April 14, 2010
Pearls of tea wisdom

As a follow-up to the snacks article, and as a welcome back to the blog, I think it’s time to introduce the wonders of tea in Taiwan, and in particular the wonders of a Taiwanese specialty “jen ju nai cha”, or pearl milk tea (also known as bubble tea).

You will find pearl milk tea everywhere in Taiwan, in fact there is a tea shop/stall on virtually every street. It has even made it overseas, and if you follow a certain American celebrity chef/author/carnivore supreme, you will have seen him try one variety on his TV series (and enjoying it too).

So what’s in this omnipresent drink? Basically it is made from black tea, milk, sugar and tapioca balls. These balls look like pearls (albeit black ones) hence the name. Large-bore straws are provided and with a bit of extra suction you are on your way. When you first try them, it can be a bit disconcerting, and pearl milk tea in general can take some getting used to. However, after a couple of tries you will be hooked.

This kind of tea is usually served cold, and comes in a dazzling array of varieties. The aforementioned TV celeb tried a taro version for example, but I would start with the standard version.

You will probably also be given a load of options for how you like it when you order as well. It’s a bit like ordering breakfast at an American diner (something that took me by surprise on my first trip to California – there aren’t that many choices in England!) The standard options are what size of cup, how sweet you want it, how much ice, and whether you want big or small pearls. I recommend trying a small one first with medium everything and the bigger pearls. It is almost a meal in itself and it can sit a little heavy in the stomach if you drink too much.

The places that sell this kind of tea will almost certainly sell other kinds of tea as well (and plenty of non-milk based options). I am a great fan of green tea, and there are many combinations available. A favorite of mine is lemon green tea, which is incredibly refreshing. You can also ask to add pearls which might sound odd, but the sweetness of the pearls and sourness of the lemon (depending on how much sugar you add) works really well.

Grapefruit green tea is also fairly popular and comes highly recommended. Or just plain ice green tea of course, although you can get this at any convenience store.

As we head into the warmer months, I highly recommend you give this kind of tea a shot. It will be (around) US$1 well spent!


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