Budding communi-tea in Oakland

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Budding communi-tea in Oakland

Two employees prepare drinks at Fuku Tea.  Valkyrie Speaker | Staff Photographer

Two employees prepare drinks at Fuku Tea. Valkyrie Speaker | Staff Photographer

Two employees prepare drinks at Fuku Tea. Valkyrie Speaker | Staff Photographer

Two employees prepare drinks at Fuku Tea. Valkyrie Speaker | Staff Photographer

By Chang Zao / Staff Writer

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Roll it, bowl it and bubble it.

The week before Halloween, Fuku Tea, located on the corner of Oakland and Forbes Avenues, hung its “soft opening” sign in the window and unveiled the bubbling magic brewing inside. If you’re a seasoned foodie in the Oakland area, then you’ll recognize Fuku Tea as the sister company of Sushi Fuku, the beloved sushi restaurant with locations on both Oakland Avenue and Craig Street.

The Fuku brand is taking over the Asian cuisine scene in Oakland. With convenient locations, reasonable prices and speedy orders, Sushi Fuku has built a reputation with students in Oakland as an affordable, quality sushi restaurant. And now they are bringing their authentic “create-your-own” style to tea.

When it comes to bubble tea and authentic Asian cuisine, Oakland is already equipped with many successful establishments such as Chick’n Bubbly and Rose Tea Cafe. I first stepped foot in Fuku Tea expecting to get a tasty cup of bubble tea and nothing more, but this proved to be a gross miscalculation. 

What separates Fuku Tea from its competition is its impressive collection of loose leaf tea, instead of tea packaged in bags as most people are familiar with in the United States. We’re not talking your everyday jasmine, green or oolong tea. Fuku boasts truly authentic loose leaf tea, including names that I — a Chinese student — have never heard of.

Fuku Tea offers seven premium loose leaf tea categories, organic green tea, oolong tea, organic black tea, organic white tea, organic chai tea, organic herbal tea and organic pu-erh tea.

Fuku Tea also serves authentic Japanese matcha tea, which is very rare. Matcha is a type of green tea from Japan that is considered an art form. It is usually in the form of finely ground powder, and it requires years of practice and generations of passed-down traditions to brew and serve. It is still green tea, but it’s a specially prepared form of green tea. With matcha, instead of drinking the water infused with green tea leaves, you’re actually drinking the tea leaves themselves. My barista told me that Fuku’s loose leaf teas are all flown here directly from tea meccas China, Taiwan and Japan.

With its inviting light green facade, Fuku is bringing authentic Asian tea to the Rust Belt.

According to market research firm Euromonitor International, 75.4 percent of Americans prefer coffee to tea, whereas in China and Japan, 98 percent and 62 percent of consumers choose tea, which Medical Daily has shown is the healthier option. Fully packed with antioxidants and a sufficient amount of caffeine, tea is proven to lower cancer risks, burn fats, prevent heart diseases and slow aging without yellowing your teeth.

During my first visit to Fuku Tea, I admit I had a hard time choosing which tea to purchase, but I finally settled on Dragon Well, a green tea that my mom used to brew when I was little. Granted, I’m no tea expert — I am a happy tea bag drinker — but as I took a sip from that to-go cup, I was utterly and completely impressed by the emerald green liquid in my hand. In a split second, the sweet notes of Dragon Well opened. It was an art form disguised as fast food.

In keeping with Sushi Fuku’s “create-your-own” option, Fuku Tea allows customers to be their own bubble tea barista. You decide the size, flavor, tea base, milk, sweetness and toppings.

Among the 17 different bubble tea flavors — including almond, guava and coconut — and the nine different toppings — including jelly, popping boba and tapioca — you’ll never worry about getting the same thing every time you visit Fuku Tea.

My friend ended up choosing the small taro bubble tea with 2 percent milk and lychee jelly. At her insistence, I took a sip, and right away I knew her shrieking was justified. Everything was just right. Neither the aroma of taro nor the scent of freshly brewed tea was overpowering or diminished.

Instead, they worked perfectly with each other and created a settling fusion of flavor in my mouth. It was smooth and exquisite. The touch of lychee jelly not only added to the texture, but also gave the flavor a sour punch, a delicious beverage with a surprise snack at the bottom. Fuku Tea’s bubble tea is more than a drink, it’s an interactive experience.

Fuku Tea also offers fresh, locally-made pastries such as cheesecake and mini macaroons to go with your tea.

Much like Sushi Fuku, Fuku Tea is surprisingly affordable. A medium-sized cup of freshly brewed loose leaf tea is only around $3. Considering the rarity and quality of their tea, it’s more than worth the price. A small cup of “create-your-own” bubble tea is only $3.25. Compared to the existing bubble tea options in Oakland including Chick’n Bubbly and Rose Tea Cafe, Fuku Tea turns out to be the cheapest.

However, the highlight of our visit wasn’t the tea but the process of making it. On the left side of the counter stood four glass barrels. The barista put the tea inside the barrel, and a few seconds later, the water in the barrel started rising, immersing the leaves completely. Beams of hot steam shot out from under the barrel, stirring and bouncing the tea leaves all around as if it was a dance.

The barista told me that he’s no less impressed by this machine.

“It’s called the Steampunk tea press,” he said. “There are only 40 of these in China, and they cost a fortune.”

I learned that this tea press was inspired by the traditional French coffee press. Every 30 seconds, hot steam shoots out to stimulate the leaves for maximum flavor and accelerated process. We no longer have to sit through an hour-long tea ceremony to get an authentic tea tasting experience. Take everything you know about traditional tea culture — the intricate tools and sets, the water boiling and steeping — and leave them at the door when you visit Fuku Tea.

With more people entering the store, all four barrels were put to work. Watching the machine full of dancing leaves with the sound of pumping steam was such a spectacle. It’s worth the trip just to witness this fascinating method of tea making.

In a fast food jungle full of deep fried and processed junk, Fuku Tea appeals to students’ fast-paced lives without sacrificing high-end, healthy options.

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