Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bubble Tea and Beyond

A recent walk revealed the lake to be a foment of activity. Thawing temperatures partially melted the ice which covered the surface of the lake so that strips of flowing water, dotted with floating Canadian geese, alternated with icy patches.

With the rain coming down steadily, E and I drove to Chicago for the day to see my family. It was hairy driving, and I was glad to be fortified with a mug of strong black tea once we arrived at my brother's downtown condo. We then all tumbled into two cars and headed for Chinatown for dinner.

I quickly found the short selection of teas listed on the menu of the restaurant and ordered the
hot version of the cryptically named Hong Kong styled tea. Plumbing the matter a bit with searching questions of our friendly waitress, I gathered that this was bubble tea.

Indeed, mutant sized tapioca pearls occupied the bottom stratum of the large plastic cup containing this milky drink. As I sipped through the equally outsized straw, I detected the familiar childhood orange pekoe flavor from a Lipton tea bag.

Once the novelty of feeling slithering tapioca globules slide down my throat had passed, I turned my attention to the food at hand. Braised tofu, crisp on the exterior and incredibly silky soft on the inside was a delight. It was paired with flavorful shiitake and enoki mushrooms and served with steamed jasmine rice. The bubble tea relegated to the side, I sipped hot tea poured from the communal teapot at our our table.

After exchanging reluctant goodbyes with my family, I hinted to E that I was not ready for our tea-quest to end just yet. By serendipity, we were standing right in front of the Saint Alp's teahouse, a Hong-Kong based chain of teahouses, and E was up to the adventure.

Neon wall colors and grinning statuaries of Hello Kitty greeted us as we were led to our banquette. We found ourselves amidst a sea of Asian American tweens who were hunched over variously colored bubble teas and savory shiny snacks.

Deciding against more bubble teas for myself, I chose a ginger milk black tea and E, its almond counterpart.

Finally, this was a tea that sang: Keemun-tasting black tea seamlessly paired with warm milk that hit the right note of sweetness. But it was the fresh tasting ginger, which tickled my throat pleasantly, that gave the tea its piquancy. I felt myself ready at that point to chuck my tea snobbery regarding blended teas as I sipped this piece of revelation.

Overly caffeinated, yet with my limbs paradoxically languorous from many cups of tea, we drove through the city homeward as the rain continued, unabated.

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