In Taiwanese culture, it’s common to find beans and barley in a dessert dish but in the western part of the world, beans and barley are usually reserved for soups and red chili. Meet Fresh is a new authentic Taiwanese dessert and drink shop that infuses bowls of taro and grass jelly with peanuts and red beans. This sweet shop may be a bit outlandish to those who have never tasted taro root or jelly noodle dishes from Eastern Asia.
Meet Fresh was created in 2007 by a sister and brother duo in the Feng Yuan District of Taichung, Taiwan. The siblings wanted to utilize traditional Taiwanese methods in their cooking with a selection of China’s finest ingredients and the absence of any unnecessary preservatives.
The very first location opened in Taiwan and quickly grew into a massive dessert franchise reaching various Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. It didn’t take long for this dessert shop to extend to the western half of the world with various locations in California, New York and Texas. It wasn’t until October 2018, when Colorado received its first and only Meet Fresh.
Sitting on the southern end of Colorado Boulevard is a polished little dessert shop that offers a massive menu full of one-off desserts and matchless beverage variations. The combination of sweet potato, barley, boba, taro balls and shaved ice in a bowl make for an unusual yet sensational experience. The natural sweetness from the sweet potato will coat your taste buds without leaving an extreme saccharine effect. The barley and red bean toppings offer a good source of protein and iron without tasting too much like a bowl of hearty red chili. And lastly, taro with a similar texture to boba—supple and chewy at the same time.
Even though popular dishes like taro, grass jelly and purple rice are a bit eccentric— the familiar smell of sweet milk and toasted almonds in the air put most skeptical eaters at ease. Owner Pan Zhang suggests those newcomers to try the mango or strawberry shaved ice or any one of the many tofu puddings on the menu. The shaved ice ($11.80) has a similarity to snow cones with finely shredded ice but with natural flavors rather than the artificial flavoring you’d get when ordering a snow cone at a fair. The tofu pudding ($5.85) is another Taiwanese delicacy offered at Meet Fresh with 12 different flavors including boba tofu pudding, sweet potato tofu pudding and mung bean tofu pudding. Each pudding has its own flavor but the silkiness texture is something every culture can relate to.
The use of beans and barley in dessert dishes isn’t too far-fetched when the natural flavor of beans lean more towards the sweet and nutty side.
As winter weather quickly approaches, Zhang realized his customers would lose the desire to eat cold desserts. To combat the clash of cold weather and icy bowls, he introduced a hot pot style dessert using the very same ingredients. Only instead of adding them to shaved ice, they are warmed in a golden hot pot. While the icy desserts at Meet Fresh are largely popular in the eastern part of the world, you can only find the hot pot desserts at the Colorado location.
As for the cool desserts, the most popular item ordered is the Signature Icy Grass Jelly ($7.25) bowl with chewy taro balls, cold and slippery herbal grass jelly and grass jelly flavored shaved ice. All of these gelatinous items melt in your mouth like a healthier bowl of American Jell-O. The sweetness of this dish comes from a white cream similar to the half and half that would normally go in a cup of coffee. It comes on the side making it easy to adjust the sweetness of the dish.
The various round and angular shapes jiggle in the bowl adding thrill to these sweet treats. The excitement of these jelly bowls is a hit among children and young adults. According to Zhang, about 20-30% of the visitors are Americans that come in a regular basis. He hopes the percentage will increase as the popularity of these Taiwanese desserts become more mainstream. But for now, the majority of visitors at Meet Fresh are of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. He believes these desserts are a true reflection of eastern Asian culture— it really makes those diners feel at home.
Meet Fresh celebrates the Taiwanese culture with a wash of contemporary design. The furnishing is modern and clean with cream and pastel pink walls and natural lighting paired with bright neon signs embellishing the logo. Every piece of script around the restaurant is written in both English and Chinese, welcoming both cultures. The ceiling above the kitchen is adorned with traditional red Chinese lanterns while Top 40 American pop music radiates through the speakers. The trendy yet approachable ambiance at Meet Fresh appeals to the young adult crowd while a simple nod to Taiwanese culture makes the older crowd feel at home.
You can skip booking a flight to Taiwan when a quick trip to Meet Fresh in the Virginia Village of South East Denver will introduce you to traditional Taiwanese desserts.
Meet Fresh is located at 1350 S Colorado Blvd., Denver. It is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
All Photography by Amanda Piela