BUBBLE TEA: THE ROYAL(TEA) OF DRINKS
WRITTEN BY: Sabrina Peng
What Exactly is Bubble Tea? Where Can I Get Bubble Tea? How do I Order Bubble Tea? All of your questions answered!
What Exactly is Bubble Tea?
You’ve heard of sweet tea in Texas, oolong tea from Japan, and earl grey tea from Britain – but a small island off the main coast of China boasts the latest (and in my opinion, greatest) spin on tea. Essentially the Asian version of America’s coffee, bubble tea is brewed across the globe in millions of liters as the Taiwanese tradition becomes more and more popular. From the traditional pearl milk tea to crazy combinations of avocado and taro, bubble tea gives me hope that the world can come together in celebration of an amazing dessert-drink invention.
Dating tentatively from the 1980s, bubble tea is so named because of the
addictively chewy tapioca balls lurking at the bottom of each cup. The drink is also often called boba tea, pearl tea, QQ tea, and other names in the native Chinese and Taiwanese languages. The bubbles in question are usually formed with tapioca, a cassava-based starch, and sweetened in turn with a honey or sugar mixture. You know you have good tapioca when you have a ball that is slightly dense and chewy throughout without being too sticky.
The tea that goes along with the tapioca is up to each individual drinker. The traditional recipe is to use milk tea, or black tea with some type of milk or creamer. Jasmine milk tea, or a green tea version of the original, is also a popular option. Of course, you can get as wild as you want with not only the different flavors of tea, but also the toppings that come alongside the tapioca. For more information on how stores can tailor drinks to your liking, click on Part Three of this series.
At first taste, it may seem strange to have solid substances in a liquid drink, but the combination works surprisingly well – you get the delicate syrupy sweet of the tapioca with a more concentrated burst of caffeinated flavor. I used to work at a bubble tea shop, and one day, two ladies came into the store asking for Texas-style sweet tea. It was amazing getting to introduce them to the Taiwanese concept of bubble tea. Although one lady refused to eat the bubbles on account of them looking like tadpoles (which, color besides, I really couldn’t see), the other really liked the original pearl milk tea and said she would come back often to try different drinks!
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to try bubble tea – it beats Starbucks any day!
Where can I get Bubble Tea?
Unfortunately for bubble tea lovers in the United States, bubble tea shops are far and few between if you compare them to the Starbucks that seem to be on every corner. Places that sell bubble tea and related drinks are most common in enclaves of Asian communities, as immigrants from Taiwan, China, and other countries have brought over the tradition. I live in the Dallas area, which has a concentrated Asian population, especially in the north region of the metroplex. This article will highlight several Dallas-area boba locations I’ve been to and some of their specialty drinks! FYI – the stores aren’t necessarily ranked in order; each has its own unique personality.
I lead off this list with QQ Teahouse because I actually worked there this last summer and it was almost as fun as drinking bubble tea! QQ Teahouse offers a huge selection of different flavors and toppings, and it’s possible to get almost any combination of menu items in one drink (I took some crazy orders). Furthermore, the service in making drinks is very fast and the staff is amenable to special requests. Besides bubble tea, you can also order a variety of Taiwanese snacks and meals, including popcorn chicken (a personal favorite), ramen noodles, and pork chop rice, among others.
Address: 2909 W 15th St, Plano, TX 75075 Phone Number: 972-612-9530
Kung Fu Tea
Located just north of downtown Dallas, Richardson is home to Kung Fu Tea, which is actually a nation-wide store brand. I have friends who swear by the brand’s boba quality and absolutely freaked out when they heard a KFT was opening in my suburban hometown. Kung Fu Tea is a bit more traditional in the sense that it mainly sticks to black tea and green tea natural flavors rather than indulging in blueberry, avocado, and seemingly weird teas. The store heavily relies on red bean and mung bean, an essential component to desserts in Taiwan, and has signature recipes for certain drinks that are probably very closely guarded.
Address: 2067 N Central Expressway, Suite 100, Richardson, TX 75080 Phone Number: 972-907-1578
WOW Bubble Tea
The only thing better than good bubble tea is a good location to drink it in! WOW Bubble Tea has an artsy and chic look to it, from the Polaroids strung along the wood-paneled wall to the unique floral arrangements on the tables. If the Pink Drink from Starbucks is all the rage on Instagram, the only drink that could possibly challenge that would be the Instagrammable bubble tea from WOW. Bubble tea is great, but it’s even better when you top off the drink with a huge, dreamy cloud of cotton candy. As always, though, you have many choices in terms of flavors of tea, toppings, and accompanying food.
Address: 2625 Old Denton Rd #555, Carrollton, TX 75007
Phone: (972) 242-5917
Bobaland is conveniently tucked in a huge Asian-dominated town plaza – there is an Asian supermarket, Asian bank, multiple Asian restaurants – you get the picture. If you’re ever craving any type of Asian food, the intersection of Legacy and Highway 75 is the way to go. Bobaland definitely has some interesting takes on traditional bubble tea – one of my favorites is the summer-edition-only Watermelon Heaven, which is a chilled watermelon smoothie with actual watermelon chunks inside. It’s the best thing to get when you really want to cool off in the Texas heat! There are also astronomy-themed drinks (Milky Way Galaxy, Red Galaxy, etc.) that are so named because of the swirling bits of lychee jelly, basil seeds, and other toppings included with the teas. My friend once got a sriracha and mango smoothie that has a name I can’t quite recall (see picture to the right!). Although the saltiness of the sriracha sauce attached to the boba straw was hard to get over at first, it actually worked really well together in the end, so if you’re feeling adventurous…
Address: 240 Legacy Dr #110, Plano, TX 75023
Phone Number: 972-517-6795
Fat Straws Bubble Tea
Just like Kung Fu Tea, most of my friends swear by Fat Straws being one of the best in the Dallas area as well. Fat Straws is privately and family-owned, so there are only two locations in the United States – Dallas and Plano. What makes Fat Straws stand out from other bubble tea locations is its range of what are called “Artisan Teas,” which feature blends such as white guava ginger, Moroccan mint, and white coconut crème. Moreover, Fat Straws also heavily promotes its milkshakes, which are not your typical chocolate or vanilla, but include green tea (matcha) and Thai tea versions.
