Bored with your regular tea? How about throwing in some tapioca to liven it up a bit? Thought so. But wait, bear with me, it tastes better than it sounds. It begins life as a red or green tea, it’s given an injection of fruit syrup and it’s topped off with the tapioca pearls which taste like toffee Haribo without being too sweet. This can be sipped hot or cold. Suck up these gummy marbles with an oversized straw, chew, and you’ve just sampled bubble tea.
This drink is already big in Taiwan — it’s been adopted as their national drink. Now it’s making in-roads into the capital.
Bubble tea is reported to have originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, when tea stands competing for after-school business among students began adding fruit flavors to their drinks. The tea and the flavouring had to be shaken vigorously for an even consistency, which resulted in frothy bubbles in the beverage.
Liu Han Chie, who owned a teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan, claims that he was the first to add tapioca to tea in the early eighties, and the idea quickly caught on. No matter who the inventor of bubble tea is, the tapioca pearls have been an inseparable element ever since.
Milk Tea Pearl is a tea house recently opened just off Oxford Street but it’s not the first bubble tea shop in London, although there are relatively few, the drinks are served in restaurants around Leicester Square and Bubbleology have a store in Rupert Street and they’ve also managed to secure concessions in Harvey Nichols.
The tapioca begins life as small dark brown pellets, but once placed in a pan to simmer, the balls expand and become jelly-like. The tapioca is mixed with brown sugar and water and left to cool. The now much darker, almost black, tapioca is rinsed and drained ready to put into the drink. But these vary too. The black pearls are made from the root of the cassava plant whilst clear and white pearls are made from caramel, starch and camomile root.
Milk, Tea Pearl is in Little Portland Street, just off upper Regent Street, and it’s here the owner Arnold decided to bring his favourite drink from his birthplace to London. He tells me when I meet him briefly that he missed the drink so much when he was here studying that he decided to set up his own bubble tea shop.
Each Pearl drink is £3.50 and you can choose from Assam Milk Tea & Pearl, Plain Assam & Pearl, Jasmine Milk Tea & Pearl, Plain Jasmine & Pearl. It’s enamel-strippingly sweet but if you don’t fancy it this way then the bubble tea barista will customise it for you.
If you’re scared by the Tapioca marbles you’ll probably recoil in horror at the thought of the Angel and Demon Jelly but don’t worry, this is jelly made from leaves from a plant similar to the mint family and can be added to your tea for additional texture and flavour, there are coffee and green tea and coconut flavours too.
There’s also just tea (£2.50) for the non-adventurous and a selection of smoothies (£2.50).
A customer is enjoying the Taro drink (made from the Taro root) and is the most beautiful designer lilac colou. It’s his favourite and tells me it’s not tea based at all. As a bubble tea regular he is pretty pleased with the quality of the drink and more importantly it’s location.
All I can say is it’s an experience, the textures and taste of this drink is comparable with nothing I’ve ever tried before. Go along and try it, you really should. There are tasters too, which always helps.
Milk Tea and Pearl, 12a Little Portland Street