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Here’s a guest post from Karen Cas-Alinas, a Liberty Village resident who has been a fan of bubble teas ever since she discovered it!

A coloured sweet drink with oversized black chewy tapioca at the bottom of a tall cup. Sound familiar? With many stores in and around Liberty Village, I bet you have tried bubble tea!

Whether you call it bubble tea, milk tea, or boba tea, it is truly an interesting drink for people of all ages. As an Asian kid, I remember seeing it for the first time back in grade school (primary school) – I didn’t know that I’d later describe it as the best drink on the planet. 

Like every other kid, I was easily attracted to colourful drinks. And I believed that each colour represented a particular fruit. I also grew up seeing tapioca to be colourless and small, so those big ones looked weird to me back then. 

What are those black pearls, you ask? And if you’re convinced you’re not fond of it, read on, because I’ll be mentioning add-on alternatives for your bubble teas!

Black Pearls or Alternative Toppings?

Those huge tapioca balls are made of tapioca starch coming from the root of a cassava plant. To be honest, the bubble’s chewy texture makes the drinking experience more satisfying and amazing!

Not into pearls? Don’t worry, as there are alternatives that you can add onto your cup. Here are the 3 most common options:

  • Coconut jelly (nata de coco) – these are naturally sweet chewy white jellies made with fermented coconut water. Here’s a quick history about coconut jelly: a Filipino chemist named T.K. Africa suggested using coconut water all year round to make plant-based cellulose (which is what coconut jelly is made of!) Thus, coconut jelly was born.
  • Grass jelly – another personal favourite! It comes from an herb and has a naturally bitter taste. Tip: you can add it together with black pearls! Make sure to upsize your cup when you do this because they leave less space for the liquid.

  • Pudding – it’s made of either egg or custard. Just like grass jelly, you can either add it to your drink on its own or with black pearls.

Now that you’ve learned about toppings. Let’s talk about what type of drink to order.

Milk-based or Fruit-based?

If you like your hot tea with milk, there’s a chance that you’ll enjoy its cold version. In select bubble tea stores, you’ll have an option to choose the type of milk you want (regular milk, fresh milk, oat milk).

Here’s a fact: the origin of bubble tea came from Taiwan’s Nai Cha, also called Hong Kong milk tea. I got to try it 16 years ago and my memory still recalls the strong tea taste and its smooth texture. And the colour? It was almost orange!

You can try an authentic Hong Kong milk tea without going out of the country! An award winning Hong Kong milk tea is being sold at the food court of the Pacific Mall in Toronto! Find it in this YouTube video. Also another option is getting a bottled milk tea from Daan Go Cake Lab!

Traditional Nai Cha uses evaporated milk; Hokkaido milk tea uses Hokkaido milk which gives a creamier texture than regular milk and it has caramel notes; Thai milk tea uses condensed milk which balances the bold and strong brew of the tea. As you can see, these milk teas require not just any type of milk!

And did you know that you can also get flavoured milk teas? The invention of bubble tea came from the story where tea stands outside public elementary schools in Taiwan started offering refreshing fruit-flavoured teas. To get that good milk tea taste, the seller needed to shake the tea and the flavouring very well. This shaking of mixture creates bubbles – and that is why they are called bubble teas!

Various bubble tea stores offer a lot of fruit flavors (peach, passion fruit, strawberry, and many more) to sweeten up your drink. There are special flavourings as well, like chocolate hazelnut, matcha, taro, and malt. So many great options, right?!

Black Tea or Green Tea?

Black tea is perfect for you if you prefer full-bodied flavours! Examples of black tea are Assam, Earl Grey and Alisan.

For green tea, you can choose from one of three kinds. First is herby green tea which is used as hot tea or house tea in Chinese restaurants. The popular herby green tea in bubble tea stores is Oolong tea (read as wu-long).

The second kind of green tea are flower teas or white teas, which have fragrant floral tones. In bubble tea stores, you can find flower teas named as Rose tea, Jasmine, and Chamomile.

The third kind of green tea is Matcha or Japanese green tea. It comes from green powdered leaves which gives a thick, frothy and creamy texture with a bitter and earthy taste.

Go Forth and Get Your Perfect Bubble Tea Drink!

Have you decided which one to get the next time you pass by a bubble tea store? I hope this guide helped you understand the basics of bubble tea drinks. If you know someone who would be interested in learning from this guide, feel free to hit the share button! 

And before you go, let me just quickly remind you that a bubble tea place just opened here in Liberty Village: Chatime! Don’t forget to take advantage of their BOGO promotion which runs the week of Sept 20-24th between 1-3pm each day. Chatime will feature 3 favourites as your free drink choice with the purchase of any large drink (Grass Jelly Roasted Milk Tea, Mango Green Tea, Winter Melon Iced Tea).

For bubble tea aficionados, see you there and may we all have a bubbly day!

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Kylie Solway