Taiwan is the undebated boba capital of the world: Here, the midday caffeine hit is a boba break, not a coffee run, and a shoulder-slung boba cupholder is the must-have accessory. Over the last numerous years, these bracing cups of sweet, creamy, chewy refreshment — which are likewise called “bubble tea” and also “pearl milk tea” — have come to be a go-to beverage throughout not simply Taiwan, yet additionally all over Asia, North America, and also Europe.

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Custom bubble tea holders are a staple in Taipei
It’s that addictive texture that’s come to be the boba signature. Knvery own locally as Q or QQ (as in, extremely Q), the untranslatable bouncy, rubbery, chewy consistency is treasured in Taiwan. Look around and you’ll see the Q plastered prominently on food packaging and afresolved to shop indications. It’s additionally essential to the texture of mochi, fish balls, and also noodles. Indeed, the high quality of boba drinks is measured by exactly how much Q power lurks within the tapioca pearls. Like the Italian idea of al dente, Q is tough to grasp and also tough to capture — boba via the best Q element isn’t as well soft or also bouncy, but has just the right amount of toothiness.

Prior to the 1980s, Q-rich tapioca balls were a prevalent topping for desserts prefer the ubiquitous heaps of snow-choose shaved ice uncovered throughout Taiwan, while milk tea was currently a favorite regional drink. But the 2 weren’t combined until, as one variation of the story goes, Liu Han Chieh started serving cold tea at his Taichung tea shop, Chun Shui Tang (春水堂人文茶館), at some time in the early ’80s. A few years later on, the company’s product manager, Lin Hsiu Hui, plopped some tapioca balls right into her iced tea at a staff meeting, and also the remainder, apparently, is beverage history. Tright here are rival origin myths, too: One credits Hanlin Tea Room (翰林茶館), a tea shop in Tainan. The one thing that everybody agrees upon is that the name “boba” is a reference to the 1980s Hong Kong sex symbol Amy Yip, whose nickname, “Boba,” is additionally a Chinese slang term for her most famous pair of physical assets.

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice in Taipei
An employee fills a cup at TopQ in Banqiao, Taipei
Since its starts, the standard tapioca iced tea recipe has evolved right into a whole genre of drinks. Milks deserve to array from whole and skim to nondairy substitutes favor almond and coconut — or often there’s no milk (or milk-favor product) at all, as in the instance of cold tea-infprovided or juice-based drinks. The pearls can be fat as marbles, tiny as peas, square-shaped, red, or even crystal clear. There are currently even more than 21,000 boba shops in Taiwan, through thousands more approximately the human being — many kind of belonging to effective international chains choose CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice (都可), Gong Cha, and also Sharetea. And while the term was when confined to tea shops, you’ll discover throughout Taiwan that the boba trfinish is now being incorporated right into desserts, sandwiches, cocktails, and even skincare. Wherever you are right here, if you dig deep enough, you’ll ultimately strike boba.

As the sheer variety of boba alternatives reaches important mass, it’s hard for a boba slinger to stand out. The boba arms race escalated substantially over the last decade — particularly considering that Instagram started seeping right into Taiwanese society — and also a brand-new breed of shop has begun providing more intricate drinks with outrageous flavors and virality-primed color combicountries. And as surrounding China grows its duty on the global stage and also intends to erode Taiwan’s global affect, Taiwan’s boba shops are fast becoming unmain embassies for cultural outreach. Boba diplomacy, in all its permutations, is helping the world much better understand also Taiwanese society and cuisine. But first, you have to understand also boba — in all of its 2019 cheese-topped, charcoal-stained, fruit-filled glory. Here, then, is a detailed boba failure, and all the ideal places in Taipei (and adjacent Taoyuan) to obtain your settle.

The Taxonomy

A consistent milk tea from 50 Lan

Classic Milk Tea

The one that started it all. Babsence tea is shaken through frothy milk, crumelted ice, and also a few generous handfuls of marble-sized, caramelized tapioca pearls. Tbelow are versions via different milks and assorted teas, however the classical still satisfies. Where to get it: Huangjin Bubble Tea (黃巾珍珠奶茶), No. 3-1, Lane 205, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei; additionally at Milk Shop (迷客夏) and also Chatime (日出茶太) via multiple locations throughout Taipei

Brown Sugar

Ultra-well-off brown sugar boba tea has been an explosive hit in Taiwan, made well-known in component many thanks to the chain Tiger Sugar — a milk-heavy boba drink dooffered via a generous swarm of cloyingly sweet brown sugar syrup, all swirling in a beautiful gradient of cocoa-browns and pearly whites. Where to acquire it: Chen San Ding (陳三鼎), No. 2, Alley 8, Lane 316, Section 3, Luosifu Roadway, Zhongzheng District, Taipei; likewise Tiger Sugar (老虎堂), multiple places across Taipei

Taro Milk Tea

Taro bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and also later brushed up throughout Asia and the West. Notable for its shade, which runs from purple-tinged brvery own to virtually lilac, and its coconut-favor flavor, taro (a root vegetable comparable to a sweet potato) is pureed and also included to boba milk tea, wright here it acts as a thickener and also flavoring. Wright here to obtain it: CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice, multiple locations across Taipei


