Given the blistering temperatures of late, I decided to give BlackBall Taiwanese Dessert a try, despite the tepid reviews on Yelp. BlackBall is a Taiwanese dessert chain that markets itself as an ‘healthy’ dessert alternative, with an emphasis on grass jelly desserts and the Taiwanese penchant for QQ, i.e., chewy.
BlackBall (黑丸) occupies a prime spot on Life Plaza Center, facing Valley Blvd. The storefront was once occupied by Hui Lau Shan, named after a well-known Hong Kong dessert chain (許留山). For locals like myself, we remember Life Center Plaza in the 90’s as the location of one of Socal’s only Chinese movie theaters (now occupied by Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village, a decadently appointed Shanghai restaurant) and Cue Photo Studio, the epicenter of San Gabriel Valley’s Japanese photo booths.
The dessert shop is clean, trendy, and very well-lit. On my visit, there was a steady stream of patrons lining up to make orders at the counter.
BlackBall’s menu concept is quite straightforward. Choose from 3 primary desserts (grass jelly, aiyu jelly, or crushed ice), all priced at $5.95, and select a topping combination below. You can also customize how warm you want your dessert served. The topping combinations all highlight the Taiwanese penchant for “QQ”, i.e., chewy textures.
Grass jelly is also called herbal jelly, because it’s made using the oxidized leaves of a mint-like plant called xiancao (仙草). The texture is silky, but firmer than jello–and it’s often touted by the Chinese as a superfood, capable of curing colds and coughs. Whatever the science, growing up, grass jelly (served with cream soda, Burmese style) was one of my favorite summertime desserts, because it has seriously potent cooling properties.
So it was only natural that I order grass jelly dessert #2, which came with red bean, boba, taro and sweet potato Q (chewy balls made with mashed taro and sweet potato). Mabel Tan has a recipe up for making taro balls.
Overall, I have to admit, the concoction was pretty delicious! The toppings all complemented the grass jelly, and the dessert wasn’t overly saccharine. The red bean imparted most of the dessert’s sweetness. I’d go again.
P.S. one thing I will say is this. I’m not sure if the labor and ingredient costs justify the $5.95 price point, because there’s minimal preparation involved (unlike with shaved ice or other more labor-intensive desserts).
Blackball Taiwanese Dessert
250 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776