Tucked away on the main drag in Millbrae, a little upper middle class town 20 minutes south of San Francisco, Quickly attracts attention for its brightly colored orange signage adorned with a cute beverage cup. However, what drew me to Quickly was in fact the name—as a lover of words, it made me smile to think of a café named as such. Quickly for a fast quench? Quickly to get it over with? Quickly for the fast cars that zoom past on El Camino Real?
Quickly touts itself as being "The World’s Largest Tapioca Milk Tea Franchise." There, a second word attracted me. No, not franchise—Tapioca. Also known as bubble tea, pearl tea or boba, tapioca milk tea has been around forever in Asia, and only recently have cafés started proliferating the U.S. I had my first tapioca drink in NYC Chinatown many years ago, and have been hooked ever since. So hooked that when I was first looking for an apartment in San Francisco, I insisted on living near a tapioca drink café (and I did—I lived blissfully in the Sunset neighborhood, where I was surrounded by at least five tapioca drink places within five blocks!) Now that I live far from the Sunset, I’ve been looking for a tapioca drink place that is homegrown, in fact, the opposite of franchise.
So I was hesitant when I stepped into Quickly and saw even more brightly colored signage, practically screaming Drink me!, pictures of tempting snacks blaring Eat me! Nothing like the little neighborhood tapioca drink cafés in the Sunset run by a neighborhood elder or a family—small business owners whose drink blender behind the counter looked as homegrown and pleasantly worn as the one in my own kitchen. But in Quickly it was all franchise. It was a marketing machine. A plasma TV above the register glared colorful Asian pop star videos, the look being hipster, young, techie. Postcards advertised Quickly Fans Club (sic), franchising opportunities, and the fact that Quickly now dishes up bowls of hot steaming ramen.
<p><img border="0" src="http://aihaa.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/quickly_sign.jpg" title="Quickly_sign" alt="Quickly_sign" />
<p>But I tried to push all my prejudices aside to try what they had to offer. And Quickly has a lot—with over 300 items alone on their brightly colored orange menu, two-thirds of it being drinks, I had a difficult time choosing something. Sure I could always get my usual boba drink—plain Tapioca Milk Tea , tasty Taro Milk Tea or energizing Coffee Milk Tea—but here they had flavors to please any palate. There were the basic Milk Tea flavors such as Almond, Barley, Jasmine, Red Bean, Honey, Thai, but there were also a lot of fruit flavors: Strawberry, Mango, Passion Fruit, Peach, Orange, Mango, Blueberry. And that’s just the Milk Tea section of the menu. Other drink offerings include Slush, which is "icy," and Snow, which is "smooth," as well as Flower Tea (including my favorite Honey Rose Tea), Flavored Tea (e.g. Champagne Grape Black/Green Tea or Litchi Black/Green Tea), Flavored Milk (Banana Milk, Grass Jelly Milk), Jelly Juice (Green Apple Jelly Juice, Pineapple Jelly Juice), plain fruit juices, coffee, and Hot Drinks. Both times I've gone to Quickly have been bone chilling cold evenings, so I opted for a hot drink. I tried Hot Coconut Milk Tea ($2.50) and was pleasantly surprised. The coconut flavor was delicious, warming, and the tapioca made it a satisfying snack. The next time I was sort of under the weather, so I tried their Hot Honey Milk Tea ($2.50). Yum… If you like honey in your tea, here it was at its best—sweet, milky, warm.</p>
My companion opted for the cold beverages. He got Mocha Snow, which despite the "smoothie" promise, was more like a slushy mocha. Chocolate Snow was like slushy chocolate milk. Not exactly my "cup of tea" (hee hee). My hunch is that their Tapioca drinks are the better of the lot. I would definitely try another boba selection. There's even an option to add different flavorings for 50 cents each, including Aloe, Milk Pudding, Green Bean, and various jellies. There's even a counter display, pictured above, of these additions. </p>
Quickly also offers food, from rice plates ($4.99-$6.99) with Curry Chicken, Fried Fish and Octopus, Fried Pork Chop and more, various ramen and udon, a small snacks (99 cents to $3.50) such as Fried Turnip Cake (my favorite), Fried Black Rice Cake, Crispy Popcorn Chicken, Hong Kong Style Waffle, Chicken Wings, Soya Egg, even Imitation Shark Fin Soup. And nothing goes better with tea than toast ($2.50)—here they have sweet toast toppings ranging from chocolate to condensed milk to strawberry. </p>
So would I return to Quickly? Even though I would rather support the small businesses in my old Sunset neighborhood than another franchise, when that boba craving hits, I wouldn’t mind going back to Quickly. Call it laziness. Call it convenience. Hey, there’s over 2,000 Quickly locations across the world, with nearly ten in the San Francisco Bay Area. Is there one in <a href="http://store.quicklyusa.com/quicklystores.html" target="_blank">your neighborhood</a>?</p>
<strong>Quickly</strong> (select Bay Area locations)<br />
325 El Camino Real (at Hillcrest), Millbrae, CA<br />
1039 Ocean Ave. (across City College), San Francisco, CA <br />
1050 Taraval St. (near 21st Ave.), San Francisco, CA<br />
1733 Polk Street (near Clay), San Francisco, CA<br />