If milk isn’t your cup of tea, tbelow are fresh fruit-based boba drinks that have the exact same addictive textures. Popular seasonings encompass mango, lychee, winter melon, lemon, and also also tomato, and they come bobbing via boba pearls yet additionally various other stuff, prefer aiyu jelly (made via the seeds of a regional variety of creeping fig), watermelon cubes, and also crunchy passionfruit seeds. Where to gain it: Yi Fang (一芳) Taiwan Fruit Tea and MR.WISH (鮮果茶玩家), multiple locations throughout Taipei

Fully Loaded

Add-ins have lengthy given that broadened past tapioca balls, and also now include choices prefer grass jelly, aloe vera, almond jelly, custardy egg pudding, adzuki beans, panna cotta, chia seeds, sweet potato balls, even Oreo cookies, bereason why not? The tapioca balls themselves have slowly progressed past the standard sugary taste, and now cover a wild spectrum of flavors, including sea salt, cheese, hardwood ear mushroom, quinoa, tomato, cocoa, Sichuan pepper, jujube, and also barley. Wright here to acquire it: Babo Arms (珍珠手作自動化茶飲), No. 11, Lane 248, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Roadway, Da’an District, Taipei; likewise at Day Day Drink (日日裝茶) and also Don’t Yell at Me (不要對我尖叫,日常茶間) through multiple locations throughout Taipei

Mermaid’s Tears, an ice-blfinished concoction of mango, lemon, honey, milk, and also boba dyed blue through butterfly pea flowers, from Bobii Frutii

Eye Candy

Fueled by Instagram, shops in Taiwan are churning out drinks designed to look as excellent as — or much better than — they taste, ideally while clutched in complete sunlight by a freshly manicured hand. Scroll via a boba-concentrated feed to spot bideal, spicy drinks with red-hot pearls and also a sprinkling of chile powder, tie-dye versions made via blue butterfly pea, and also jet-black cups infoffered via inky (and also detoxifying) charcoal. Some shops are also turning toward alternate organic sweeteners favor honey and agave nectar for the health-aware. Wbelow to gain it: Bobii Frutii (珍珠水果特調), No. 8, Lane 13, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei; the moment (這一刻), No. 41, Section 2, Longgang Road, Zhongli District, Taoyuan; additionally at TopQ Bubble Tea (塔彼Q) via multiple areas throughout Taipei

Cheese Tea

A Taiwanese night market stand started combining powdered cheese and salt with whipping cream and milk to develop a foamy, tangy layer on the peak of a cup of cold tea. The cheese-topped drink is now renowned in many parts of Asia, and has discovered an audience Stateside too. Where to get it: Chun Yang Tea (春陽茶事); multiple areas throughout Taipei

Edibles, Cocktails, Skintreatment, and also All the Rest

Considering the amount of chewing currently involved, it’s no surpincrease that boba pearls are currently starring in a variety of culinary applications, functioning their means right into whatever from souffle pancakes, sandwiches, hot pot soup, pizza, creme brulee, and of course the stalwart, shaved ice. Where to obtain it: Belle Époque (美好年代), No. 23, Lane 52, Section 1, Da’an Roadway, Da’an District, Taipei; additionally at Baoguo (包果) and also Ice Monster, both with multiple areas across Taipei

For those that wish for their boba stiff, there are currently boba cocktails, made via vodka, tequila, gin, rum, or bourbon. Bars throughout Taiwan and also past are experimenting through these alcoholic boba concoctions, and also Los Angeles also has a boba-centric bar dedicated to liquor-filled spins on traditional boba seasonings. Wbelow to acquire it: Chinese Whispers (悄悄話餐酒館), No. 11, Alley 2, Lane 345, Section 4, Ren’ai Road, Da’an District, Taipei

And then, go ahead, smear boba everywhere your face if you want. Taiwan now supplies lotions, facial blotting tworries, candles, and also boba milk tea challenge masks (via genuine boba pearls inside), all boasting the signature, sticky-sweet fragrance of boba milk tea. Gimmicky, sure, but anypoint in the name of beauty — and boba. Wright here to get it: Annie’s Way Mask Gallery (安妮絲薇)

Order Like A Pro

Boba comes equipped with its own lingo. Whichever style you choose, obtain your drink favor a neighborhood — completely customized. Here’s a glossary:

Quán táng (全糖) - Full sugarShǎo táng (少糖) - Less sugarBàn táng (半糖) - Half sugarWēi táng (微糖) - Some sugarZhèngcháng bīng (正常冰) - Regular iceShǎo bīng (少冰) - Less iceQù bīng (去冰) - No iceWēn yǐn (溫飲) - WarmRèyǐn (熱飲) - Hot

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu is a bilingual journalist based in Taipei, Taiwan, and also covers arising Asia.Sean Marc Lee is a portraiture, way of living, editorial, and also street fashion photographer that splits his time in between Taipei, Tokyo, and also Los Angeles.

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