Everything about Taiwan's bubble tea screams playfulness

Bubble tea is one of Asia’s hottest exports. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before; bubble tea reached Europe via Berlin and London, and is now taking the rest of the continent by storm. Our guide to this fruity, or for the purists – classic, delight guarantees that you’ll be in the know before you know it.

Would you like bubbles with your tea? (Photo credit: 8tea5)
Would you like bubbles with your tea? (Photo credit: 8tea5)

While you might be thinking that drinks containing strange floating stuff are probably best avoided (think of that orange juice that had been too long in the fridge), Taiwan’s quirky bubble tea is in fact a rather gently flavoured, refreshing drink filled with brightly coloured edible ‘bubbles’ of chewy tapioca.

Everything about the tea screams playfulness, from the size of the straw you are given – huge, to accommodate the bubbles – to the plastic-sealed cup, the vibrant colours and squishy bubbles that you can’t help but play with.

The bubbles are made from pearl tapioca, called boba in Taiwan. Pearl tapioca is a product of straining cassava, a carbohydrate-rich root native to South America. A drought-resistant plant, it is grown worldwide in a variety of conditions and the biggest global producer of cassava is Nigeria.

The urge to launch right into drinking it will set in, but I say wait! Here are some tips:

  • As the bubbles are dense they will sink to the bottom of the cup, and what you will end up with is a cup of bubbles and no tea with which to drink them; a stomach sloshing with tea and no bubbles, if you will.
  • Take it easy, locate a few bubbles and try an experimental sip, bubble and all. It will be strange at first, but after the first few bubble-popping mouthfuls, you’ll get the hang of it.
  • Rather than a straightforward menu of the usual flavours, you may instead be offered a choice of soya, lychee or hibiscus, among other exotic temptations. It can look a little daunting but have no fear, just choose something that you can pronounce and all will be fine.
  • No matter how strange the experience, try not to let the bubbles in your mouth and/or in the straw pop out and bounce across the table. Take it from me; that’s not cool.

With already a massive following in Europe, not to mention around the world, bubble tea is set to become a household name. With new bars opening all the time, you’re bound to come across it soon enough, and with any luck, Travel Gluttons can guide you through your first bubble tea experience. London has several delightfully-named bubble tea cafés such as MooBoo, Chaboba and Bubbleology. Rotterdam has YoYo!, while Paris has the charming Bubblolitas. Of course.

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About Emily McCullough

Originally from Northern Ireland, Emily came to the Netherlands for her boyfriend and a masters degree in Physical Geography. She enjoys photography, baking, and her cats… preferably not all at the same time.

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