Monday, June 26, 2017

A Tale of Two Taro Teas from Sharetea

Sharetea is a bubble tea chain that originated in Taiwan in the early '90s.  Since then, they have expanded internationally, now with more than 450 stores.  In San Francisco, they have at least 3 locations that I know of (the Metreon, Westfield mall, and Geary).

My visits were all to the Metreon location.  I tried two taro creations, since, I kinda have a thing for taro.

The Menu

The menu at Sharetea, like most bubble tea shops, is broken down into Milk Tea, Ice Blended, Fresh Milk, Fruit Tea, Creama, and simple Brewed Tea.  They show their top 20 prominently around the space, to help guide you in decision making.

All the standard offerings are available, black, green, and oolong tea for the base, fruity flavors like mango, kiwi, passion fruit, strawberry, and more.  The toppings/mix-ins selection is extensive, with all the classics and then some: pearls (mini, large, mixed), jellies (ice, lychee, rainbow), aloe vera, pudding, taro chunks, red bean, and even ice cream.  They also have a few items more accessible to those who have never had bubble tea, like an Oreo or Coffee blended drink (which, to be fair, I actually really liked my Oreo smoothie at Home Plate Boba).  You can customize your level of sweetness and amount of ice.

My favorite menu item, just from the name, is the "QQ Happy Family Milk Tea", loaded with pearls, grass jelly, pudding, aloe, and red bean.  What is QQ?  Who is the Happy Family?  Don't ask me.

The Space

The Storefront.
The Sharetea I visited is located inside the Metreon, alongside several other establishments.

Every time I've walked by, the place is bustling.  The ordering setup is efficient though, with a clear space to line up, order at the register, pay, get your number, and then wait on the side.  Orders are called out on the far side, by number, with a display showing which order number they are on (just like at the deli!)

Behind the counter is the drink processing station, with staff working quite efficiently.  Everything is laid out and just quickly assembled to order.  The space isn't large, but, they use it well.

Sharetea is also on OrderAhead (or, was, OrderAhead just shut down), so I was able to skip the line and order from the app before I arrived.  However, the soonest ASAP option was 25 minutes, not quite what I was hoping for.  For OrderAhead, they call your name rather than number.

There is no seating dedicated to Sharetea, but there is general food court seating, along with plentiful outdoor space in Yerba Buena Gardens just outside the door.

Drinks

Taro Ice Blended with Pudding. $6.85.
For my first drink, I skipped past standard bubble tea, as it was a crazy hot day out, and I wanted something more like a milkshake.  This desire lead me to the "Ice Blended" section of the menu, where I had a few options.  For me though, the choice was clear: taro!  I'm a huge fan of taro (real and powdered), so this was a no brainer.  I was much like a "Slush" from Quickly, which of course I've had before, or the fantastic taro smoothie from Miss Saigon.

Interestingly, the drink comes pre-defined with pudding as the mix-in.  I could add on another mix-in, or perhaps sub it out (although that wasn't an option anywhere I saw), so, I stuck with that suggestion.  I was leaning towards red bean, but, hey, if they put this on the menu as a standard drink, why not?

I opted for 50% sweetness, knowing how crazy sweet these drinks tend to be.  Besides that, I stuck with the defaults.

I'm not entirely sure what was in this drink.  I assume it was taro powder, and non-dairy creamer, plus ice and the puddings?  Some of the ice blended drinks say they have ice cream in them, this one did not list it, so, I think it did not have ice cream?  But I'm not sure.

Anyway, my drink was good.  It was perfectly blended, no ice chunks, no separation.  The taro flavor was also good, although I'm pretty sure this drink uses the powder.  It was a lovely shade of fake purple.  50% sweet was definitely a good choice, as it was still pretty sweet, and I'd actually lean towards only 30% for next time.  I can't imagine this at 100%!

