Of all the items proudly bearing the Made in Taiwan label, perhaps none are as widely consumed – globally and locally – as that most humble Taiwanese intellectual creation, Bubble Milk Tea! Like so much else in Taiwan, the drink comes from humble beginnings, having been created by Liu Han-Chieh, founder of the Chun Shui Tang teahouse（春水堂） in Taichung. Tea Master Liu is credited with coming up with the idea in the early 1980s after a visit to Japan gave him the idea of serving traditional Chinese tea drinks with high quality Taiwanese milk, sugar and distinctively chewy tapioca balls.
Three decades later, and bubble milk tea, also known as pearl milk tea, has taken the world by storm, and lovers of the beverage can be found slurping it down through distinctive fat straws from Austin to Zurich (and everywhere in between). Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, Taiwanese drink makers have spent the decades innovating, blending new ingredients and combinations to the point where plain bubble milk tea is considered old-school.
Taiwan Scene drank nine most trendy and unique grab-and-go beverage shops in Taipei and here’s our recommendation list of each shop for all bubble milk tea and handmade drink lovers.
While only some of these tasty beverages would be considered bubble milk tea, every last one of them was interesting, unique and inspired. We think Tea Master Liu must be quite proud of how far his own innovative spirit has been carried by the next generation of Taiwanese beverage moguls! (Read also: A Tale of Three Tea Shops)
Shop One: CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice (都可)
CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice is one of the leaders in the bubble tea industry. CoCo was founded in 1997 by Tommy Hung and is a popular bubble tea brand in Taiwan among locals and tourists. With over 3000 stores worldwide, they can be found in various cities like Vancouver, London, New York, LA, Sydney, Manila, Tokyo, Hanoi etc. CoCo is now considered one of the largest tea chain offering a wide variety of drinks made fresh using globally procured ingredients to produce rich and pure flavors ranging from fresh tea, milk tea, fruit tea, yogurt drinks, coffee and more. We sampled eight of CoCo’s bestselling drinks.
1. Pearl Milk Tea (珍珠奶茶)
The classic bubble milk tea, an original milk tea with tapioca balls.
☞ “If you’re a newbie to bubble tea, CoCo is definitely a good place to start. CoCo’s classic milk tea has the perfect balance between cream, sugar and tea. If you’d like something creamier, opt for fresh milk instead.”
2.Tropical Special (百香果雙響炮)
This sweet and sour drink comes with real passion fruit seeds, chewy coconut jelly and tapioca ball creates a party in your mouth.
“Not being a big fan of passion fruit, I wasn’t expecting to like this one much. But I wound up being pleasantly surprised by the interesting mix of flavors from the first sip to the last. The tapioca balls and coconut jelly were a great mix with the sourness of the passion fruit, so I can see why this is one of the best sellers at CoCo.”
3. Guys with Milk ( 牛奶三兄弟)
The “3 Guys” in the beverage are tapioca balls, pudding and grass jelly. They are mixed with sweetened milk and the combination is delicious.
“I found this drink a tad too sweet, but I think people with preference towards sweet things and milk will love it. The concoction of milk, tapioca balls, pudding, and grass jelly are an instant classic.”
4. Fresh Apple & Passion Fruit Juice (鮮榨蘋果百香)
A blend of apple puree, passion fruit and mango (with a hint of kumquat), this is a relatively new entry in the menu.
☞ “I found this drink relatively sweet, but could taste the moderate sourness of the passion fruit and kumquat. All in all, a well-balanced drink.”
5. Lemon King (檸檬霸)
One whole lemon is squeezed into a cup of black tea makes this a perfect thirst quencher, especially in Taiwan’s hot and humid summer.
☞ “They definitely didn’t skimp on the lemon in with this drink. A whole lemon! Very refreshing indeed!”
6. Mountain Tea with pearls and coconut jelly. (四季珍椰青)
A great tea with chewy tapioca bubbles and coconut jelly, this is truly a drink for all seasons.
☞ “I really liked this drink. It has a smooth and clean flavor with fragrant aroma that leaves an earthy aftertaste that lingers in my mouth. I can definitely see why it’s one of CoCo’s bestselling beverages in Taiwan.”
7.Berry Lovers (莓果戀人)
Made with strawberries, cranberries, milk and Sri Lankan black tea, this is a drink that lives up to its name.
“I tasted the strawberries and cranberries first, followed by the black tea. The drink itself was visually appealing, with berries compote at the bottom and the milk on top. Its flavor was sour and sweet, kind of like a teenager’s life. I highly recommend this drink.
(More on delicious food in Taiwan: An insider’s guide to Taipei: Afternoon Tea in 5 Unlikely Places)
8.Berry Party (莓果派對)
Sour Canadian cranberries and sweet strawberries mixed with Taiwanese Pouchong tea make this drink aesthetically pleasing for eyes and taste buds alike.
