Pearl tea, a flavored black or green tea containing pearl-sized chewy balls made of a root vegetable called kasava, is as widely available as coffee in Cupertino. The drink, originally from Taiwan, has become an essential part of Cupertino's multicultural scene. But pearl tea cafes in Cupertino are not all identical. Each of them has distinctive features:
: Fantasia is now a chain, but it started with just a Cupertino store at 10933 N. Wolfe Rd. in August 1997. Nearly 14 years later, the Cupertino store is still crowded, mostly with working adults. It copes with increasing competition by serving gourmet drinks made from loose tea leaves rather than tea bags, plus assorted cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
A famous Taiwanese hot drink called "boiling grass jelly" (or shao xian cao in Mandarin) is also available at Fantasia when cold weather puts hot drinks in high demand. Consider letting the melting jelly soothe your throat if you haven't tried it yet.
: Ten Ren at 10881 N. Wolfe Rd. is a franchise of a large Taiwanese corporation of the same name. Half of its business is packed tea leaves and the other half is pearl tea, mostly for takeouts, as the small store has few tables for customers.
The antique-looking tables are charming, however. If there happens to be one available when you are there, have a seat to enjoy the store's Oriental atmosphere.
If you like herbal tea, order "eight-treasure tea" (or ba bao cha in Mandarin), which contains eight healthful herbs. Two of them, goji berries and chrysanthemums, are especially good for your eyesight according to Chinese medical theories.
In case you feel like a little snack, try a tea-flavored egg, boiled in a mixture of tea, soy sauce and spices instead of water.
: The Cupertino store of the chain is at 10118 Bandley Dr., next to the Chinese supermarket . It is very convenient for grocery shoppers to drop in and get a drink. Some customers say they find the kasava pearls in the drinks there the chewiest they've ever had.
Tapioca Express can also be a place to pick up a quick lunch. It has brought the Taiwanese-style combo deal of boxed lunch and a drink to Cupertino. There are 10 choices of rice dishes for the lunch box.
: Verde at 19620 Stevens Creek Blvd. constantly attracts teenagers. Some of them complain about the store's requirement of $5 minimum per person for dine-ins before 2:30 p.m. and after 5:30 p.m., but they say they are still willing to get takeouts from there for the especially "milky and creamy" drinks.
To spend more than $5 per person to sit in, you can order snacks or simple meals such as fried rice and noodles. Portabello mushroom pasta is highly recommended.
: The Quickly chain has two stores in Cupertino, one at 10887 N. Wolfe Rd. and the other at 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd. Both are just as popular with teenagers as Verde. Many of them say they appreciate the colorful decor and free WI-FI access at Quickly.
The menu of Quickly presents an Asian-fusion style, with Chinese sausage, Japanese chicken teriyaki and Vietnamese sandwiches available in the simple meal section.
The most interesting section of the menu is Japanese-style gelato, a concoction of Quickly's research fellows, who successfully developed recipes based on Japanese and Italian ice-cream-making techniques in 2004. The gelato comes in several different flavors. Most likely you will find one to your liking.