Cultured pearls

  • Jennifer Aaby<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 10:04am

The bubble tea craze has hit Edmonds. For many people, the fruit drinks and teas with black, chewy balls that must be sipped through big straws can seem somewhat strange and unusual. But restaurants like Tapioca Express on Highway 99 are inviting all people to give the drinks a try.

Tapioca Express, which opened in the fall, has an extensive menu of flavors and drinks to try (129 total), but its friendly staff can answer all questions and easily explain the different options.

The first decision to make when trying bubble tea is what kind of consistency is desired. Tapioca Express offers milk-based fruit smoothies (similar to milkshakes), juices, flavored milk, milk tea, tea, coffee, jelly juices and Italian sodas. Each drink option comes in a variety of flavors like lemon, passion fruit, mango, caramel, kiwi, red bean and many others. Some of the most popular drinks are the milk tea with tapioca and taro milk tea.

You can order the drinks on their own or you can add one of the many kinds of tapioca or jellies to your drink. Tapioca Express serves not only “boba,” which is another name for the black tapioca pearls, but it also sells white tapioca, coconut jelly, iu jelly, red bean and egg pudding that can be added to drinks. The consistency of the tapioca pearls is similar to that of gummy candy.

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan during the early 1980s. As the story goes, young children would buy tea from small stands outside of school after a long day. To remain competitive with other stands, shops would add flavors to the teas. Eventually, tapioca pearls were added to the drinks, which gave them the appearance of having bubbles, hence the name.

Tapioca pearls vary in ingredients depending on flavors, but they typically have tapioca starch, water, corn starch and natural flavors. At Tapioca Express, they cook the “boba” several times a day to guarantee freshness, manager Ariel Chen said.

A co-worker and I visited Tapioca Express one day during lunchtime, and I decided to try the hot taro milk tea drink. Taro root is a starchy vegetable used in a lot of Chinese desserts and Hawaiian poi. The sweetness combined with warmth was just what I needed to warm up that rainy day. I decided to add “boba” to my drink for an extra 25 cents. My co-worker opted for mango-flavored, iced milk tea with “baby boba,” which are about half the size of regular boba.

Although bubble tea is the specialty of Tapioca Express, it also serves teriyaki entrees and other snacks and side orders. My co-worker and I tried chicken teriyaki and gyoza, although the fried rice and yakisoba were also tempting.

Tapioca Express is a comfortable restaurant with room for more than a dozen customers. Chen said people often come in for coffee and to the read the paper, while others stop by for a bubble tea and use of the restaurant’s free, wireless Internet access.

Whatever your taste buds may draw you toward, there’s a flavor and a drink for everyone to try at Tapioca Express.

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