Bubble Tea 101: How to Enjoy Vancouver’s Favourite Dessert Drink

Photo Credit: Toby Oxborrow/Flickr

Photo Credit: Toby Oxborrow/Flickr

The origins of Bubble Tea lie in Taiwan in the 1980s, when it’s said that the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung put an iced tea drink with sweetened pudding and tapioca balls onto their menu. The drink gained popularity across Asia in the 1990s, before spreading to the rest of the world, but it’s found its natural home right here in Vancouver. Across the Metro Vancouver area, we have almost 600 different establishments serving Bubble Tea –compared to just over 300 in the GTA, according to Urban Spoon, and in the past weeks two branches of Chatime the world’s most popular Bubble Tea franchise have opened up in the Bubble Tea hot spots of Robson Street and West Broadway.  However, although the drinks are wildly popular here, for many visitors to the city, it’s the first time they’ve encountered it, so to make it easy for Bubble Tea newbies (and help old-hands get out of their same-old-drinks Bubble Tea rut) may we present our Bubble Tea 101 guide to get you slurping and chewing like a pro, with the expert help of Linh Vo owner of Che-Licious Desserts & Snacks on Denman Street.


Let’s start with the basics, what is Bubble Tea?

Original Bubble Tea, or Pearl Milk Tea as it’s often called is made with a chilled strong brew of black tea with creamer or fresh milk, sweetener and chewy balls of tapioca (sometimes called boba) added. From there you can add flavoured syrups like strawberry or honeydrew, or add fresh fruit to create a fruity, milky tea drink. Another variation is to not have any milk in it, so you can have tea with fruit that you add tapioca pearls to. You can pick from different tea varities, oolong, jasmine green tea and so on. You’ll also find are drinks blended with ice in Bubble Tea stores called ‘slushies’ which are  still classed as Bubble Tea even though they have no tea in them, you can taste the fruit flavours a lot more with these drinks.

Photo credit: Sean Neald

Photo credit: Sean Neald

So what can you add to the drink?

The black ‘pearls’ that you see floating around the bottom are tapioca, it’s chewy and we make ours fresh in-house every day. You can add it lots of other things too to give the drink texture. Grass jelly is very popular (it’s not actually made from grass, it’s made from the stalks and leaves of a member of the mint family), you can also add in different jellies: coconut, mango, lychee, green apple, passionfruit are all popular, along with aloe, red bean and even tofu pudding. It’s all about adding texture to your drink and making it fun, so every sip you taste, you get a ball to chew on or some other texture.

Potted Plant Milk Tea from Che'Licious

Potted Plant Milk Tea from Che’Licious

The menus in Bubble Tea shops can be overwhelming with so many different choices, what’s a good place to start?

First pick your base, so decide if you want tea and if so which kind, or whether you want a slushie fruit drink, and then go from there. If it’s your first one, then maybe have something simple, go with the original milk tea and add a favourite fruit flavour and pearls. If you’re looking to switch up your usual drink I’d recommend being creative! Think of your two favourite flavours and mix them up to make something new. Right now my favourite slushie is coconut juice with chocolate, and I just tried avocado with coconut which was delicious. Drinks come in and out of fashion, right now, people are going back to traditional flavours like taro and mixing it with Oreos to create ‘tareo’ drinks. There are a lot of cookie and candy additions too like Ferrero Rocher or Smores. At Che’Licious we have a Potted Plant Milk Tea with a extra dark black tea base with milk, whipped cream, crushed Oreos to resemble soil and a sprig of mint as a plant.

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