Super Fruits Mix Mango Snowflake Ice with Sorbet from Smoothie House

Keeping Cool in Taiwan: Bubble Tea and Shaved Ice

Oct 21, 2014 - Julie

The weather throughout our stay in Taiwan was miserably hot (at least for me). Temperatures were always in the 30s, and humidity was always high since we were never far from the sea. This meant that often apparent temperatures were, or “it felt like,” more than 40 degrees Celsius. Everyday was a guaranteed sweaty day, even if we just walked outside for a few minutes. How did we keep our cool? Lots of bubble tea and shaved ice!

Bubble Teas

I lost count long, long ago of how many bubble teas we had in Taiwan. All I know is that we constantly had some sort of cold, plastic-sealed cup with a straw, held in small plastic bag in our hands. Always. There were so many bubble tea shops, I have no idea how they were all in business. Sometimes there would literally be ten different bubble tea shops within one block. Each shop offers 100+ combinations of flavours, toppings, ice and sugar levels.

Large glass of milk tea with pearls
Large glass of milk tea with pearls

I really liked the Taiwan-style winter melon (or white gourd) teas. It was the perfect mix of a tad fruity, a tad sweet, and a tad of tea flavour. I also tended to like more fruity bubble teas, such as green or black teas with mango, peach, or lychee flavours. Carlos usually found my bubble teas to be too tea-y and not sweet enough. I only discovered QQ teas later, but really enjoyed the fact that they include all toppings from pearls to all kinds of jellies.

Passion Fruit QQ Green Tea from Gong Cha
Passion Fruit QQ Green Tea from Gong Cha

Carlos preferred milk-based, sweeter bubble teas. His go to tea is the classic Taiwanese pearl milk tea, which I also agree you cannot go wrong with. His favorite, however, was probably the pudding milk tea. They’re cups of tea with a chunk of pudding and whipped cream on top. I do admit that it probably sounds delicious to most people. However, I usually found Carlos’ bubble teas to be too sweet and heavy.

Pudding milk tea - Carlos' favourite!
Pudding milk tea – Carlos’ favourite!

Whether it was the fanciest cafe in town, or the small stall in the street market, everyone can find something that they like. Each bubble tea would range anywhere between 60 cents to $2 per. I am pretty sure we both drank more bubble tea than we drank water in Taiwan. I’m going to miss my bubble teas after I leave.

Shaved Ice

When it became really unbearably hot and the bubble teas were not cooling us down, we went for shaved ice. While there are many kinds of shaved ice around the world, let me first say that the ones in Taiwan (and Asia in general) are nothing like the “snow cones” I had (and disliked) in Canada. In Taiwan, they were a full on dessert.

Lychee Snowflake Ice with Osmanthus from Smoothie House
Lychee Snowflake Ice with Osmanthus from Smoothie House

Even within Taiwan, we had a variety of shaved ice from different places. Some places offered shaved ice where the flavouring was already incorporated into the ice before it was frozen. For example, my mango shaved ice was literally shaved from a block of frozen mango-flavoured ice. This was our favourite kind, because not only were the ice shavings very small and melted in your mouth immediately, each tiny piece of shaved ice had flavour. It was like eating ice cream without the cream.

Mango shaved ice with mango syrup
Mango shaved ice with mango syrup

Other kinds of shaved ice are more literal. Pieces of ice were placed in a bowl, and the flavouring was added afterwards. This kind was more crunchy, as you could chew the ice pieces before they melted. These are also cheaper, as they take less preparation to make. For example, my mango shaved ice was just ice with syrup and mangos poured on top.

Shaved Ice with Mixed Fruits and Ice Cream
Shaved Ice with Mixed Fruits and Ice Cream

Regardless of how the shaved ice was made, they all had the best toppings. Real and fresh fruit pieces, juice, syrup, sometimes condensed milk or even scoops of ice cream were placed on top of the ice. They were as much visually-pleasing as they were yummy. One of our favourites that we still dream about sometimes was the mango shaved ice from Smoothie House with panna cotta and fresh cut pieces of mangos, strawberries and kiwis.

Fruits Mix Mango Snowflake Ice with Panna Cotta from Smoothie House
Fruits Mix Mango Snowflake Ice with Panna Cotta from Smoothie House

For anyone looking for great eats in Taiwan, don’t forget about the bubble teas and shaved ice! They are as much part of the Taiwanese diet as beef noodles or other small eats.

For more pictures of bubble teas and shaved ice, please visit the gallery!