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Mar 4, 2013 10:42 AM

TPumps - New bubble tea place in Outer Sunset, SF

I haven't tried this place yet, and I'm curious to hear from those who have. Apparently this place is in San Mateo, and a new branch just opened on Irving in the Sunset. Lines were really long last Wednesday night (meanwhile, no line at Wonderful Foods), and apparently they continued to be long this weekend.

I wouldn't be surprised if this place was good, but could it really be worth the long wait if Wonderful Foods is just down the street?

Dave MP

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  1. I think their selling point is price and how flexible you can be with the drink. Regular sweet, not too sweet, etc. Milk, green tea, or black tea. Mixing flavors like lychee and passionfruit, etc.

    That's what I like about it. Although, if the line is out the door I will not wait...

    1 Reply
    1. re: sparkerly

      But can't you do those things at any bubble tea place? I could see that not working as well at a place where the person making the drink didn't know what they were doing....but most places I've had bubble tea seem pretty flexible if you ask (including chains like Quickly, Teaway, etc. and definitely independent places like Wonderful Foods)

    2. not to mention stiff competition from purple kow a bit north

      1. Having tried the San Mateo location, I must say that their bubble tea is very good. I'm not that much a fan of bubble tea that I would be willing to wait in a long line for it though. According to my cousin, they use premium tea and have interesting flavor combinations, that's what is good about them. Supposedly they promote premium tea with optimum temperature and timing to ensure great taste. The lines at the San Mateo location are always out the door as well.

        1. I tried it last night with two others, who will hopefully chime in.

          We arrived at 8:35 and waited in went out to about the door, which isn't too bad compared to how it was a few days back. We got to the front of the line at 8:55, ordered our drinks, and then waited about another 10 minutes for our drinks to be ready, so it was about 30 minutes total. This is by far the longest I've waited for bubble tea anywhere in the world.

          The ordering process is very specific. For flavored teas, you have to specify if you want black or green tea, how sweet (regular, light, none), size (regular or very big), and type of add-in (regular tapioca, popping tapioca, taro, red bean).

          We had the following:

          Mango milk tea (green), lightly sweet, with tapioca
          Green milk tea, regular, with tapioca
          Almond milk tea (green), regular, with tapioca
          Taro milk tea (green), regular, with tapioca

          The best of these was the almond milk tea, which is made with a powder. It's therefore lactose free (no actual milk). The difference between this almond milk tea and the version at Wonderful Foods (and many other places) is that this did contain both actual tea *and* the almond milk...but to be honest, I couldn't really tell much difference. It was pretty good though, and not too sweet. The tapioca were on the sweet side, but texturally quite good. Not too soft, but no stiffness. I prefer less sweet tapioca, though. Also, the quantity of tapioca in all of our drinks was small....i.e. a smaller serving of tapioca, compared to many other places.

          Next best was green milk tea. It seemed like the tea itself was better than most places, with a subtle flavor, not the intense jasmine stuff you often get at places like Quickly and even Wonderful Foods. The syrup at the bottom almost tasted honey-like, which I liked okay. I think it could be worth seeing what their plain green iced tea tastes like.

          Next best was taro milk tea, which had a good taro flavor, but was a bit too chalky. This was also made with powder I think, but they didn't quite mix it well enough to give it the right mouthfeel. Bright purple, and I couldn't particularly tell that there was any green tea in it (though there was).

          Finally, the mango milk tea was the worst. It's not something I'd normally order, so it's possible this combo wouldn't work anywhere, but I thought it was too sweet (despite ordering it less-sweet). Seems like they just made milk tea, and then added mango syrup (I noticed they are using Torani syrup for their syrups). But overall the combo was kind of gross, in my opinion. Might be our fault for ordering it, though it's featured on the menu.

          Prices are pretty reasonable ($2.75, I believe, for most regular milk teas), which are a large size. So, I probably wouldn't dislike this place if there were no line, but as it stands now, I see no reason to go to TPumps when Wonderful Foods is two blocks away and is, in my mind, just as good (if not better).

          After our drinks, the friend who had ordered the mango milk and I passed by Wonderful Foods as we walked back to the car, and since she had been disappointed with the mango, I brought her into Wonderful Foods to introduce her to their bubble tea (she had never been). She ordered an almond milk tea (hot) which we both thought was much better than anything we tried at TPumps!

