Alice Walker said that “Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors” and I’d have to agree that, as a die-hard tea-lover and heavy weight afternoon tea enthusiast, there are few things more agreeable than a large pot of hot Earl Grey accompanied by various cake and finger sandwich accoutrements. And those who know me well would say, as I would, that I’m by and large a traditional person, revelling in such etiquettes and ‘doing things properly’. However, it seems I’m either more adventurous than I thought, or that some things are just too wonderful for even us fuddy duddies to ignore.
Adam introduced me to Bubble Tea soon after we first met, and tried very hard to explain its joys of squidgy tapioca pearls and taro powder. It seemed extraordinarily odd to me and when we first came across Jen Cafe in London’s China Town who serve a small menu of Bubble Teas, I was a little reserved. But from my first sip on the giant straw, and my first chew on the ‘boba’ I was hooked, and thus ensued our quest for more!
There are lots of differing stories on the origins of Bubble Tea to be found online, but so far I’ve been able to glean that it was invented in Taichung City, Taiwan in the 1980s and the name actually comes from the bubbles created by shaking up the iced tea mixture, rather than the ‘Boba’ or ‘pearls’. The most popular and well know kind is the pearl milk tea, which is made from a black tea mixed with milk and or Taro powder, with lots of tapioca pearls at the bottom. Variants include hot milk teas, fruit teas, fruit and milk teas, and lots of different ‘toppings’. As well as the original tapioca pearls, most good Bubble Tea shops serve other ‘Boba’ which are often fruit or yoghurt flavoured and are manufactured to ‘pop’ in your mouth. You can also often get little strips of jellied fruits to replace or augment your boba.
Having been subjected to a long fast of Bubble Tea, (due to our giving up on it in London frankly) we were to get a real treat on our holiday to Berlin. No sooner had we arrived at Alexanderplatz station to change to get the train to our hotel, we stumbled across Tea One right in the station itself. Overjoyed, we proceeded to gorge on their expertly prepared offerings, only to find that there was another Bubble Tea bar just outside the station. And we were to find two more on our wanderings, all of which we *had* to try of course, and so I was able to sample all sorts of flavours and toppings……coconut tea with lychee boba…..honeydew tea with yoghurt boba and mixed fruit and coconut jellies…..and of course taro with tapioca. On searching afterwards, I found we’d only really scratched the surface of Berlin’s Bubble Tea bars and so we left wondering why there were none in London.
Well there is now! Only in May (after we’d given up hope) London’s first Bubble Tea Bar opened on Soho’s Rupert Street. Bubbleology is all you could wish for on your first Bubble Tea experience. It’s neon-bright and full of colour, with a fun scientific theme (Bubble Tea is a precise science after all) with bubbling test tubes and conical flasks of super-bright liquids all around. The staff wear lab coats emblazoned with ‘Bubbleology’, so you know they either take their tea very seriously or they are great fun (or maybe both!). They even serve wonderfully kitsch looking Taiwanese toasties which are prettily topped with fruit. Our large teas set us back £3.75, and I added some extra boba for 50p which I was only too happy to hand over for what revealed to be wonderfully prepared Bubble Teas. The choice isn’t as good as some of the places we found in Berlin, but there is still more than enough that you could go a great few times and never have to have the same twice.
And it’s that choice I think in part which makes Bubble Tea so fun. The idea of personalising ones drinks is nothing new, but is nonetheless eternally appealing and in the UK I think we’re getting better at it, perhaps thanks to the likes of Starbucks. I don’t suppose for a moment that Bubble Tea is going to take over as the new cappuccino and replace everyone’s daily coffee, but it is certainly a growing trend and I hope, here to stay.
Berlin Bubbles…..my photos of Bubble Tea and other things bubbly in Berlin
Bubbleology….our new haunt….
Bubbleology also at Harvey Nichols, and a crafty ‘make your own’ kit…..
Next to try….a great looking Bubble Tea bar in Camden…..