Lines of people outside an eatery on Valley Boulevard have become a familiar sight over the last couple of years. But one recent line didn't end at a hot new restaurant featuring Chengdu-style Sichuan fare. This line led to the U.S. location of BlackBall Taiwanese Dessert — and the crowds came for grass jelly.
Grass jelly, which isn’t made from grass at all, is a popular dessert ingredient in China, Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. Despite the name, it comes from the dried leaves and stalks of the Chinese mesona plant — a member of the mint family — which are then boiled to prepare a liquid that turns into a dark brown jelly once it has cooled. Grass jelly is served in hot and cold beverages, with shaved ice or simply with sugar syrup, fruits or evaporated milk.
Grass jelly is believed to have medicinal and cooling properties. Those cooling properties make it ideal for summer — so it's perfect timing for the opening of BlackBall.
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BlackBall began in Taiwan in 2006 and has since expanded to China, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Indonesia. Last month, the company joined an ever-growing list of Asian chains that opened their first U.S. outlet in the San Gabriel Valley. Opening day drew lines the likes of which we haven't seen since 85C° Bakery-Café's launched. Clearly, this is a similarly big deal for folks wanting a familiar taste of home.
There are 17 desserts on the menu, including four with grass jelly, three with matcha (green tea powder) and four with aiyu jelly — made from the seeds of a type of fig. You choose whether you want your grass jelly dessert served icy, cold, warm or hot. The most popular option is #1, which comes with boba, taro balls and sweet potato balls. On its own, grass jelly can have a slightly tart, mintlike flavor. That’s not a problem here, as the grass jelly is smooth and the syrup sweet, though sweetened coffee creamer is provided in case you desire it more sugary. The taro and sweet potato provide a different texture, not unlike mochi.
BlackBall also serves shaved ice with a variety of toppings to choose from and a drinks menu ranging from xian cao (grass jelly) to smoothies to teas, including a section of specialty drinks and winter melon teas.
BlackBall Taiwanese Dessert, 250 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 872-6865 .