Meet the frappucino’s sexier cousin, the exotic one he sort of secretly fancies. Originally from Taiwan, bubble tea is ice-blended black tea and plenty of milk shaken to a deliciously frothy consistency with soft chewy “bubbles” of tapioca at the bottom. Californians refer to the beverage as “boba” tea—a throwback to its original Taiwanese street name which essentially translates as: big breasts. In most East Asian countries though, you’ll find it called “pearl” tea, a less X-rated analogy for its trademark balls of tapioca.
While bubble tea shops are as ubiquitous as juice bars of the 90’s throughout China and the American West Coast, finding the beverage in London is a bit more of an adventure. Having sampled bubble teas at various hip Asian eateries, the best are still in Chinatown. JEN Café’s original Taiwanese foam milk pearl tea is 500ml of heaven but with over twenty different varieties to choose from, there’s no excuse not to experiment. HK Diner up the street serves an even more extensive array of flavors and also offers a range of fruity alcoholic bubble tea cocktails that are both delicious and deceptively potent (three of these and we were ready to party).
Also in Chinatown, Leong’s Legends Continue does a bubble tea with slightly smaller tapiocas, and at SoHo’s trendy Cha Cha Moon you can order a Taiwanese iced tea without the “bubbles”. Either way, it’s the alternative cosmopolitanite’s Starbucks substitute—aside from being so delectable, how can you resist that cool factor?
JEN Café is open at 4-8 Newport Place from 10:30 - 8:30, and 9:30 Thurs-Sat. HK Diner, 22 Wardour St., is open 11:00 - 4:00 am daily. Leong’s Legends Continues is located at 26 Lisle St, open noon - 11:00 pm. And Cha Cha Moon at 15-21 Ganton St. opens from noon - 11:00 pm, 11:30 on weekends.
by Lillian He