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A journey through the Bay Area’s Asian desserts

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Asian Americans make up almost 40% of the total population in Santa Clara County and are the largest racial minority population in the region, according to 2019 census data. A notable indicator of Asian influence in the Bay Area is the plethora of Asian dessert stores that often fuse Eastern and Western flavors.

To sample the unique offerings of Asian dessert stores near Palo Alto, I visited five shops and rated specialties from each store based on flavor, appearance and texture. Whether looking for a quick snack or just a simple way to enjoy and appreciate Asian culture, people near campus can consider the delicious choices from these five Asian dessert shops.

Te’Amo: 4131 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

Te’Amo offers a wide selection of teas and coffees with unique flavor combinations, including their Roses & Chocolates or Strawberry Horchata drinks. Upon entering the store, customers are immediately enveloped by the warm scent of mochi donuts — their signature dish.

According to Te’Amo’s co-founder Stuart Bae, all products are fresh and made to order, featuring ingredients like organic milk and fruits: “I think people do appreciate the high-quality ingredients.”

Despite opening less than a week before California’s stay-at-home order began last March, Bae said the store has “survived that whole ordeal” and continues working to “put something nice in the community.” He added that with a diverse customer base, the store seeks to “serve everybody” with their fusion of traditional Asian teas, American flavors and a Spanish name.

I tested their Hong Kong Red drink and matcha mochi donut.

Hong Kong Red: $5.50

The Hong Kong Red tea incorporates jasmine tea, condensed milk, red beans and coconut milk.

Flavor: 5

Appearance: 4

Texture: 4

This drink incorporates fairly mild and slightly bitter jasmine tea, condensed milk and red beans that act as sweeteners and coconut milk for creaminess. Each of the four ingredients added to the appearance of the drink: the jasmine tea and coconut milk created a creamy brown layer above the red beans’ dark mahogany, while the condensed milk formed white streaks. The liquids combined easily, so this drink is for people who prefer smoother beverages. Considering this drink’s price is average compared to similar drinks in the Bay Area, I feel it is worth the money.

Signature Matcha Mochi Donut: $2 ($1.50 with the purchase of a drink)

The matcha mochi donut is a Japanese pastry dipped in matcha paste.

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 3

Texture: 4

I visited the shop in the morning, so my donut was still warm when I received it. The flavorful and thick matcha paste melted in my mouth — a delectable sensation. The donut was bouncy and fluffy, but I would have preferred a more chewy texture. Still, I felt this sizable donut was worth every cent.

Meet Fresh: 19449 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino

Hsin-Chin Fu was inspired to found Meet Fresh because of the dessert expertise of his older siblings, Brother and Sister Fu. Today, the store serves fresh, healthy desserts worldwide using high-quality ingredients, traditional recipes with a modern twist. Now, there are seven shops across the Bay Area.

Nostalgia plays a role in the store’s popularity, according to Meet Fresh Marketing Manager Andre Hsu: “Many of our Bay Area [and] Northern California customers who have tried our desserts were reminded of their childhoods and hometowns.”

Through serving desserts rarely found in the U.S. — grass jelly, tofu pudding, purple rice soup and more — and adapting the menu to American preferences, Meet Fresh has grown popular with younger customers as well. “Asian desserts have also become part of their childhood and youthful memories,” Hsu wrote. 

I really enjoyed how customizable and filling the desserts are, but the prices are definitely on the high end. I tested their icy grass jelly with taro balls and taro rice balls, as well as their tofu pudding with peanuts, rice balls, red beans and taro.

Icy Grass Jelly + Taro Balls + Taro Rice Balls: $8.95

Left: Grass Jelly dessert with taro ball and taro rice ball toppings.
Right: Tofu pudding dessert with peanuts, sesame rice balls, red beans, and taro chunks.

Flavor: 5

Appearance: 4

Texture: 3

This dessert has a base of black grass jelly and includes toppings of shaved ice, taro balls and purple taro rice balls. The grass jelly was refreshing with a light herbal taste, while the toppings provided a delicious, taro-flavored sweetness. The taro balls were chewy and provided a nice contrast to the soft grass jelly, but got a little tough after a few minutes. Because I ordered to-go and the abundant toppings were flattened by the lid, the dish was not as pretty as when served in the cafe.

Tofu Pudding + Peanuts + 2x Sesame Rice Balls + Red Beans + Taro: $11

Left: Grass Jelly dessert with taro ball and taro rice ball toppings.
Right: Tofu pudding dessert with peanuts, sesame rice balls, red beans, and taro chunks.

Flavor: 5

Appearance: 4

Texture: 3

This dessert looked really appealing because of its colorful ingredients not usually seen in Western dishes. It has a base of cream-colored tofu pudding with toppings of peanuts, sesame rice balls, red beans and taro chunks. The silky tofu pudding provided a nice soybean aroma which enhanced its flavor. The red beans and sesame rice balls were both flavorful and fragrant. I particularly savored the taro chunks which were dense yet soft.

