If you haven’t noticed, Taiwanese tea house brand “Chatime” has open dozens of new franchise locations all across the Lower Mainland over the last couple of years. In almost every area, you can expect one of its purple awnings. So it is no surprise to learn that their sister dessert shop, “ZenQ” is right behind them with two locations in Richmond and Coquitlam, and a third on its way in the next couple of months, at Hastings and Willingdon.
During the time of this visit, the location I visited at Marine Gateway has only been open for a week. This was their soft launch and they were still working out their day to day operations, before advertising a grand opening.
“ZenQ” supplements desserts to “Chatime’s” extensive drink menu. A few locations of the former has been known to open up within the latter. Having “ZenQ” locations in Vancouver means there is a platform and a place to go for more traditional Chinese style sweet soups and jellies. Something that should be consistent with their offerings in Asia. Especially considering that when new franchise owners purchase their businesses, they get flown to Taiwan to see the brand in its popularity high, running optimally. This is before they head back home to replicate this phenomenon for themselves. But as they do, they have help. “ZenQ” also sends new franchise owners their own trainer. The trainer’s goal is to walk new owners through each process and to be their coach in driving a successful venture.
Here, I learned that “QQ” means chewy. And that the single “Q” in their name, their slogan “wow so Q!”, and the name of their popular rice balls is a reflection of that chewiness. The “Q” reminds you of their chewy claim to fame. And given how much I liked them, I can see why they have grown internationally. I would easily come back for more and recommend them just for their rice balls with no issue.
All said balls are made by hand and from scratch ingredients. Available in either mango, matcha, or sweet potato flavours with their accompanying colours. The process is as follows. The flavouring ingredients are steamed and mixed into a dough. The dough is hand rolled and cut into pieces, then stored in the freezer for some cold treatment, before you boil them to the perfect tenderness. This is to keep each doughy ball’s intended shape and texture. And it works. The balls make a strong appearance in their tofu pudding and grass jelly series.
Their menu is easy to navigate with all their available drinks and desserts being sectioned off into their own “series” and corresponding categories. During this media event we were able to try an item out if each series.
When it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue; no one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
This is their “Tofu pudding no.3” with sweet potato, peanuts, Q balls, and pearls. Each serving in the series differs by ingredients, with each assembly being assigned a different number. Chinese desserts aren’t typically not too sweet, they are flavourful with a large emphasis on texture, and this was a great example of such within this bowl. A variety of textures in this sugar sweeten soup-syrup. It was a nice slurp with jiggly pudding chunks, chewy Q rice balls, squishy tapioca pearls, melty boiled sweet potato, and peanuts for a soggy yet firm texture. I have never been a fan of cooked peanuts because I think their natural crunch is already so great, and that you lose that by cooking it. None-the-less they are easy enough to eat around.
As I mentioned earlier, their Q balls also make a popular appearance within their grass jelly series. This is their “Hot grass jelly no.2”, and like the bowl above, the number differentiates the serving by its additional toppings. No.2 comes with taro, pearls, various Q balls, and a scoop of brown sugar ice. Its hard to describe grass jelly to someone who has never had it. I can best liken it to black jello flavoured with sugar cane syrup. With the addition of the brown sugar, it had a certain molasses sweetness to it, helpful in tying everything else together in a complimentary tone.
From the “Royal sweet soup series”. We had their “Red bean soup no.3” with sweet potato. Now, other than from here, I don’t know where else you can get red bean soup that isn’t in a sit down Chinese restaurant. Although it’s just as well, given that I am not a fan of the graininess that accompanies red bean. I can see those more unfamiliar, being scared off by the look of it. With its murky water and mud like texture it doesn’t look like any traditional North American style dessert. More like sweet soup with an orange zesty after taste.
The “Longan black glutinous rice no.3” came with boiled tender sweet potato chunks. I wasn’t a big fan of this one either. It had a smiliar granulated texture like the soup above. Although with the glutinous rice it at least had a nicer chew to it. However this just left me even more dissatisfied as I wanted even more chewiness from it. I bit into a boiled Logan fruit thinking it was a Q ball. It wasn’t sweet, but more medical with a rich herbal after note, thanks to the brewing of it within this bowl of water and rice.
This wasn’t what I was expecting when I learned read “Creamy frappes” as a subsection on the menu. I was imagining a Starbucks popularized frappuccino. Whereas this was more than that, and more like shaved ice. A mound of sheared mango flavoured fluffy ice, served with a side of mango jelly cubes, fresh mango chunks, a healthy drizzle of condense milk, and rainbow cereal. The fruit loops not only gave the dessert some visual interest, but it also added crunch and a new flavour profile when you bite into a neon loop.
They also make homemade waffles pressed to order. I found these tasted a lot like bubble waffles with their light eggy-‘ness. This was their “Fresh fruit waffle” with mango, strawberry, honey dew, and banana slices. Finished off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. I suggest eating this as soon as you get it for a cakey waffle that resembles angel food cake. Otherwise you are facing a hard lump of dough. There was a lot more fruit than waffle. Whereas I wanted more substance and the ability the pair the right amount of fresh cut up fruit to toasted waffle pieces, and maybe some sauce to bind it all together.
I much preferred the Banana chocolate waffle with fresh banana, chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream. The flavour of the chocolate spread was the highlight, and banana is a standard pairing with it. There was no complaints with this one. I got exactly what I expected.
From here we transitioned into drinks. From the “ZenQ tea time series” I really enjoyed their handmade taro milk tea. This one has to be served hot given its texture and the need to mash up and stir-in the grittiness of the real taro root with heated milk.
The rest of our drinks were served cold in plastic cups. Up first was their “ZenQ grass jelly” drink. A very tea-heavy milk tea with whole chunks of grass jelly.
From their “Handmade tea series” we had their “Mango blue mountain green tea”. The mango has the drink starting out sweet, and then ending bitter with the tea.
From the same series is their “Strawberry black tea”. It was a little too sweet with too much strawberry flavour for my taste.
The “Oreo cocoa ice diamond” was part of their “Special drinks series”. The “Ice Diamond” refers to its cold and crystallized texture. This one more closely resembled a frappe with its blended up dessert like-flavour.
The “Winter melon black tea” of the same series wasn’t as expected. I have tried winter melon syrup before and its sweet and sugary notes didn’t transition into this cup. With the use of almond milk for creaminess, this drink was more nutty, hiding all the flavour of the mild winter melon.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I wouldn’t be apposed to a return visit, but it is a little far for me to drive to just for a casual drink and dessert spot. A solid representation of Taiwanese style drinks and dessert for those in the area though. Don’t deny your cravings.