I thought I would never write another tapioca milk tea-related post in this lifetime! Then last month in Pasadena, California, while driving through a shopping plaza’s parking lot for reasons that I could not recall, I noticed a banner hanging outside a Panda Express that read “Welcome! Panda Tea Bar.” When did this happen? Another establishment had joined the bandwagon and created its own tea division.Post1 (9)

Since I took the trouble to park my car and walked in the eatery, I should order a drink, any drink. An entity like Panda Express would not complicate its operations by serving myriad varieties of drinks, so the menu’s over-simplicity was expected. The inclusion of milk teas and the choices of toppings, however, induced a sneer that the cashier clearly had detected on my face.

“Interesting. You serve boba drinks too?!” Did this rhetorical question make me appear a boba connoisseur?!

“Chia seeds?” I was puzzled. All of us are familiar with chia seed supplements and the perennial fad Chia pets. How would chia seeds react when being submerged in icy liquid?

Post2 (12)I proceeded to order the Mojito with chia seeds. The review was quite positive – refreshing, tasty! Physically, the chia seeds precipitated at the bottom of the cup and looked like white microscopic boba, even smaller than sago pearls. Videos such as this one reveal that, unlike boba preparation which requires hours of boiling and stirring, chia seed pearls are easier to make than instant noodles.

Tea jelly, which I, inscrutably, had never savored, caught my attention also. However, I could not burden my digestive system with two sweetened drinks in a day. Upon on my return a week later, I asked for a sample first, knowing that the jelly’s tea flavor would be overpowered by any brew. I paired the tea jelly with raspberry tea and only wished I had remembered to request a 25% adjustment in sweetness.

At the moment Planet Earth seems to have only one Panda Express Innovation Kitchen. Who can tell me the reason that Panda Express is hesitating to open another?

Images courtesy of Ifang Hsieh.