Pearl Milk Tea Hotspots

In the disproportionately (compared to the entire U.S.) large Asian population of the San Francisco Bay Area and an even larger Asian population still in the Silicon Valley, one of the most popular gathering places for young teens, high-schoolers, and young adults was the local Pearl Milk Tea (PMT) hotspot. These PMT hotspots spanned all over Cupertino and surrounding towns. Each had their own unique decorations and setting, but every store had an undeniable, but welcomed, Asian/fobby ambience. Asian music blasted from above and some stores even had a small library consisting of Asian newspapers, books, and comics.

Usually, these PMT stores carried many, many different PMT flavors ranging from original (plain milk tea with tapioca balls sometimes called bubbles or boba) to almond to mango to strawberry. You could order jasmine, red bean, green bean, earl grey. There was also coconut and grass jelly. The more sophisticated stores had neat little machines that fused a plastic cover right onto the cup, and the cheaper stores used snap-on lids.

The ever common phrase, "Care for a drink" or "Let's get a drink" no longer referred to alcohol, but instead a delicious cup of PMT.

Many people also like to order something to eat with their drink. The menu included Asian popcorn chicken to calamari to tea eggs, thick toast, and other Asian delicacies. Essentially, these PMT hotspots were the Asian version of the local coffeehouse like Starbucks.

Although these stores were mostly occupied by Asians, it was not uncommon for a non-Asian to enter the store. Unlike Chinatown, where all the Chinese shops are clumped together in one district, these PMT stores were often located right amongst typically American or other ethnic stores.

One of my favorite PMT stores, albeit a bit on the expensive side, Tapioca Express was located just across the street from a Target. Quicklys was located on one of our largest streets, Stevens Creek Blvd., across from the Post Office. Lollicup decided to be located in an odd plaza that included a Rite Aid, a hobby card shop Superstars, and an exquisite restaurant The Elephant Bar. Sometimes, there would be competing PMT hotspots like Ophelia which was located just on the opposite corner where TapX (Tapioca Express) stood. Verde was another one. These PMT hotspots somehow managed to represent the Asian culture of the Valley, but at the same time created a great intermingling of culture.

On the other hand, a couple PMT stores (Q-Cup and Fantasia) did decide to open up in the middle of an overwhelmingly Asian district called Cupertino Village.

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