Bubble tea, one of my longtime favourite beverage treats.
Something I think you either love or hate. Longtime a fan, my obsession with bubble tea entered new heights when I visited Taipei.
Never had bubble tea?
I still remember the first time I tried it in New York City’s Chinatown. I don’t recall exactly what I ordered, but I remember chewing the tapioca balls for the first time and instantly loving it.
For years, I enjoyed green or black tea with bubbles whenever I was in a city’s Chinatown equivalent.
It wasn’t until I started travelling SE Asia that I realised I’d only tried the tip of the bubble tea iceberg.
In Singapore, I tried bubble tea with cheese foam. Yes, you read that correctly- cheese foam. Oddly salty, and kind of too sweet, but I didn’t totally hate it.
In Malaysia, I fell in love with aloe jelly mixed in with my boba and lychee tea. And, it was also in Malaysia I discovered warm, brown sugar bubble tea. Dessert game changer.
In Thailand, I’d order a warm, brown sugar bubble tea almost weekly as a special treat.
And in Vietnam, I specifically sought out places with bubble tea once a week or so to keep my habit going.
But, it wasn’t until Taiwan that I fully understood the possibilities of bubble tea.
I’d always thought of bubble tea as generally Asian, but it turns out it’s from Taiwan, originating as milk tea with bubbles.
Bubble tea is to Taiwan what pizza and pasta are to Italy, what wine and cheese are to France.
To call it the national drink wouldn’t be wrong.
While in Taipei, I averaged 1-2 bubble teas a day. Thankfully, across Asia, you’re able to specialise your order- limiting how much sugar is in it.
In addition to the new flavour variants I’ve come across, the ability to personalise your tea has been one of my favourite discoveries.
How much can you personalise?
Typically when you order, you first choose a size (medium, large) and then base kind of tea (milk, black, oolong, green), and then, depending on the kind of tea, a flavour (mango, pineapple, plum, lychee, apple, and so on).
Once you’re set on the basics, then you dictate how much ice and sugar you want, which is typically a scale ranging from none to ‘normal’, but in ~10-20% increments.
Example: 0 (none) / 10 / 30 / 50 (half) / 70 / 90 / 100 (normal)
At first, this kind of scale didn’t make much sense to me because the increments weren’t even. But, after watching places make many bubble teas, it started to make sense- they often use a shot glass-esque device for these measurements.
My go-to orders were always normal ice and no sugar. I often chose a green or black tea variety with a fruit flavour, which I felt lended enough sweetness.
Final step: Toppings.
You can order bubbles that are big or small, or add other things, like coconut jelly, aloe jelly, grass jelly and depending on the place, tons of other interesting jelly / bubble flavours.
Ordering the tea is almost as fun as drinking it, the average place you’ll visit has so many possibilities.
Back to Taipei.
Once I learned the Taiwanese invented the bubble tea I love so dearly, I started researching the best places to try it.
I checked out a lot of places during my stay, but also, upon finding favourites, made repeat visits to try different things from their menus. You could easily spend weeks in Taipei and come nowhere close to trying all the bubble tea chains.
Genuinely, I don’t think I had ‘bad’ bubble tea while in Taipei. There was something I enjoyed about every cup.
If you’re in Taiwan, you must try bubble tea. Even if you hate it, it’s just something you have to do. And, with how cheap it is, there’s no reason not to.
5 Places to Have Excellent Bubble Tea in Taipei
Chun Shui Tang: Hailed as the first man to invent bubble tea, you must stop at one of Chun’s 90 branches. How exactly did bubble tea come to be? One day in 1987, Lin Hsiu-hui, the product manager at Chun Shui Tang, mixed tapioca pearls into her iced tea drink during a meeting. Everyone in the meeting loved the beverage, and the rest is history. There are lots of options on the menu, but I’d go with the Original Pearl Milk Tea. It’s creamy, cool and the bubbles are on the smaller side.
50 Lan: Quickly becoming my favourite place for bubble tea, in part because there was one below my Airbnb, and in part, because there were locations all over the city, I could not get enough of the bubble tea from this chain. One of the things I loved most about 50 Lan? Some of their options are quite playful- definitely a departure from your standard bubble tea offerings.
Chen San Ding: The best brown sugar bubble tea I’ve ever had, full stop. Interestingly enough, there’s not even tea in it. Their tapioca pearls are what give the tea it’s excellent, sweet taste. When you visit, chances are you won’t be able to miss this street stall. There’s usually a queue around the building. I visited mid-afternoon on a weekday, and only had to wait behind two people, score.
Yi Fang Fruit Tea: In the mood for something more refreshing than milky or decadent? Yi Fang has dozens of different fruit teas, including one with actual passion fruit in it. I tried a few variants here, but couldn’t get over the combination of passion fruit and mango green tea.
Sharetea: A top chain across Asia, Sharetea stands out in Taiwan because of the quality of tea leaves they use. Endless tea and flavour options for whenever that bubble tea craving strikes.
Have you ever been to Taiwan? Or, have you had bubble tea? Do you like it?