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A Guide to Bubble Tea in China

Article by Lost Plate Food Tours

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Where to Find and How to Order Bubble Tea in China

At Lost Plate, we love a good bubble tea. Some of us love it a bit too much (you know who you are.) It’s common for deliveries of steamy cups of creamy tea to show up at the office daily. Even though bubble tea has permeated the globe, China is where the craft has been perfected. Here, it’s a perfect blend of both science and art. It’s just a way of life now.

It’s such a way of life that there are more bubble tea shops than McDonald’s or Starbucks put together (and even they are trying to get their hands on the market by offering similar drinks). The best shops have become chains and multiplied to the point where you can find one on every major street corner and shopping mall. Of course, some of them are better than others, so here’s what we recommend:

Hey Tea (喜茶)

Good bubble tea shops always require waiting in line, and Hey Tea is no exception. We’re talking 30 minutes to an hour during most times of the day and for good reason. Their expansive menu means that no matter what your preference is, you’ll find a tea to suit your cravings. Their berry and citrus teas are top sellers – but don’t worry, their sweet, candy-like bubble tea is almost as popular and generally known as the best in China.

Yi Dian Dian (1點點)

This is THE go-to for our daily bubble tea craving. A good balance between quality, flavor, and wait times (it’s usually just a few minutes,) Yi Dian Dian is a great spot and can be found in every Chinese city. Here we recommend to stick to the classics, either black or green milk tea, and then use our guide below to choose your toppings.

The Alley (鹿角巷)

This growing chain is still more prevalent in the Shanghai area, but if you look hard for their iconic deer-antler logo you’ll find they are starting to pop up everywhere. They are known for their delicious (and sinful) brown sugar pearls, so we recommend the “Deerioca Brown Sugar Pearl Milk Tea” (with 100% sweetness, of course)!

Coco (都可)

This Taiwanese bubble tea chain has made its way around the world, with stores across the US, Canada, the UK, and beyond. Regardless, you’ll get your best value in China with significantly cheaper prices and great flavors. They’re famous for their seasonal offerings (think kumquat limeade in the summer) and their consistently solid cup of bubble milk tea.

Happy Lemon (快乐柠檬)

Happy Lemon is like Coco’s cousin. It can also be seen outside of China and is a staple in every shopping mall in China. You can’t miss their winking lemon logo, and their menu covers all of the basics. If you want to try a lot of random items, this is the (most affordable) place to do it! For example, the trend in China is milk tea with “salted cheese,” a sweet and salty cream that sits on the top of the tea. It’s better than it sounds, and if you don’t like it you can order a sweet fruit tea to wash it down.

Gong Cha (贡茶)

Warning: This major chain used to be quite popular, but it’s been the victim of mass copycats. We recommend avoiding shops with this name as the majority of them are not part of the chain and therefore the quality and flavor are extremely inconsistent.

HOW TO ORDER BUBBLE TEA

BUBBLE TEA TOPPINGS

Tapioca pearls 珍珠 Zhēn zhū: The most common kind of pearls are these cassava root starch-based pearls, dark in color and chewy.

Boba pearls 波霸 Bō bà: There are chewy boba and popping boba. Chewy boba is made from the same thing as tapioca pearls but might be a different color and maybe smaller in size depending on the bubble tea shop. Popping boba is a fruit juice filled pearl, the outside “container” so to speak is made from seaweed extract.

Sago 西米 Xī mǐ: Made from sago palm starch, it is very similar to the flavor and texture consistency of the tapioca pearls, but the pearls may or may not be smaller in size.

Grass jelly 凉粉 Liáng fěn: This jelly is made using the plant and has a mild and slightly bitter taste.

Pudding jelly 布丁 Bù dīng: This jelly is like a jellied version of vanilla pudding.

Coconut jelly 椰果 Yē guǒ: Made from coconut flesh, a lighter alternative to the sugar-heavy pearls.

Lychee jelly 荔枝冻 lì zhī dòng: Made from coconut flesh and an added lychee flavor.

Red beans 红豆 Hóng dòu: Sweet red beans, a common dessert item in Asia.

Taro pieces 香芋 Xiāng yù: Chunks of the sweet, starchy potato-ish purple vegetable, taro. 

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