There’s a new craze that’s come to London all the way from Taiwan.
If you’re out and about in central London, you may spot huddles of teenagers or a brisk walking businessman, with a plastic cup in hand and giant straw. If you look closer, you may even see round balls in the bottom of their drink.
Yes, I’m talking about Bubble Tea. Started in the 1980’s in Taichun, Taiwan, it traditionally consists of hot Taiwanese black with, tapioca balls (or pearls) and syrup or honey.
Nowadays, there are many variations, the most common being a cold version. As well as varieties in the main liquid base, you also have different types of balls that come as fruit pops, which are flavoured balls that burst in your mouth when you bite them, as well as cubed jellies.
So with so many Bubble Tea shops popping up all over the place, how do you find the best one? You talk to a Taiwanese owner, of course! And that’s how I found myself in Yao Yao Cha (which means Shake Shake Teas in Chinese), the newly opened Bubble Tea shop to meet with Susan, the owner, and to learn all about the art of bubble tea.
And indeed there is an art to it; everything is a delicate balance. So much so, that Susan has flown in core staff from Taiwan including a Bubble Tea specialist, along with all the technical equipment.
Apparently there are three things to look out for in high quality Bubble Teas:
- Tapioca Balls that are soft on the outside and chewy on the inside – you can tell if they have been left too long as they become hard and sticky. Yao Yao Cha’s tapioca balls (which are glazed in honey and brown sugar – if you go when they’re being prepared the whole shop smells like treacle) are freshly prepared every four hours.
- Well made tea – there is a skill to making good green and black tea and it’s all in the brewing. Leave it too long and it becomes bitter and leaves your mouth feeling strange. Don’t leave it long enough and there’s no taste – you should be able to taste the tea even with the flavouring.
- To check the authenticity, check the Taro Bubble Tea – it shouldn’t be too sweet, nor leave your tongue feeling ‘coated’.
Yao Yao Cha Bubble Tea
Yao Yao Cha serve their bubble teas in three styles – as a frappe, with Green Tea or Black Tea. The frappes are served with fruit pops (delicious!) and normal tapioca balls with the Green Tea and Black tea. Each come in a host of flavours including milk, passionfruit, mango, crème brulee (with real pudding in!) and more. As a bonus there is a flavour of the month, which for June is Salted Caramel. I tried the Black Tea version – absolute heaven – it’s a bit like a pudding and utterly indulgent.
You can even mix and match – I decided to try the Passionfruit Green Tea with lychee fruit pops and aiyo (Yao Yao Cha is one of the few places in the UK to serve this jellylike substance made from a fig-like fruit).
Yao Yao Cha Details
Top Tip: If you’re feeling adventurous, try the fresh Cherry Tomato Frappe – it has a flavour unlike any you’ll ever have tried!
Best of all? The tapioca balls are gluten free and milk can easily be replaced with soya milk*
How much? Standard are £3.50, Large are £4
Where to find it? 24 Earlham Street, London
When should I go? When you’re in need of unusual refreshment, especially on a warm day
*Some flavours don’t have a milk replacement so ask first.