The Boba Files: Gong Cha (Fremont, CA)

9:30:00 AM

File #004: Foam? Crema? Cream-a? You get my point…

It feels like ages since I last wrote anything milk-tea related, so instead of releasing a post on Sen Dai Sushi, I skipped ahead and decided to write one on Gong Cha instead. The Sen Dai post will be posted-- eventually.  So not to worry, we’ll all get our sushi cravings satisfied. Or not. Supposedly I just make people hungry… Oh well.

As mentioned previously in my travel posts to Korea, I found a few Gong Cha shops while walking around the street of Seoul, which makes me wonder if they’re the name that pop to mind for Koreans when you mention milk tea. Whereas, over here in the Bay, you ask people about their favorite milk tea places and I guarantee you that there will be an assortment of answers.

But going back to Gong Cha, for the longest time, it was simply an Asian establishment. I’ve personally never heard of them until my friend mentioned them after coming back from Korea. And to my knowledge, there’s only two stores in the Bay Area. The one that everybody and their mom knows of is the Fremont location and there’s one that recently opened in the Westgate Center Mall (don’t ask me, I’ve never been there).

The Fremont location opened up about a year or two ago. I remember it distinctly because my friend and I had just finished hiking up Mission Peak and we went to Aberdeen Café to grab an early lunch and there was a line out the door for Gong Cha because of their special BOGO Grand Opening promotion. They had many of your standard milk tea drinks and add-ons, but their specialty lies in the mysterious  sea salt foam teas. Gong Cha even sticks a sticker on the lid that informs you of the three ways that you can enjoy your foam drink.

In fact, you could argue that they were the first boba shop that launched the sea salt foam, crema, creamer craze in the Bay Area. Now nearly every boba place I visit have some sort of variation of this topping.
Milk Foam Oolong Tea 50% Ice + Herbal Jelly

What is it? Why is it salty? And why does the name sound so weird?

Salt? In my tea? You must be joking.

It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. After all, there’s sea-salt caramel. And if you’re familiar with baking cookies, often they ask for a “pinch of salt.” At home, I sprinkle salt on my watermelon to bring out the sweetness. The salt adds a complexity to the food, or in this case: tea.

Salt is whipped into this thick (not always, because some boba shops use a runnier cream) cream and then poured onto the top of the tea of your choice. The first thing you do after you get your drink is to “avoid” stirring everything up. Well, you could, but not before you take a sip of the frothy cream. The easiest way to do that is to pull your straw up to the brim and take a sip. Slowly the cream will start to mix with the tea anyways, but if you’re anxious and don’t enjoy the taste of the crema by itself, a quick shake is all it takes to mix the tea and the cream.

As for the odd name, it appears that nobody can agree to a name. Much like what we called our boba (tapioca, bubble, pearls), sea salt foam is interchangeable with several other words. It’s cream, crema, foam, creama and many others. But they all mean the same thing in boba vernacular.

Overall, Gong Cha can fend for itself just fine in this cut-throat area of milk tea. After all, just on the top of my mind, I could think of 5 other milk tea shops in that area.  But with lines consistently out the door, Gong Cha has cemented itself as one of the go-to boba places in Fremont.

Service has picked up since the opening days and the lines move relatively quickly. Expect a long wait on weekend nights and hot summer days. However, Gong Cha is not a place where you would want to linger for too long. It gets really loud in there and their doors are almost always open due to the lines and there’s not a lot of seating inside the small shop.

Likewise, they let you customize your sweetness and ice levels and there’s even a little sign that shows you how much caffeine is in the different type of teas. So for insomniacs like me who have problem sleeping after drinking too much tea, there you go! FYI, avoid black and Earl Grey if you intend to get any shut-eye that night.

Has anybody tried the winter melon tea? What’s your verdict? I like winter melon soup, but have never tried the tea version before...

46827 Warm Springs Blvd
Unit 101
Fremont, CA 94539

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  1. Not a big fan of winter melon...bad memories as a kid. Just feel like vegetables shouldn't be made into tea--we have food groups for a good reason! xD