A lot of Americans will tell you that going to a Starbucks overseas is an inauthentic experience, that Starbucks is just another example of America thrusting westernization upon other countries. There’s some truth there. But if you’ve ever been to a Starbucks in China, you’ll probably know that Chinese Starbucks are different and way better than the American coffeeshop. This is a perfect example not of America westernizing Asia, but of Asia putting its own spin on an American import. In fact, a lot of what you find in a Chinese Starbucks can’t be found here in the States. So, here are the top 5 delights you must try if you ever wander into a 星巴克 (pronounced Sheen-bok-uh):
1. Matcha Tiramisu
Everyone in America most likely knows about matcha these days. The pulverized tea powder originated in Japan, spread throughout Asia, and in more recent years, has made its way to the Western world. You can even find a few matcha drinks at your local Starbucks. But what we don’t get is matcha desserts. And this matcha tiramisu is an absolute must. Creamy, soft cake filled with the perfect balance of sweetness, and the earthy, grassy flavor that matcha is famous for.
2. Red Bean Scone
Red bean is a common flavor throughout Asia. The beans can be used in savory dishes, but in general, are boiled down with sugar to make red bean paste. From there, the paste fills everything from baos, to cakes, to delicious scones at Starbucks! Red bean paste is so wonderful because it retains the hearty, nutty flavors of beans, while adding honey-like sweetness that creates a filling and satisfying snack. And if you think the idea of sweetened beans is weird, just remember that most countries think it’s weird that America sweetens pumpkin!
3. Teriyaki Chicken Soba Noodle Salad
Shanghai loves a good cold noodle salad, so it’s no surprise that soba salads caught on so well. And I can say from experience, this salad is absolutely delicious. Buckwheat soba noodles, hardboiled egg, and teriyaki chicken are all mixed in with fresh greens and seaweed salad. It’s full of robust woodiness from the soba and sweet tang from the teriyaki chicken. When it’s a hot day in Shanghai, nothing beats the heat like a light refreshing soba salad.
4. Iced Oolong Tea
China is the world’s largest grower of tea, therefore many tea types originate there. Oolong is one of China’s most famous. Oolongs have a unique preparation that makes the leaves partially fermented. You can think of an Oolong as a half green / half black tea. This allows them to carry the smoky, molasses taste of a black tea, while retaining the floral subtleness of green tea. Oolongs are prized for this distinct and powerful flavor combination. And one of the best (and least utilized) ways to experience this is over ice!
If you’re fortunate enough to be in China around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival, then you’re in for a special treat. Mid-Autumn is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This means the day varies, but normally happens sometime in September or October. Starting in August, in preparation for the festival, mooncakes become available. Mooncakes are traditionally filled with egg, red bean, or lotus, but throughout the years the cakes have started being filled with everything from nuts to green tea. Starbucks does eight flavors including custard, caramel macchiato, and sea salt espresso. I was lucky enough to try these on a demo day, and am already planning on forcing my friends to send me some!