the bottom with the straw. It’s best when the tapioca is really soft and squishy,” my daughter said. “You have to taste this because the balls are perfectly soft today!
“I like to take a sip of the creamy, sweet milk tea and then crush the tapioca between my teeth, like this,” she said as she showed me how to macerate these sticky looking black balls between her teeth.
I’ll admit, as a food writer, the experience of watching her suck those balls through the oversized straw and then describe the experience in minute pleasurable detail was a little surreal: like watching someone else eat the most incredible meal you are supposed to be reviewing!
It was a hot day and as I looked from my watery-looking iced Americano to Sophie’s beaming face, I realized I was in a bit of a rut when it came to summer drinks. I’ve cut down on my dairy consumption, so these days the most exciting nonalcoholic beverage in the summertime is transitioning from my morning hot Americano to an iced Americano.
Suddenly, the idea of attaining a thimble full of Sophie’s new-found Nirvana over this iced tea beverage made me want to give it another go.
Fortunately, Mr. Lee (the generous bubble giver) from the Fortune Noodle House was happy to have his longtime employee, Mi Tran, show us.
According to Mi Tran, the Bubble Tea aficionado, bubble tea was originally a Taiwanese drink with soft, sweetened chewy black tapioca pearls or (boba).
Sophie and I watched as Mi compose a traditional bubble tea: In the familiar large plastic domed cup, start off spooning roughly four tablespoons of the “black balls” (an instant type of tapioca cooked in boiling water for five minutes). Once chewy, but not mushy, the “boba” is mixed with a prepared simple syrup mixture (equal parts brown or white sugar and boiling water) for a slightly sweet flavoring.
Add a few spoonfuls of condensed milk, along with regular milk, pour in a concentrated cold black tea and fill with ice. The last bit of fun is popping in one of those fat straws and you’re good to go!
Over the years, sweetened black milk tea has given way to all different types of flavors and additives of fresh fruit and blended, tea-like frozen drinks.
Mi Tran also prepared for us a fresh mango-blended slushy tea with a splash of lemonade, as well as a sweetened taro root flavored slushy with a mix of “boba” and a jellied lychee fruit — a spiny red tree fruit native to China with a delicate, white, kiwi-textured fruit on the inside.
Different bubble tea shops around town have different recipes and options.
And if you want to immerse yourself in the bubble-tea experience, as Sophie and I did, check out a little nook inside the Renton Village Uwajimaya called Oasis. Here’s the website http://oasisteazone.com/bubbletea.html
According to I-Miun Liu, owner of Oasis, what started off three years ago as a weekend stand at the Renton Uwajimaya quickly morphed into a seven-days-per-week operation.
Oasis is family owned and includes the original 3,000-square-foot, full restaurant location in Seattle’s International District, a University Village location, a kiosk at the Bellevue Uwajimaya as well as a halfway completed build-out on Capitol Hill.
“Our family has a history of owning small businesses. Almost 15 years ago we opened our first bubble tea shop in China Town when bubble tea in the Pacific Northwest was just starting off,” Liu said.
Over the past five years Oasis has experienced its fastest growth. This summer we can look forward to an expansion at the Renton Uwajimaya location, with outside seating, extended business hours, as well as some specialty foods items like traditional popcorn chicken and of course, bubble tea!
“We’ve been really successful in this diverse region because people are willing to try something new,” Liu said.
The original Oasis shop had late hours, a high energy and appealed to all ages and ethnicities.
“That’s what I love most about bubble tea, it’s not a serious type of drink. It’s a fun drink. We’ve jazzed up the original to include recipes that appeal to diverse cultures: tourists, age ranges, ethnicities, and families. Each store has its own energy and menu item favorites,” Liu said.
There are many options in bubble tea which is a little intimidating at first order, which is why Oasis has a great tutorial about options. There are choices for vegans, lactose intolerant, caffeine free and even without the “boba.”
Which is why I simply deferred and ordered the most popular non-dairy drink. And for someone who hadn’t had a milkshake in a while, it was a delicious, refreshing and fun choice that had both a creamy and slushy texture.
“You were right, Sophie,” I said, slurping up a few tapioca balls and gnashing them between my teeth for effect.
But Sophie was already off, grabbing a shopping cart and cruising down the aisle at Uwajimaya, hopping with excitement on our next adventure: procuring ingredients to make bubble tea at home.
My first love will always be coffee, but having another option this summer on those hot days when you’re looking for a little treat, something refreshing and definitely fun.