My friends and I were arguing the other day over what "Taiwanese" food really was. One person tried to suggest typical Taiwanese breakfast items such as sweet soybean milk with deep fried crullers, but then another person (who's from China) said that these types of dishes were all over China. Another tried suggesting shaved ice, but the Chinese friend again pointed out that you could find shaved ice all over China as well. Finally, there was only on thing that everyone unanimously agreed was totally Taiwanese.
Boba Tea. (also called bubble tea, tapioca milk tea, pearl milk tea)
Boba tea was invented in Taiwan in the 1980's and has since gained in popularity, first throughout Asia and now throughout the world. Boba tea is a tea drink that typically consists of sweetened tea, milk, and chewy tapioca balls. The balls come in different sizes, but the classic Pearl Milk Tea usually has the bigger balls (about the size of a large blueberry). The drink comes with its own special over-sized straw, through which you simultaneously slurp tea and tapioca balls.
Boba tea connoisseurs typically consider two things when judging tea: excellent tea flavor (brewed tea is typically better than reconstituted powdered tea); and good boba consistency (soft and chewy with a bit of resistance, otherwise known as "Q" in Taiwanese). The boba chewiness factor can make or break a tea drink.
Two months ago, Leisure Station, a franchise of Easy Way in Taiwan, opened its first tea shop on the East Coast. Lucky for me, it opened right in Kendall Square, a mere T-stop away from my workplace!
I had a chance to visit this place last Wednesday.
Ken Huang, MIT alum, is the entrepreneur behind this new franchise in Boston. He's thought up some pretty cool ideas that makes this place different from most places. The place has free Wi-Fi, the ability to take orders via the internet or text message, a karaoke machine, and delivery via a Smart Car.
Furthermore, the tea menu is HUGE! Of course they have the most popular drinks such as Pearl Milk Tea, Pearl Green Tea, Thai Iced Tea, and Coffee Milk Tea. However, they also have a bunch of more exotic flavors, such as Jasmine Milk Tea, Lavender Milk Tea, Honey Citron Tea, and Winter Gourd Milk Tea.
I attended an Open House of sorts and had a chance to try several different items from the menu. Their philosophy really is the concept of custom-made drinks. You can customize your drink whichever way you want. Once you choose a tea, you then choose a sweetness level, a "topping," and a creamer (e.g., soy milk, skim milk, whole milk, etc). Of course you can mix and match at your whim.
I decided to try both the honey green tea and a mango milkshake. I loved the mango milk shake. They use fresh fruits for most of their fruit shakes, so the flavors are really genuine. This shake was just the right level of sweetness (i.e. not to sweet!) and had a nice, fresh mango flavor. The honey green tea was pretty good, although a bit too sweet for me. Thankfully, all drinks are made to order, so I could always ask them to add less honey, or no sugar at all if that's what I wanted.
There are a myriad of toppings from which to choose. Of course, you can add boba, but you don't have to. You can also choose other toppings such as grass jelly, egg pudding, lychee jelly, wheat germ, and aloe vera (just to name a few!). I tried egg custard, lychee, and aloe vera, and I liked all three.
What would a Boba Connoisseur Say?
At a minimum, a picky boba drinker would evaluate the quality of tea and the texture of the pearls (i.e. the tapioca balls). All of the teas at Leisure Station are freshly brewed. No powdered teas here! Only a few drinks, such as the taro milk tea, are made from re-constituted powders. I thought the teas were quite good. I especially liked the honey citron tea, but even the green tea was pretty good, albeit a bit sweeter than I would have liked.
The pearls are made every two hours. They wouldn't tell us the exact secret recipe (something about lightly coating the pearls with brown sugar), but they assured us that the pearls were freshly made throughout the day. I personally thought the pearls could have had more "Q" or bite to them. They were a bit mushier than I would have liked. Nevertheless, they were tasty, slightly sweet, and still enjoyable to slurp through that over-sized straw!
Leisure Station recently started selling a few food items. Ken Huang had this crazy creative idea of taking all sorts of non-traditional ingredients and sticking them into a Maki roll! He calls them "Fusion Rolls." They even have a "Hot Dog Maki" and a "Hamburger Maki"! Imagine, a maki roll filled with ground beef, ketchup, lettuce, and pickles. Bizarre?
We were able to try two different rolls. Pictured above is the Thai Roll, which has shrimp, carrots, corn, cucumber, and a sweet peanut sauce. Pictured below is the Tuna roll, which has much more traditional sushi ingredients such as cooked tuna, egg, avocado, and spicy mayo.
The rolls are huge. I had trouble fitting it in my mouth!
Flavor-wise, I thought they were fine, though nothing exciting. They taste like something I could easily whip up at home. They're fine for a healthy lunch, but at $10.99 (even if it includes a Boba drink and a side salad), it doesn't quite feel worth it. I would rather buy the tea here and get more traditional sushi elsewhere. Having said that, I did not get to try some of the weirder ones, (hot dog anyone?) and maybe those are actually really good.
So that's where this Giveaway comes in. Ken was kind enough to offer a $15 Gift Certificate to Leisure Station so that one of you can try it for yourself and decide. You can spend the $15 any way you want. Try a sandwich, or get a bunch of drinks for your friends.
To enter this Giveaway, please comment and tell me one of the following:
1. Your favorite sushi maki roll ingredients or
2. A wild and crazy roll you want to see Ken make at Leisure Station
You can answer both questions (as separate comments) for two chances to win.
Winner gets the $15 gift card to spend at Leisure Station. Good luck!
625 West Kendall Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
Disclaimer: Time to time I receive free products from vendors to review. I do not receive any payment for these posts/reviews. The views expressed in the posts are completely my own. For this post, I was given a chance to attend an Open House sponsored by Leisure Station, which included samples of all the food and drinks mentioned in today's post.
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