For someone who is as immersed in coffee-shop culture as a tea-bag is in hot water, I have only just tried bubble tea. Sure I’ve heard about it before but never had the chance to try it due to it not being sold in a lot of the places I frequent. I frequent a lot of places but maybe I’m just not going to the right ones!
On one of our rare super-hot days, I saw a poster on the window of a trendy coffee shop near where I live, advertising bubble tea: a drink that consisted of what I thought were little pearls of sago floating around in a milky liquid. It closely resembled the Indian dessert/drink falooda, and looked so delicious and refreshing – just perfect on such a hot day – so I thought I’d give it a go.
The drink came in three yummy sounding flavours: strawberry, mango, and coconut. The mango sounded especially delicious so I selected that and waited to discover the mystery that is bubble tea.
WHAT IS BUBBLE TEA?
Also known as pearl milk tea or boba milk tea, bubble tea originated from Taiwan in the 1980s. It’s typically a tea base mixed with milk or fruit with large tapioca balls thrown in – the ‘bubbles’! The earliest form of bubble tea was a mixture of black tea, tapioca pearls, syrup, and condensed milk.
There are many different variations of this drink. You can either get milk-based or fruit-flavoured teas, although some shops tend to sell a mixture of the two. There are fruit smoothies made using crushed fruit, and versions using blended ice which has a more slushy consistency. Milk smoothies are based on a similar concept except that they don’t contain any tea! In some drinks, the tapioca is replaced with jelly cubes, aloe, sago or taro balls. So many variations of one drink!
As I am quite familiar with the culinary delights of South-East Asia, I thought I knew what to expect and was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it was nothing like I had expected. The drink – which was not as chilled as I would have liked – had the consistency and taste of watered down milk and I very much doubt there was any tea in it. And watered down milk was the only real flavour I could taste; if I had not ordered mango, I wouldn’t have known what flavour it was supposed to be. And the ‘bubbles’ were not chewy tapioca at all but rather small balls filled with a syrupy type mixture which looked a lot like the gel balls I place in vases for flower arrangements. I have to say that although I was disappointed to have not had real tapioca or sago, I found these ‘syrupy bubbles’ to be quite interesting: the slightest pressure from your tongue would cause these bubbles to burst releasing the mango-flavoured syrup. It was like bubble wrap for your mouth – once you started popping them you couldn’t stop!
Has it put me off drinking bubble tea in the future? Of course not! This was in no way the real deal but a pseudo-bubble tea, created mainly, I believe, for the novelty factor.
I look forward to trying the real stuff at some point!