          So, glad that I checked this place out, but I certainly won't return until the line goes down below 5 minutes.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Dave MP

            Thanks for the comparison. Worth mentioning that Wonderful Foods uses fresh taro, not powder, to make its taro drinks.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I think that Wonderful Foods does have powdered taro....because when I buy the taro milk tea there, it's very bright purple. But now that you're mentioning it, I think they maybe *also* have fresh taro, which is what they use for the smoothie-type drinks.

              I'm not 100% sure about this, since maybe the fresh taro is also bright purple? But it seems too purple to be natural..

          2. I can't speak for the SF location, but the San Mateo location is hot, not necessarily for the product but just because it's *the* place for a teen/college age student to be, much like Cafe Lattea or Verde are for the South Bay crowd. And for things like this, the more popular it gets, the more this kind of clientele wants it.

            They may use a premium tea, but it's undermined by some of the other things they do to it. I ordered a black milk tea "less sweet" but got something that was so cloyingly sweet that I could only manage a couple sips before tossing it in the trash. Other party members found the same (so it wasn't an individual prep mistake). Also saw them pouring in scoops of CoffeeMate, rather than real milk.

            For bubble tea, I much prefer Cafe Lattea in Cupertino, where they also brew their tea (using 紅茶), use real milk and have a more granular sweetness system.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Jon914

              Completely agree with your assessment of the tea. Tried it once and found the tea to be way too sweet. If they are using premium tea it's going to waste because any tea flavor is masked by all the sugar and flavoring that they put into it. I think the popularity of this place is mostly due to the large portion size they give you for the price which appeals to the teen/college crowd that they attract.

              Cafe LaTTea is good, but my favorite is Tea Station in Newark. It's too bad they only have one location up here as in Socal they are all over the place. Their drinks are pricey but nothing I've had comes close to their quality.

              1. re: mliew

                Kids, college aged and young working professionals like this stuff, particularly the ability to customize the milk tea and degree of "remix" of the ingredients. The product is indeed steps ahead of the chains that do scoop and drop operation (like getting an ice cream cone for the customer), but I find that the best drink there is just a plain honey green tea with no additional sweetener (or just get it hot where it is not diluted too much with ice). The problem is that even this simple drink is inconsistent because there are only a few people who really know how to make this right, whereas the younger crowds are happy with the remixes (like chocolate strawberry or passion mango lychee) that do nothing but add to the waistline which requires less training (since most of the kids who love the store have no issues with the taste of the drinks, unlike many of us).

                1. re: K K

                  Are there really bubble tea places in the city that don't let you "remix" or make a drink with certain specifications if you ask? I guess I don't really buy the idea that there are bubble tea chains doing a scoop and drop operation.

                  I actually went to a Quickly last night (the one on Taraval), and even here I was able to specify things like "less sweet", plus it didn't seem like it would be a problem to ask for whatever my heart desired when it came to add-ons/flavors in my drink. Quickly isn't my favorite place in the city, but drinks here do seem totally customizable if you ask. Maybe it's not the case at other Quicklys?

                  1. re: Dave MP

                    The problem is that all the mixes are already sweetened. To my memory Quickly doesn't have real milk, unless that's changed. This goes far beyond bubble tea--it's equally a problem with chai and matcha lattes and hot cocoa, for those of us who care about how much sugar we're consuming and want to add our own or are trying to avoid soy bean oil.

                    I was looking at the sugar content of tart/"plain" frozen yogurt at a store in Noe Valley recently, and even it had 24g (6 teaspoons) per portion.

                    1. re: Windy

                      Ah okay, that makes sense, and yes I think you are right that the green milk tea at Quickly was pre-mixed. Though I wonder whether they have the ability to make tea that doesn't have any sugar in it if you ask them....they definitely have both milk-free and with milk (maybe not real), but not sure about sugar content.

                2. re: mliew

                  @mliew - This is veering slightly off topic, but if you asked me what my favorite tea-based drink was, it would actually be the HK-style milk teas you can find at a couple places like Cooking Papa and Koi Palace (not sure if any non-restaurants make this). They brew the tea pretty strong, and instead of regular milk and sweetener, they use condensed milk, which makes it creamy (without the trans fat junk that CoffeeMate is). It's quite a nice treat if you like something stronger, creamier but not cloying sweet.

                  1. re: Jon914

                    Koi Palace offers HK style milk tea? Hot and cold?

                    1. re: K K

                      Yeah, both hot and cold and at all locations, including the "Express" location in Dublin.

                      They serve the hot version in a metal cup, just like they do in HK.

                    2. re: Jon914

                      Sounds interesting, never had milk tea with condensed milk before. I'll have to give it a try sometime.