In April, a bubble tea shop opened in a strip at Central Expressway and Forest in North Dallas. At first glance, it appeared to be nothing extraordinary. But Jazen Tea is West Coast-based, with most of its shops in the Bay Area (and its only other Texas franchise in Houston). This is where it gets interesting. The Bay Area happens to be the area with highest Filipino population in California. And so when I went, I knew I was there to sip a jasmine pearl tea and the banh mi, but also to check on the halo halo smoothie.
The front of the shop feels like a small living room, a zen landscape of orchids and plush grey chairs. Sink into these; you won’t mind being there a while.
Further down, the counter opens out to four screens and a line of churning drinks. These will become jasmine milk tea tumbled with pearls. Others will be the mixtures of strawberry mango-lychee tea or minty lime mango-peach passion fruit-peach tea with bits of fresh fruit. That these lean tropical should be your first key. Calamansi-mango tea is there, too, the beloved Filipino citrus fruit. (Of course, you can dive straight for the traditional milk teas with boba: there’s jasmine, Thai tea, and taro.)
Halo halo is the Filipino treat that involves layers of shaved ice with red beans, bits of fruit, coconut, jellies, and the ube (purple yam) ice cream that gives it its signature mauve hue. Many will argue that a proper halo halo has a core of flan pieces.
The halo halo smoothie at Jazen Tea has no flan. In fact, its name is Halo Halo Mix Mix, and this may be as good an indication as any that it’s slipping and sliding playfully between cultural categories. Dusky purple from taro root, it’s icy and rich with coconut milk. It gets pitted with beautiful honey boba, jellies, and red bean. This is as close to a milk-tea mongrel of a halo halo as I’ve ever had, but it’s delicious.
The banh mi situation was nothing but ordinary—floppy cold cuts in a baguette heavy with mayo, but none of the umami-boosting power of either paté or Maggi seasoning. They bring it out to you in a bag, though, finding you in your plush grey seat. (At least they did me, on a late night, when it was me and a few yogis in Lululemon pants popping in for a post-yoga sip.)
The bottom line: if you’re considering this new addition simply a boba milk tea place, you’re missing some of its highlights, which run tropical. An eco perk: they’ll comp your first drink, if you buy their reusable mason jar.