The puddings were interesting.  Basically, big chunks of ... custard pudding, like flan, crème brûlée, or any other custard pudding.  They added a very smooth texture and additional sweetness.  They sucked up easily in the straw.  You'd think I'd love these, as I love pudding, and I like having texture, but, I got pretty sick of the puddings.  Ojan however loved them.  Next time, I'd try something else, like the red bean I originally wanted ...

So, overall, definitely good and I'd get another.  I'd likely tone down the sweetness more and try a different mix in.  Also, the $6.85 price really does seem kinda high for powder and ice thrown into a blender.
Warm Fresh Taro Milk Tea with Red Bean. $5.00.
Next, I went for a hot beverage.  I've only had a hot beverage once before from a bubble tea place, when I got a hot taro milk tea at Chai-Yo, which wasn't very successful.

It was a cold day, and I wanted a hot drink to warm me up.  In the OrderAhead app, there was a section for "Hot Drinks".  It contained one item: fresh taro milk tea.  Since I love taro, this sounded good to me.

Side note: I later learned that many other drinks, listed in the other sections, are available warm too, that is just one of the customizations you can apply, just like sweetness level, ice level, etc.  For my selection however, I didn't have any customizations available, besides add-ins.  No way to specify sweetness, which concerned me slightly.  I did opt for an add in, and randomly went with red bean, since the others all seemed like they'd be strange in a warm drink and I was sorta trying to be responsible and add some protein instead of just sweet jellies.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what this drink was.  It isn't actually listed anywhere on the menu at Sharetea itself, which I found very strange.  "Taro pearl milk tea" is a drink, available warm or iced, but that is the style where you specify sweetness, and, I believe is made with black tea.  "Handmade taro with fresh milk" is also an option, iced only, but it too lets you specify sweetness, and costs $1 more.

So what was this?  Was it the warm version of the "taro pearl milk tea", sans pearls, and with default sweetness?  I'm really not sure.  It did kinda taste like it had black tea in it (whoops! I didn't want caffeine!), but, I also thought that the taro milk tea used powder, not real taro, and, this sure seemed to be real taro, aka, it wasn't bright purple and had big chunks of taro in it.  More on that soon.  Was it a warm version of the  'handmade taro with fresh milk", just, cheaper and without letting me say how sweet?  Maybe?

My drink came in a opaque paper cup, unlike the cold beverages that come in clear plastic, revealing their color and mix-ins.  And since the top was sealed like a bubble tea, I had no idea what was inside, which added to the mystery of what on earth I was getting.  It was also interesting in temperature.  The cup was sorta hot on top, but, cold on bottom?
Taro and red beans!
So, how was my mystery creation?

A mixed bag.

I think that the milk was warmed up, but, the mix-ins were cold, which cooled the whole thing down.  So, it was lukewarm from the moment I got it, and it got colder quickly, given that the base was cold to the touch.  Doh.  I wanted a hot beverage to warm me up!

Still, it was fascinating, particularly since I couldn't see inside, and I wasn't sure what I had ordered.  I put in a bubble tea straw, and took a big suck.  Up my straw came ... chunks of taro!  Yes!  It wasn't just powder.  And then ... whole little red beans.  The taro was kinda mashed, and was a bit strange to suck up through my straw.

The flavor of the milk itself was sorta taro-y and not too sweet.  Once I opened it up, I could see the color was more brownish-purple than bright purple like drinks made with powder, so, I do think it really was just taro steeped milk.  But, I'm confused why this was $1 less than the "Handmade Taro with Fresh Milk", and, why that one isn't available warm.  And why it sorta tasted like tea.  Hmm.  Again, I still have no idea what I had.  It wasn't too creamy, so, I think it used regular milk, not something heavier.

I also poured off the milk so I could see what else was in there.  As you can see here, little red beans, and, mashed up taro. 

Overall, it was ... ok.  The real issue was the lukewarm/cold nature of it.

The "warm fresh taro milk tea" is $4.50, I added red bean for $0.50 more, making this a $5 fascination.
Sharetea Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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