Delish Bubble Tea
Delish Bubble Tea was the store I visited the most often in my high school days because it was the closest to my school. The quality of boba at Delish is slightly below that of some of the other stores I’ve mentioned in this article, but it more than makes up for that through the availability of almost every flavor tea/smoothie you can imagine, including bubble gum for the kids, spice berry, and peaches ‘n cream. Delish is also home to a variety of freshly brewed coffees, espressos, and blended beverages that run the gamut from dulce de leche to java chip and caramel latte. It’s the perfect place for friends or family members with different cravings to satisfy themselves with a ridiculous range of options to choose from.
Address: 8930 TX-121, McKinney, TX 75070
Phone Number: 214-383-1555
Not only do I appreciate the punny name of this store, but I also really enjoy the consistency of the boba here. I have only been a couple of times, so hopefully that consistency is consistently on point! I had the milk tea slush with boba, which, to my amazement, did not make the bubble tea ridiculously frozen and dense to chew through. At times, the teas can be a little bit on the sweet side, but you can always ask for a reduction in sugar. If you’re not feeling bubble tea on the day you go, you always have frozen yogurt to lean on! There are tons of flavors and toppings to choose from if you want a healthier alternative to calorie-heavy ice cream.
Address: 8240 Preston Rd Ste. 177, Plano, TX 75024
Phone number: 214-705-6001
BAMBU Desserts and Drinks
This last bubble tea popup focuses on Vietnamese-style chè, which means homemade beverages, desserts drinks, and puddings, according to the BAMBU website. Not only can you get your traditional bubble teas here, but you can also get these amazingly colorful drinks layered almost to the top of the cup with toppings. Coconut meat, pandan jelly, red/mung bean, red tapioca pearls, jackfruit, lotus seed – you name it, it’s there. The specialty drinks are meant to overwhelm the senses with flavors hitting your taste buds again and again, so come here if you’re tired of bubble tea (impossible!) and want a uniquely satisfying Vietnamese experience.
Address: 151 West Spring Creek Parkway, Plano, Texas 75023
Phone Number: 972-527-0900
If you have a bubble tea shop near you, I cannot express how jealous I am. My college campus is located at least a ten-minute, traffic-afflicted car ride away from the nearest one and I am currently suffering from bubble tea withdrawals. So if you have the opportunity to go buy a cold, delicious drink with tapioca pearls, do it and bring me one too!
How Do I Order Bubble Tea?
Now that you know what bubble tea is and where to get it, it is time to discuss how to get the most satisfying bubble tea drink possible. You walk into the store and to the counter, where you are inundated with colorful signs and unfamiliar words. Where to begin?
The first step to ordering bubble tea is to determine what type and flavor of tea you’re craving on that particular day. Most bubble tea shops provide a choice between a black tea or green tea base, although I have seen some earl grey teas used as foundations for the drinks as well. Black tea provides a richer and sweeter flavor than the bitter green tea will offer, but the overall sweetness can be adjusted to your liking later on.
After selecting a tea, you have the choice of adding a particular flavor. If you’re a beginner, the traditional milk tea is a great way to start, but for those who are feeling adventurous, there are some crazy flavors out there to try. Examples include: taro, honeydew, avocado, coffee, mango, blueberry, strawberry, etc. Some boba places may have special blends like Sunrise and Sunset teas, which are just combinations of various tropical and berry flavors. If tea isn’t your thing, stores usually offer smoothies and slushies in these flavors as well!
What makes bubble tea different from other types of tea are obviously the bubbles and various toppings themselves! The tapioca bubbles usually come in two different sizes: large and small. The large ones are the typical ones used in drinks, but the small ones taste just as great – it’s really a matter of personal preference! In the United States, it’s most common to see only the black tapioca balls, but in Taiwan especially, you have the choice of getting white tapioca balls, which are produced using rice rather than tapioca starch. They have the same taste but a less chewy consistency! Another type of bubble is the popping bubble. Instead of a dense texture throughout, the bubble has an edible skin that is filled with a certain liquid flavor and “pops” when you bite through it. Popping bubbles come in different flavors as well – the most popular are mango, strawberry, and lychee.
As for other toppings, consider adding grass jelly, lychee jelly, red/mung bean, and even vanilla/coffee pudding into your drink. Some specialty drinks on Taiwanese menus are almost 50/50 in tea-to-topping ratio! Finally, you can request certain modifications to your drink, including varying levels of ice and sugar – so you can enjoy bubble tea even when you’re on a diet!
To conclude, I’ve tried a lot of bubble tea before, so here are a couple of my favorite standard drinks:
- Passion fruit green tea with large boba and lychee jelly
- Jasmine milk tea (green tea with milk/creamer) with large boba
- Lychee smoothie with small boba
Every store has its own specialty drinks, so make sure to ask the cashier what his or her favorite drink is! You might just find a personal addiction. Happy boba drinking!