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bubble tea primer needed

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  • Linda E Aug 1, 2003 08:26 PM
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Everything about bubble tea intrigues me: the crayon-box colors, the big fat straws, the chewiness of the tapioca pearls . . . but, coming from a place (Detroit) that's not exactly loaded with bubble tea shops, I have a few questions.

First off -- based on the bubble tea I had last weekend at a place (Tea Shop #168 or something like that) on a sleazy block of Yonge -- is it SUPPOSED to be totally artificial?? As I watched my green tea-mango-milk concoction being put together, I was amazed at the number of scoops of variously colored powdered substances that went into it, and the total absence of anything that resembled green tea, milk, or mango. I would have expected at least one ingredient that looked, well, like something I'd normally drink (although I should add that it was the aggressively UNnatural taste of the strawberry tea that won the heart of my 10-year-old traveling companion).

Was this entirely normal (the way the tea was made, I mean, not my 10-year-old's love of artificially-flavored drinks)? Or do some tea shops specialize in natural brews, and others in powdered instant versions?

And what's the relationship between bubble tea and other tapioca pearl beverages? In a Vietnamese place on a recent jaunt to Denver, I had another (real) milk and (real) mango tapioca drink that dispensed with tea, and generally was more like a Latin American batido (except with tapioca pearls and one of those great fat straws). Is that the Vietnamese version? The dessert version? A western U.S. variant? Or just the idiosyncracy of that particular restauranteur?

I intend to investigate further on my next trip to Toronto, coming up next weekend, and would love a bubble tea primer and tips on especially delicious or fun places to drink it.

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  1. Both tea shop 168 and Assameia (Ten Ren's Tea Time) chains use either powdered or syrup-based flavours. These are mixed with (black or green) tea, sugar and optionally milk powder. If you want some real juices with your 'bubbles' you can go to Bubble Tease which has a couple of locations:
    1) Eaton Centre North Food Court
    2) Fairview Mall
    3) Square One Mall
    4) Bloor and Spadina

    I like Assameia and 168 because they are more authentic, that is to say artificial. Nowadays every little restaurant in Chinatown (Spadina) seems to offer (really nasty looking) bubble tea on their menu and windows.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sekibun

      Bubble tea is a Tawainese commercial invention designed originally to clone the success of Starbucks in North America.

      The basic idea is to sell non-perishable artificially flavoured sugar water, with raw cost not to exceed 10 cents or so, for $3 to $5 a shot. This cost structure can sustain a large franchaise chain, huge marketing budget, up-scaled locations, and a variety of presentation-garnishes (such as tapioca pearls, psychidelic colored straws and cups, expensive four-color brochures and menus). Paying off journalists and critics for flattering write up and reviews, etc.

      Unfortunately, the patent process is not the same in Taiwan as it is in North America, and nobody ended up having exclusitivity. As a result, any concoction of artificially flavoured colored sugar water in brightly colored cups with big straws can be called bubble tea in Toronto.

      It is *drinkers beware*!