The drink is perfect in the warm, humid weather of the tropical city-state, and Singaporeans love being spoilt for choice. With or without milk, ice-blended or not, black tea, red tea, green tea, and range of flavours that can only be described as staggering – honey, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, watermelon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwi, jackfruit, taro, pudding, chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, caramel… the list continues to grow.
There’s also the most distinctive feature of bubble tea – the black tapioca pearls that give pearl milk tea its name. “Bubble tea” itself refers to the shaken or whipped drink base, while “pearl milk tea” is bubble tea with tapioca pearls. Although these delightfully chewy tidbits are optional, few choose to be served bubble tea without them. Nonetheless, bubble tea shops offer other toppings - crushed Oreo cookies, pudding, nata de coco, thin jelly strips, and a range of jellies, including coconut, pearl, herbal, and konjac. It’s no wonder that bubble tea remains at the heart of local youth culture, an easy pick-me-up for hot, sunny days on the island of eternal summer.
Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, and spread throughout the region and across the Pacific, sparking a craze in Singapore at the turn of the millennium. After a few years, the bubble burst (yes, pun intended). However, just as one decade passed into another, bubble tea struck back, even stronger than before. Big names from Taiwan have recently established themselves in Singapore, with innovative new concoctions and premium teas grown on the island itself. There are now even more options available, albeit at higher prices: sugar/sweetness levels, stylish packaging, and individually-packed straws. Unlike previous generations of bubble tea shops, these established names have so far shown dedication towards achieving the perfect bubble tea with natural ingredients, accompanied by high standards of quality control, and look set to stay.
Koi Café is undoubtedly the current favourite among Singaporeans. Locals are willing to queue for Koi’s bubble teas for as long as half an hour, and the snaking queues at almost each one of its many branches are testament to the quality of their drinks. Their signature drink is the original Milk Tea with Pearls, which is known for its fragrance and having a smooth and silky texture, with smaller pearls that are distinctly chewy with a good bite and smooth texture. Other popular choices are Ice Cream Tea (a light tea topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) and Grass Jelly Milk Tea (the same silky tea, with a serving of refreshing grass jelly).
A keen and rising competitor is Gong Cha, which offers a wide range of drinks that are modern interpretations and interesting twists of traditional bubble tea. The offerings from this contender have been reputed by some to be better than those from Koi Café. The original Milk Tea with Pearls is said to strike the perfect balance between the sweetness of the drink and the fragrance of the tea. The signature drink here is the Gong Cha Milk Alisan Tea, in which a thick frothy homemade layer of milk is added on top, after the tea is brewed, instead of blending it together, which results in a creamier texture that lingers longer in the mouth.
If you are looking for a drink to combat the tropical weather, bubble tea is the perfect choice, with a unique texture and taste that will satisfy your palate. A good place to start is at a 50% sweetness level, as a good bubble tea should consist of fragrant tea that is not overly sweet.
With so many kiosks around the island, it’s easy to find a spot to pick up your cup of bubble tea, so grab yours today!