Harrisburg Renaissance Part 4: DEN Bubble Tea

01 Dec

Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to the last installment of the Harrisburg Renaissance series. This one requires a bit of exposition. Bubble Tea isn’t really a thing. It’s an anglicization of the word “boba” which as far as I know means “pearl” and refers to the small “pearls” of tapioca (or sometimes grass jelly, red bean, or aloe) at the bottom of what is otherwise a milk-and-sugar-infused tea. It originated in Taiwan during the 1980s and has become so deeply ingrained into the culture that since 2020, April 30th has been declared National Bubble Tea Day in Taiwan. From Taiwan, the beverage spread around to Pacific Rim to other Asian countries, which brings us in a roundabout way to Harrisburg.

Harrisburg has a large Asian population. We take it for granted that not every city has an Indian or Nepalese grocer on every corner with dark soy and masala available to make your chicken really pop. It shouldn’t be too surprising in retrospect that a bubble tea palace like DEN showed up here, owned by some Vietnamese folk and offering a wide array of Vietnamese fare in addition to bubble tea. It also offers bubble coffee, hence its inclusion in this blog!

I’m not exactly sure what coffee was used here, but it tasted almost exactly like a craft-made cold-brewed Colombian. It was a really delicious one, too. It reminded me of the first cold brew I ever drank, from Harrisburg’s own Little Amps. I haven’t had a cold brew in a long time; in fact, I rarely enjoy cold coffee. This was exceptional and blunted my biases because somehow they’d largely eliminated the odd spoiled-milk taste that I’ve often found accompanies cold coffee. I’m guessing that effect was due to the boba. It’s not far-fetched to assume that the tapioca had a mellowing effect on what can often be a very bold and expressive bean. The result was an extraordinarily well-balanced blend of coffee traditions.

This particular iteration of DEN has been open for several years now. It actually predates the plague. The expansion, however, is quite new. On November 9th, the DEN franchise had its soft opening right across the river in Mechanicsburg. So, not only did a niche coffee spot survive the turmoil; it thrived and is poised to make a mark on the coffee scene on both shores of the Susquehanna River. If you’ve got a taste for the borderlands of exotic and familiar, stop by DEN.

So what’s next for the Coffeehouse Journey? So far, the plan is to go in one of two directions. The first is south to South Mountain and the Maryland border. There should be a rich harvest of coffeehouses near Waynesboro and the Penn State branch campus there. The Appalachian Trail is also nearby, and that bodes well. The second option is to go West and finish (or at least continue) the Alleghanies Leg that was cut short months ago due to those new openings in Dutch Country. Stay tuned, and as always, stay caffeinated.

the slightly erroneous sign…

the den…

the window seats…

the invitation…

the beverage…

the boba…


Leave a comment

Posted by on December 1, 2022 in Uncategorized


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: