So what exactly is bubble tea? Some have heard of it, but most arch an eyebrow and begin to picture liquid dish soup in a teacup. Don’t worry, folks! Bubble teas have as much to do with soap as, well, mud wrestlers.
Bubble tea started in the 1980s in Taiwan and has since exploded onto the international market, according to www.bubbletea.com, a great source for bubble tea facts and products. You can find the drink everywhere from restaurants to street corners.
And everywhere you go, it’s different. The traditional way of making bubble tea is to use real brewed tea infused with fruit or other flavors.
Mixes and powers are also used to achieve a sweeter taste. Flavors range from kumquat to chocolate-covered banana and Almond Joy to red bean. Order a ‘latte and you’ll snag some extra creaminess with milk and cream.
The one thing (and arguably the best part of the tea) that brings all these ‘super slurpers’ together is the bubble factor. The bubbles are actually tapioca ‘pearls,’ which have a round shape and small size.
The classic recipe makes them from sweet potato, brown sugar and cassava root. The result of cooking and cooling in water produces black, marble-sized chewy balls. It is difficult to make this sound at all appealing. It really is more of an experience than just a description off a menu. The pearls sink to the bottom of the tea and are sucked up through a massively wide straw. There truly is an art to drinking these teas.
The first time I drank one, my roommate nearly had to perform the Heimlich maneuver after I basically inhaled several dozen of the slippery things. Pay attention as you drink or you may suffer more than just embarrassment.
You can taste all sorts of bubble teas throughout Chinatown in Philadelphia. Step into a bakery or store and you may be surprised at how many places serve the tea. The Asian love for bubble tea can be equated to the American passion for soda and beer.
In Chinatown you will get a more traditional tea flavor, perhaps red bean (which is nothing like beans from a can) or jasmine. The tea the bubbles are served in is smooth and crisp-a really refreshing treat.
For the more adventurous of you, I highly recommend The Bubble House in University City. Not only does it serve crazy amounts of flavors, it is a trendy Thai and Vietnamese fusion restaurant as well. Order the sweet potato fries with the ginger dipping sauce.
Be prepared to fend off sneaky attempts by your friends to steal some fries. They are that amazing. Also, the Xando for dessert is a must. Fried cheesecake rolls with fresh raspberry sauce are something I could get hooked on. Try the best bubble tea there: the oatmeal cookie latte. Happy teatime!