The trend for Taiwanese tea has been brewing for a while, but a torrent of new dedicated cafes proves the bubble is far from bursting. Eddy Frankel offers the still-uninitiated a guide to chewy char
WHAT IS IT?
Ew, fizzy tea?
No, not that kind of bubbles. What we’re dealing with here is little chewy nuggets of tapioca in the bottom of your ‘bubble’ tea that you suck up with a straw.
Wait, it’s a drink you can eat?
Basically, yes. This Taiwanese phenomenon, which is big in Hong Kong too, has been seeping through the city for a few years now, but a new batch of cafés (there are four new spots on Shaftesbury Avenue alone) is taking the trend to new bubbly heights.
Is it just builder’s tea with some wine gums in it, then?
Not quite. There’s an almost endless variety of flavours. You can go for milk, ice cream, soy, fresh fruit or straight-up green and black tea options. The fruitier varieties are light and refreshing, and the milkier types are like chewy milkshakes. There’s now even bubble coffee for the adventurous. And then there are the tapioca balls.
Tell me about the balls.
Just like actual balls, their flavour, colour and shape vary. You can choose between little or large and sweet or very sweet, plus you get fruit and candy flavours in an endless array of colours.
That all sounds delicious. But I’m still not sold on this whole balls in your mouth thing…
It sounds weird, and it feels weird at first, but once you get used to the little fellas flying up the straw on a wave of flavoured tea, it’s both pleasant and surprisingly addictive.
WHERE CAN I DRINK IT?
49 Rupert St, W1D 7PF.
This was one of London’s first bubble tea shops and now has five more branches. It’s gimmicked to the hilt, with bubbling chemistry sets in the window and gnomic slogans on the cups. The bubbles here have just the right amount of bounce and chew.
8 East Yard, Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AL.
This tiny shop is good for novices, as the various types of bubble tea (milk or fruit, or an icy version) are clearly explained. The fruit flavours use green or oolong tea, with guava and honeydew among the tropical options.
3 Macclesfield St, W1D 6AU.
Reminiscent of the tiny ‘upstairs cafés’ in Hong Kong, Candy Café is a den of bubbly goodness. Along with bubble tea (we like the coconut-infused version), there’s a fine line in Asian snacks, such as toast spread with sweet coconut jam.
58 Dean St, W1D 6AL. Leicester Square.
These new kids on the block are aiming for something more out of the ordinary than your standard chewy teas – iced coffee with banana flavoured chews? Oh, you betcha.
Milk Tea & Pearl
Unit 58, Boxpark, E1 6GY. Shoreditch High,St Overground.
Think tea’s just for breakfast? Check out Milk Tea & Pearl’s alcoholic bubble tipples. The Boxpark branch deals in chewy cocktails, with green or black tea, which you can customise with mango, lychee or strawberry pearls.
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