No long-distance relationship is easy. Trust me, I’d know. An entire 6,700-mile stretch of the Pacific stands between me and my one true love: $2 boba from the teahouse that started it all. Like every other Taiwanese person I know, I can’t resist anything that’s “QQ,” our equivalent of al dente, especially if we're talking Taiwanese desserts. But as many Taiwanese-Americans living in Berkeley might find, it can be a serious struggle to scout out shops here that do justice for the flavors we know and love. 

From mom-and-pop shops on the streets of Taiwan to global franchises with dedicated fanbases, Meet Fresh and Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea delivered. Both have kept a place in my Yelp collection for East Bay dessert destinations, so if that’s not telling of how much I love these sweet stops, I don’t know what is.

Venturing Into Chinatown

Camille Fang

Meet Fresh opened its doors in early June as Oakland Chinatown’s newest sweet recruit. Nestled among a row of grocers and tea shops on 8th Street, this location is the herbal jelly giant’s smallest branch I’ve dined in to date. But the packed quarters actually make for a cozy and inviting atmosphere that’s perfect for chatting over a bowl of shaved ice.

Taro Balls, Jellies, and Boba

Camille Fang

I’m obviously biased, but I truly believe that these three ingredients are a culinary trio sent from the heavens. Two fellow foodies and I ordered some of the shop's most popular desserts to share: an Icy Taro Ball #4 and Grass Jelly #1 (with rice balls instead of barley). Taiwanese shaved ice is no light dessert, so make sure to save some stomach space for these hearty helpings.

The Classic

Camille Fang

The Icy Taro Ball #4 comes with coarsely-shaved ice doused in brown sugar syrup and topped with taro and sweet potato balls, red bean, thick taro chunks, and boba. The taro balls are made with potato flour, giving them the texture of pounded rice cake with earthy undertones. Red beans and taro are cooked down with sugar, reducing the natural ingredients to an almost-mashed consistency. Matched with refreshing mouthfuls of delicate sweet ice, the indulgent bowl strikes an even balance.

The Unique

Camille Fang

The Grass Jelly #1 combines the fan-favorite herbal jelly-infused shaved ice with silken slabs of grass jelly, coffee creamer, mung bean, boba, and in our case, rice balls (substituting for barley). This dessert might taste foreign to some due to the grass jelly's mild and slightly bitter taste, but the coffee creamer brings out its sweetness and unifies the varied topping textures.

#SpoonTip: As the scorching summer winds down into the frostier seasons of fall and winter, try the taro ball and grass jelly desserts hot! It's all the same ingredients, just bathed in a sweet red bean or herbal jelly-flavored soup.

Bringing it Back to Berkeley

Camille Fang

One year ago, Yifang made its debut in California with a location on Bancroft Way, right across the street from the UC Berkeley campus. The ultra-popular tea shop's wooden design and Oxford blue accents create a clean and homey ambience. Vats of tapioca pearls simmering in brown sugar syrup occupy the left window while employees call out order numbers and operate the register to the right. It's quick service without sacrificing any of the quality. 

The Best of Berkeley Boba: The Signatures

Camille Fang

In a place like Berkeley where there’s boba on every corner, what makes Yifang stand out? For starters, one whiff of the shop’s brown sugar-infused air is enough to get anyone’s foot through the door. But the biggest draw is the fact that the Signature Fruit Tea tastes exactly like the ones sold in Taiwan. The drink is a mountain oolong concoction of passionfruit and pineapple jam, cane sugar, sliced apples, and citrus fruits. It is, by far, the most refreshing tea-based drink I’ve had in the Bay.

Arguably the most sought-after drink (despite the shop’s reputation as a fruit tea brand) is its Mudflip Tea, or Brown Sugar Pearl Latte. Each cup is a custom masterpiece—white milk dissolving into a sea of molasses-colored boba. The syrupy golden marbling is visual proof of low-and-slow caramelization. Made with fresh organic milk, the drink is creamier than most other milk teas and a dessert in itself.

The Unexpected

Camille Fang

What completely caught me off guard was the drink I had heard the least about: the Fresh Taro Latte. Imagine the taro milk teas at most boba shops. Now, forget those fluorescent purple hues. Yifang’s creation has a more muted lavender color, with real bite-size taro pieces gently immersed in the milk. It’s a sweet dream for any taro enthusiast.

The two-and-a-half weeks I spent snacking in Taipei this summer wasn’t even close to enough time. I would put everything on hold and move to Taipei if it meant getting my “QQ” dessert fix, but these East Bay shops are making me think twice. In the Bay Area, Meet Fresh and Yifang are a taste of home for some and a culinary novelty for others. For me, they're keeping me from blowing $700,000 on a condo in my favorite food-obsessed city, so I'd say these establishments are pretty life-changing.