BANGKOK — A humble tea shop in northern Bangkok offers a healthy herbal jelly as an alternative to boba – but the shop and its owner have travelled a long way to bring customers their wobbly gelatinous drinks.
Auttapol Saejong opened The Frog Prince, a stall selling tea drinks with aiyu jelly in June after the coronavirus pandemic broke out earlier this year and turned his life upside down. Chinese tourists stopped coming to Thailand. Borders closed down. He lost his job.
“I used to take Chinese tour groups to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Pattaya,” Auttapol, 38, said. “But they were all gone after COVID [surfaced].”
To make ends meet, he opened The Frog Prince.
Fortunately for him, Auttapol didn’t have to start from scratch. Prior to his career in tourism, the Chiang Rai native had studied and worked as a chef in Taiwan for 16 years – including 10 years at a Japanese restaurant, as well as a stint at a tea shop.
He decided to build on his experience and import from Taiwan the seeds of the awkeotsang creeping fig – to make his own aiyu jelly.
“It’s not very well known in Thailand yet. Mostly people drink bubble tea, which is not so good for your health,” Auttapol recalled. “The texture of the jelly is like Pipo, but softer. It just melts in your mouth, not like pudding or gelatin.”
Aiyu jelly, widely consumed in Taiwan, is a jelly made from the gel that forms by soaking the seeds of the awkeotsang creeping fig. Aiyu jelly is used in refreshing snacks in Taiwan, often mixed with citrus fruits and honey.
The tea stall’s humble appearance betrays the owner’s decades of professional chef experience. Auttapol meticulously scoops jellies, passionfruit juice, and sweetened osmanthus teas for each order. He’s proudest of his Sweet Osmanthus Lemon Tea Aiyu Jelly (60 baht), his own brew of sweetened osmanthus tea with added aiyu and lime.
It’s a guilt-free snack, a calorie-light alternative to popular sugar-filled bubble tea snacks. The osmanthus tea with passionfruit is a personal favorite, a fragrant flower tea that’s not too acidic (60 baht). The strongly pro-passionfruit should order the Passion Fruit Aiyu Jelly (50 baht), a cup of passionfruit juice with generous scoops of aiyu.
“Women in Taiwan really like to drink aiyu because there’s no flour or gelatin. It’s from a fruit, and helps you to feel full and control your weight. You won’t get fat no matter how much you eat it,” Auttapol said.
In fact, Frog Prince’s Brown Sugar and Aiyu Fresh Milk (65 baht) even swaps out carb-heavy tapioca pearls for aiyu, which is only 30 calories per half a cup.
Auttapol makes his aiyu fresh every day, and even sells the seeds in raw form for those who want to try making their own. Aiyu is composed of 90 percent water, with pectin as the gelling agent, making it a good source of fiber and water and even promotes satiety.
His claims aren’t exaggerated – as much as four hours after drinking the brown sugar milk tea with aiyu, we were still full. We tried drinking the osmanthus lemon tea with aiyu on another day – still full after three hours!
Auttapol’s choice in opening a tea stall based around just this wobbly jelly is due to tis properties – he says that the jelly decreases cholesterol, aids the digestive system, hydrates the skin, and even boosts newborn moms’ milk supply.
To make tea orders even healthier, customers can request that the teas have no sugar as well, although Auttapol only uses brown sugar. One can also bring their own cups and straws to cut back on plastic use.
The Frog Prince can be ordered on Grab, Food Panda, and Line Man and is open from 10am to 7pm every day. The shop is located on Thetsaban Songkhro Road in Chatuchak district right next to Bon Marche market, a taxi ride away from MRT Chatuchak Park or BTS Mo Chit.