Since my first year of living in China, I have been a fan of their pearl milk tea. “Pearl” is the name for the black tapioca balls that sit at the bottom of the drink. The drink itself is a tea that’s sweetened with milk, sugar, and the flavor of your choice. At first, it was exciting to have a refreshing milky drink for only about 1.5 Chinese dollars (.22$). Another appeal of the milk tea was to try its variety of flavors which included coffee, chocolate, strawberry, coconut, honeydew melon, and taro root. Yes, this little .22$ cup of goodness was exciting and came to represent adventurous spirit and love for new things in China.
But over time, the drink has changed. It’s now about .50$ a cup, and now, there are many shops where this milk tea is sold. AT the same time, the variety of flavors no longer hold the same lure over me. I know what I like (Yuan Wei) original flavor because I love the strong black tea flavor combined with the milkiness. If I drank milk tea whenever I wanted, I would drink probably 2 cups a day. But I don’t dare drink it that often. Recently, I’ve limited myself to one cup a week in my suspicion of its effects on my diet.
The other day at our favorite drink shop, we were talking to the owner who tried to reassure me that milk tea really doesn’t have that many calories. “Our shop uses this product,” he says as he reaches for a can of sweetened condensed milk, “instead of the milk powder which has a lot more calories.”
Huh, I nod quite confused how sweetened condensed milk could be the healthier option between the two. “This sweetened condensed milk is lower in calories,” he reassures me by taking out the package of milk powder and gently tossing it in the air as if it's weight represents its' high calories.
But I’m not convinced; not convinced at all. All this time, while I deluded myself into thinking that I was drinking “tea” with just a little milk to add flavor, I was ingesting spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk. Ah yes, and therein lies the reason why I think it’s so easy to gain weight in China. Not because of the oil in the food (although that contributes) not because of our affinity for baking sweet cakes and cookies in our ovens, but because we have blindly been consuming sweetened condensed milk in a cup. Moreover, we have been blindly consuming snacks whose nutritional value is virtually impossible to know exactly. Last year, I was into snacking on dry banana chips. But this summer, I saw somewhere how many calories and fat they have in them, and I was simply horrified. We blindly consume because we don’t know and we assume the best. But unfortunately, we are the plumper for our ignorance.
Furthermore, there are a lot fewer “treats” that I like here in China compared to the number of treats that I like in the states. As a result, I tend to be more lenient with myself when I find some treats that I do like. This is a bad habit that I’m in the process of adjusting. Four years of indulging in “treats” that have ambiguous nutritional benefits may not be the best adventurous spirit for my health. My adjustments for this year include limiting myself to one glass of bubble milk tea per week and avoiding banana chips completely.