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A Beginner’s Guide To Bubble Tea Shops in London


Posted on May 29th, by Peter Parkorr in Britain, London, Roaming Resources. 25 comments

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?

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Look into my Bubble tea… see any Pearls of wisdom?

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).

 

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Ingredients of the Pearls used by Milk Tea & Pearl in London

 

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The veggie-safe Pearl alternatives from Chaboba in Camden Town

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?

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Some of the Bubble tea options at Chaboba in Camden Town

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Spoilt for choice again at Milk Tea & Pearl near Oxford Circus

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.

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The original Chaboba is well worth finding among the market traders of Camden Lock.

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)

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A green tea with guava pearls combo from Chaboba

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Other sweet treats from Asia in Chaboba’s Camden shop

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The Bubble tea ladies of Camden Town

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Chaboba’s winter specials also sounded delicious!

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)

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An ‘Ice Pearl’ flavour from Leong’s Legends in London’s Chinatown

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Most Bubble tea places aren’t sit-in but places in Chinatown are

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Bubble tea or crispy duck pancakes? Tough choice!

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Another ‘Ice Pearl’ Bubble tea, but with green tea and no milk in this one

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The Asian restaurant rule applies at Leong’s – if the local Asian community are tucking in then you can trust they are serving good stuff!

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)

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Bubble flavours on display at Bubbleology, including the liquid-filled ‘popping’ pearls

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The more homegrown Bubble tea places will give you help and guidance!

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I’m not sure how many years training it requires to become a Bubbleologist but can’t be too long as they are still pretty perky! :)

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Bubbles, bubbles everywhere in Bubbleology’s fun shops

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)

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Milk Tea & Pearl tell you exactly what they are about

 

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Pearl / Bubble flavours vary from place to place and month to month!

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The making of Bubble tea – take tea, add Bubbles!

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Bubble tea is usually sealed with these cellophane machines for easy transportation and drinking on the go

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In Milk Tea & Pearl they also use the purpose-made Bubble tea bags that places in Asia use

Honourable mentions also go to Boba Jam (who have both Bubble tea and Karaoke!), Chatime and HK Diner. These three have their Bubble tea fans, but I haven’t sampled their teas yet.

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!

Peter Parkorr





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  • Nice list! Back home in the states one of my favorites is “popping” boba and mixing it with frozen yogurt.

    • Thanks Britnee! Yep popping boba is another name for the liquid filled ones. They aren’t the healthiest tho, lots of sugar! :)

    • Mark

      Selling Bubble Tea Ingredients, anyone interested??? Please reply!

      • The post and site are not quite meant for those sorts of conversations Mark :)

  • I feel ready for London with my arsenal of bubble tea knowledge. I love bubble tea and there are load of shops here in our hometown of NYC too.

    • Haha, great! Yeah I’m a total bubble tea addict…

  • I’ve tried bubble tea a couple of times and I just don’t like it! It is quite a trend in London though, so I guess I’m just fussy!

  • Had never heard of this, though I love how London is so diverse with it’s cuisine! I’m going to have to see if I can find this in the States to give it a taste :)

    • You can DEFINITELY find this in the states. Your nearest china town is probably the best place to look, but they are also usually in malls for people who want a light/healthy lunch etc.

  • Wow! That’s a lot of bubble tea. Loved your descriptions and photos. I’ve tried bubble tea but clearly I need to sample more on my next trip to London.

    • There’s always new flavours to try which is great! Won’t take long to find your favourite though :)

  • Ugh, you just made me miss Bubble Tea! This is a craze back in my hometown and in Asia as a whole! I’m not in UK but I’ll think of these shops you mentioned. I’m in Belgium now and I’ve only seen one bubble tea shop so far and well… I didn’t quite like the tapioca they used! Whoops!

    • That is a shame! Maybe they will have a competitor soon :)

  • Humm….
    Right now I want a Bubble tea, not sure if I can find it here in Berlin :-(
    Believe or not, but in 5 months travelling around Southeast Asia I tried Bubble Tea just one time. Kinda regret it now!

    Delicious Travels,
    Nat

    • You definitely can Nat. I’ve had bubble tea in Hamburg and Berlin more than once! :D

  • Yum, now I’m craving bubble tea (and a trip to London!) My favorite is mango!

    • Oh yeah, fruity for you? I really love keeping it simple with black teas but occasionally try other stuff like Mango too!

  • I love Bubble Tea! I had no idea it was so popular in London.

  • Thanks for coming up with this list! My travel buddy Stacey is a boba tea addict so I know she will definitely be excited to know that there are boba tea shop in London! Have you tried Boba tea in Taiwan yet? They are amazing! So good especially the brown sugar flavor! Though its not exactly the healthiest, it is still good lol If I ever find myself in London, I think I would try the Bubbleology, that place looks so much fun and I love the vibrant colors!

    • Cheers Lilo! I haven’t tried it in-country yet, but had some pretty authentic exports. I can’t bring myself to try any sugary flavours now but I know how good it tastes when it’s sweet!

  • This post cracks me up because I remember getting to Asia and wondering what the heck that stuff was! Thanks for the tutorial:)

    • Haha, that’s what I thought too I think. I hope you tried it!

  • Tapioca pearl or sago is a staple dessert ingredient in much of Southeast Asia and East Asia. It is easy to make and seldom does any cook make a mistake in making these pearls. It is also relatively easy to start as a business.