☞ “The blend of cranberries, strawberries and Pouchong tea gave this drink a cheerful, colorful look and delightfully sweet and tart taste. It also had a good texture thanks to the berry bits in the drink. I recommend choosing the no-sugar option and just a little ice for the best flavor.”
Shop Two: Chen San Ding (陳三鼎)
Located near the popular-with-students Gongguan night market, Chen San Ding is credited with having invented a beverage called Brown Sugar Milk, and has been widely reviewed as serving the best bubble milk drink in Taipei. Their signature drink is called 青蛙撞奶, which translates directly as “frog knocking against the milk”. This odd name comes from the tapioca pearls resemblance to frog eggs; we promise that no frogs are harmed in the process. Chen San Ding sent us two drinks.
1.Frog Knocking Against The Milk(青蛙撞奶 )
Chen San Ding’s signature beverage, Frog Knocking Against The Milk, aka brown sugar bubble milk is made with brown sugar, fresh milk and pearls tapioca pearls cooked with brown sugar.
☞ “I get this drink everytime I come to Gongguan. The pearls cooked in brown sugar are chewy and big, and are a great match with the fresh milk. You can’t choose your sugar level, but you can choose how much ice you want. I always go for 少冰 (half ice), as this balances the sweetness of the brown sugar.”
2.Brown sugar bubble milk with grass jelly (仙蛙撞奶)
Good things come in ordinary packages, as this drink (served in a fairly nondescript cup) proves.
☞ “My first sip of this drink made me understand why so many people wait in line to drink it at Gongguan. With every chew, I felt and tasted the work that goes into getting the pearls and grass jelly just right. Though the ingredients seem simple – fresh milk, brown sugar, pearls and grass jelly – the drink is surprisingly complex. It’s my favorite drink!”
Shop Three: Hua da Milk Tea (樺達奶茶 )
Founded in 1982, Hua da is a venerable elder in the world of Taiwan’s next generation tea shop. Founded by tea master Chen Yuezhi the shop offers a variety of beverages for lovers of traditional Taiwanese tea beverages. Here are 3 signature drinks for the first time drinker of Hua da milk tea.
1.Huada Milk Tea (樺達奶茶 )
Easily the most classic of the blends offered by the shop, Hua Da’s signature milk tea is a combination of black tea and fresh milk, served with a fixed amount of sugar.
☞ “The black tea flavor was strong but not overpowering. The flavor was a bit old school, and reminded me of my childhood.”
2. Yishou milk tea (益壽奶茶)
A sugar-free blend of Pu’er and fresh milk, this is a good choice for folks looking for tradition without sweetness.
☞ “The Pu’er flavor came through, and I liked the fact that this tea was unsweetened. It had a very natural flavor, and a soft texture which I quite enjoyed.”
3.Red Dragon Milk Tea (紅龍奶茶)
Similar to the original Hua Da Milk Tea, this Oolong milk tea has less sugar and more aromatic flavor.
☞ “The Oolong flavor really came through with this tea, which had a woody aroma and slightly thicker flavor. I found the sugar level in this one to be perfect, giving an excellent milk tea experience.”
Shop Four: Brian Black Tea (布萊恩紅茶)
This classic tea shop has its origin in Tainan, Taiwan’s most traditional city. Offering healthy drinks, the shop carefully selects the best selection of black tea from various tea-producing areas around Taiwan, pairing them with other local materials such as Taiwanese sugar and Longan honey to make a perfect tea. We tried three drinks from Brian Black.
1.Iron Goddess Black Tea (竹山觀音紅茶)
Made with Iron Goddess Black Tea from Central Taiwan, this is the perfect choice for those who love the strong flavor of one of Taiwan’s stronger teas.
☞ “I found this tea to have a natural, powerful taste, with a faint whiff of honey. I would recommend this tea for anyone who really loves the natural flavor of a really good black tea.
2.Yuchi Black Tea (魚池阿蕯姆紅茶)
Made with the famous Yuchi black tea from Central Taiwan’s Nantou county.
☞ “This tea was rich in flavor, ending with a slightly bitter but not unpleasant rhyme. I had mine with a little sugar, but even so it was not too sweet. Overall, it is delicious and worth a try.”
3.Wheat Black Tea (麥香紅茶)
A mixture of traditional black tea and barley tea, Brian’s Wheat Black is a tasty change from plain black tea.
☞ “Most Taiwanese people don’t buy cold barley teas at tea shops, as it’s generally thought of as a cheap convenience store product. However, this combo is quite good, and not something you’d find at 7-11. I really enjoyed it.”
Continue reading: Bubble Milk Tea and Beyond in Taiwan (part two)