A Beginner’s Guide To Bubble Tea Shops in London
Today I have lots of photos to share with you and an introduction to a popular drink from Taiwan that has been quietly spreading to city centres near you. It’s called Bubble Tea. And it’s delicious. They love it in Asia, and it’s getting more popular every week, from Australia and North America to Europe. So if you haven’t tried it yet, enjoy my ‘beginner’s guide’ to Bubble tea shops in London, and anywhere else you find one!
So what is Bubble Tea?
Also called Boba Tea, Boba Chai, Pearl Milk Tea and several other names, Bubble Tea is a Taiwanese drink that you might have as a refreshment, or instead of a light meal. The main ingredients are tea (with or without milk), and the magical ‘bubbles’ – or pearls as they are also known. Bubble Tea was only invented in Taiwan in the 1980’s and has become incredibly popular across Asia since then!
- The tea could be any type of tea you care to think of, and increasingly comes in more extravagant flavours like Hazelnut or Cookie. Most Bubble Tea shops also serve fruit teas and smoothies with added pearls if you like.
- Having milk in your Bubble tea is optional, and might not taste as good with green teas like Jasmine or fruitier flavours.
- Sugar is also optional, and set by percentage of sugar syrup to tea. When I first drank Bubble tea in Asia, I didn’t realise you could ask for different sugar levels. My sweet-tooth was enjoying 100% sugar, but now I’ve progressed to a much healthier 0%!
- The pearls are traditionally made from Tapioca (or ‘Sago’) – the dried starchy extract of Cassava, a native South American root – but some pearls also have ingredients like Yam, Coconut extract, or may be replaced with beans and jellies.
- You suck the pearls up an oversize straw, along with your tea, and give them a quick chew before you swallow (or not, they go down the hatch pretty easily to be fair).
You’ll find the Bubble Tea shops in London and elsewhere give you a lot more choice than you want to start with. Hot or cold tea? With or without crushed ice? Fruit flavoured or plain pearls? Solid or with a liquid centre? And the crux of course is how much sugar??
The huge amount of sugar in my first Bubble Tea, from a shopping mall in Sapporo, was what got me hooked. I was already a fan of the sugary Milk Tea sold hot in a bottle or can from Japanese vending machines, and that was a follow-on from my addiction to cheap sugary Chai in India. (It was a vicious but delicious circle.) Thankfully most Bubble tea shops let you choose how much sugar you’d like, from 100% down to 75/50/25% and healthiest of all – no sugar.
What Bubble Tea should you try?
Well, my advice is start simple, and similar to how you normally enjoy a good cuppa. You might not like a green tea if you don’t drink green tea already, so black tea is the safe option in that case. Avoid 100% sugar if you don’t want to wean yourself to a ‘lower fat’ level later! If you have adventurous tastebuds then why not dive straight in with a lychee or passion fruit flavoured pearl tea, or what about a healthy brown rice tea with aloe vera jelly?
The options are nearly limitless and differ from shop to shop, plus you can have your tea hot, cold, iced or even foamed. And if you are in need of a quick lunch then Bubble tea is a nice light option, with a serving of pearls roughly equivalent to eating half a bowl of rice. Including the big (milky) tea, it can actually be quite filling.
This is how Bubble Tea’s popularity looks in London at the moment. I’ve also had Bubble Tea in Dublin, Hamburg, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Paris, and even in my hometown of Manchester in the past couple of years! Check out where to find Bubble Tea in London on the interactive map below.
Bubble Tea shops in London
Last year I visited some of the London Bubble Tea shops to see what they are offering. They were all pretty good, but my two personal favourites are at the top of the list.
1. Chaboba, Camden Town. The owners of Chaboba went to Taiwan to research before they set up their shop, and you can try their authentic Bubble teas alongside other tasty Asian exports, like steamed pork buns! In a cool part of town that isn’t overrun with tourists, the staff were great at suggesting a few flavour combinations and they had some interesting seasonal recipes on offer. They now have a second shop open in Wembley as well.
Chaboba, 8 East Yard, Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AL. (Opening times)
2. Leong’s Legends I, Chinatown. Unlike the others, Leong’s is not solely a Bubble tea joint, you can also order from a full Taiwanese food menu here as well. With less cool chic than the pure Bubble tea places, your mates can opt for crispy duck pancakes instead if they prefer!
Leong’s Legends I, 4 Macclesfield Street, Chinatown, London W1D 6AX (More info)
3. Bubbleology, Soho. Making more of a song and a dance about Bubble tea being the cool new thing to try, Bubbleology’s shops in Soho and Knightsbridge forego authenticity for the fun factor, with coloured liquids bubbling away in test tubes and their ‘Bubbleologists’ wearing lab jackets. And they’re now offering Bubble tea home delivery!
Bubbleology, 49 Rupert Street, Soho, London W1D 7PF (Opening times)
4. Milk Tea & Pearl, Oxford Circus. Milk Tea & Pearl is another authentic offering with a big variety of teas and pearls to try, in Oxford Circus area and also in Shoreditch. Also now doing deliveries!
Milk Tea & Pearl, 12A Little Portland Street, London, W1W 8BJ (Opening Times)
If you’re not heading to London soon there is a great list of the top Bubble tea shops in the UK on TaiwanFestival.co.uk, so find a Bubble Tea shop near you and get experimenting!