Bambū: 189 W Washington Ave, Sunnyvale

Founded by four Vietnamese sisters in San Jose, Bambū specializes in creating tea, coffees and smoothies. Bambū uses fresh ingredients such as young coconuts, which are included in many of their signature drinks.

I tested the Bambū Special and their Taro Coconut smoothie.

Bambū Special: $6.50

The Bambū Special Chè Dessert includes coconut juice, pandan jelly, longan, basil seeds, and shaved ice.

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 3

Texture: 5

The Bambū Special consists mainly of refreshing coconut juice — neither overwhelmingly sweet nor watered-down. As a lover of toppings, I found my craving for textures satisfied by the chewy green pandan jelly, juicy longan and crunchy basil seeds. Considering the drink’s fresh and high-quality ingredients, it is priced well.

Taro Coconut Smoothie: $5.50

The Taro Coconut Smoothie has clear tones of both flavors.

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 3

Texture: 3

Bambū’s Taro Coconut Smoothie resembles a drink form of taro and coconut ice cream mixed together, featuring a smooth and thick consistency. The creamy taro and coconut flavors mixed nicely together. Overall, I didn’t find the drink to be particularly special and would prefer just eating taro- and coconut-flavored ice cream. I think the price is slightly high, but this drink might just not be my “cup of tea.”

Gong Cha: 439 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Gong Cha, founded in Taiwan in 2006, translates to “tribute tea for the emperor.” To maintain drink quality, the stores make fresh tea and boba pearls every four hours, enforce strict quality control on ingredients and use premium quality tea, according to their website

I tested their Brown Sugar milk tea with added boba and Star Jelly Grapefruit Smoothie.

Star Jelly Grapefruit Smoothie: $5.75 for medium

Left: Brown Sugar milk tea with added boba
Right: Star Jelly Grapefruit Smoothie has peach-flavored, star-shaped jelly and is topped with milk foam.

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 4

Texture: 4

The tea by itself is noticeably sour, so I found the sweet jelly to be the perfect pairing of flavors. I couldn’t taste any grapefruit, which is why I rated the flavor as 4 despite enjoying this drink. The topping-to-tea ratio was nice, and I got some jelly pieces in every sip. Because there is slightly salty cream at the top, I would recommend mixing it into the drink for better taste. Although marketed as a “smoothie,” this drink is similar to most tea drinks, apart from a melted snow-cone consistency at the very top. Overall, I felt this drink was reasonably priced because I loved the unique flavor created by the different ingredients.

Brown Sugar milk tea with added boba: $5

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 4

Texture: 4

A classic boba tea flavor, the tea was rich with a bitterness resembling a mild coffee. This tea also had a delectable brown sugar taste with Instagramable brown stripes running along the sides of the cup. While I enjoyed the tea, I was disappointed that boba was not included and had to be ordered as a separate topping. Nevertheless, the price is very reasonable, and the boba topping is only 50 cents.

Teaspoon: 2675 Middlefield Rd C, Palo Alto

Established in 2015, Teaspoon uses modern technology like an espresso machine to serve made-to-order tea. Customers can personalize their beverage, including tea type, milk level and add a wide selection of toppings including jellies, bobas and puddings. Teaspoon also serves Taiwanese-style shaved ice with a variety of flavors and toppings.

I tested their Strawberry Matcha Royale tea and Hangover 3 shaved ice. 

Strawberry Matcha Royale tea: $6.50

Strawberry Matcha Royale tea has layers of matcha tea, milk, and strawberry puree.

Flavor: 3

Appearance: 5

Texture: 3

The drink displayed a beautiful ombre mix of green matcha, white milk and red strawberry puree. But even after mixing the drink, the matcha was too powdery and bitter for me. Once mixed, the strawberry puree tasted artificial but was not overwhelmingly sweet, and it paired surprisingly well with matcha. Lovers of matcha or those looking for aesthetically pleasing drinks might find the price reasonable, but I thought it was too high.

Hangover 3 shaved ice: $8

Hangover 3 includes Thai tea flavored shaved ice, coffee jelly, mochi, and condensed milk sauce.

Flavor: 4

Appearance: 4

Texture: 4

With a thin layer of condensed milk on top and concentrated Thai tea–flavored shaved ice, this dessert is definitely very sweet. I have a major sweet tooth, so I loved its flavor. The mochi was very chewy and the coffee jelly brought a refreshing and light taste. The shop puts shaved ice on top of the toppings, a practice I prefer because the toppings don’t fall off. Eight dollars might be too much: I’ve enjoyed similar quality and quantity of Taiwanese shaved ice for much lower prices.

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Alice Feng is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.