A Bubble Tea Conundrum
Sarah Lambersky on her own bubble tea obsession, and where to find it.
By Sarah Lambersky
When I moved across the Atlantic Ocean, do you know what I craved most? It wasn’t bagels and lox and it wasn’t kreplach. It was bubble tea. From my first sip, I developed a taste for the Taiwanese beverage and thankfully, Toronto is a Bubble Tea lover’s paradise.
Drive north of Sheppard Avenue, on Yonge Street and you’ll find one bubble tea house after another. If “905” is more your style, drive east along Hwy 7 between Bayview Avenue and McCowan Road (try Go For Tea for an authentic experience) and you’ll be covered. Downtowners, look no further than Spadina and Dundas/OCAD area. But what happens if you leave the confines of Toronto and venture off into the world?
I was having a bubble tea conundrum when I discovered it was not a universal drink. To double check my observation, I spoke to a few business school classmates who were posted around the world. It’s confirmed: Bubble tea is not universally available.
So what did I do to satiate my craving? I began to research and sample my way around Europe. Hot or cold, green or black tea, with or without milk, and filled with all the dark brown, chewy tapioca balls I could suck through the oversized straw. I was determined to track down bubble tea sources and sample my new discoveries. However, I draw the line at those popping boba; the ones that burst upon mastication and splash sweet syrupy juice onto your tongue. I guess you could call me a bubble tea purist.
My observation: Bubble tea was in fact alive, kicking and even thriving in certain cities. Leave it to the UK, Germany and Austria to lead the pack. London’s Bubbleology, a bubble tea café themed after a science lab, has five locations in the city, while Baburu Bubble Tea, in Vienna, has six shops. Then there is Berlin’s Boobuk which also has six outposts in the creative city that never sleeps.
In Western Europe, you can also find bubble tea emerging in Barcelona, Wow!Boba is not too far from La Rambla, and in Paris’ 5th arrondissement where you can sip le bubble tea at Bubble Fever. Even Copenhagen has the Mad Hatter Bubble Tea Emporium in Nørrebro. Moving east, you can chew on tapioca at Bubbletea 7 in Warsaw, sip taro at tongue twister, Bubu Bubble Tea in Budapest and enjoy an original bubble tea at my personal favourite, Tea & Go in Prague. Tea & Go opened in Karlin (Prague 8), by three Chinese Studies students from Charles University who share a passion for Chinese and bubble tea.
While the availability of bubble tea across European cities may not reach the same scope as in Toronto, there are plenty of good options at home and abroad and I look forward to continuing my taste test through the continent. By the way, if you are new to bubble tea, may I recommend trying a litchi green tea bubble tea, cold with tapioca. It is the perfect summer drink.
Originally Published: May 21, 2013