Growing up, I had to go back to Taiwan to get good bubble tea — a black milk tea drink with tapioca pearls. Now, there are a few new bubble tea drink shops around campus as well as some that are a little older, so I tried some out (for the sake of journalism, of course) to see which ones were great, and which ones were … not.
To be as fair as possible, I tried to get the same order at each place — a traditional black milk tea with bubbles, regular size, no ice for less dilution and “normal” amount of sugar option because most shops allow you to adjust the specific amount.
I mainly focused on a few things: the sweetness of the tea, the taste of the bubbles and what I call the “Q” factor — what Taiwanese people say to describe the chewiness and bounciness of food.
4. Crane Cafe, Hagerty Hall: “Honey and Vanilla Bubble Tea,” $4.25
I don’t even know why I try. I wanted to get a campus option, but my order of “Honey and Vanilla Bubble Tea” — one of two options Crane Cafe offered and the closest to my original order — was not good. The only upside: with Dining Dollars, it’s the cheapest out of the bunch at $2.76.
First of all, Crane Cafe uses coconut milk. It just makes it taste off. Not only is this not like anything I’ve ever had, but it was really light in tea flavor, almost as if I was just drinking a-little-bit-sweetened coconut milk with a bit of honey.
The “Q” factor of the bubbles was not actually that bad. They had a good chew to them, but really tasted like nothing.
Overall, just don’t.
3. Bubbles, North Market, 59 Spruce St.: “Black Milk Tea with Bubbles,” $4.25
I’m going to keep this short but not very sweet, mainly because that’s what the drink was like. It really just tasted like watered-down tea.
Despite having the same brown sugar flavor as ViVi’s bubbles, they weren’t very “Q,” as they didn’t have much of a bounce to them and almost had a gelatinous texture.
Overall, the drink was very light and fresh and I wouldn’t really recommend it for people unless they were already at North Market and wanted bubble tea.
2. ViVi Bubble Tea, 2408 N. High St.: “ViVi Milk Tea with Bubbles,” $3.76
The drink itself was fairly sweet. I didn’t taste a ton of tea flavor, but it wasn’t to the point where it felt like I was drinking straight milk. The bubbles were not very sweet but still had a little bit of the molasses flavor it tends to have on its own, as if you were biting into a piece of al dente pasta: a soft, sticky chew until you get to the center where there’s a bit of a bite.
Overall, the drink wasn’t too heavy, as I was able to drink it without feeling too stuffed right after eating a full meal. I would definitely recommend ViVi to those who want a general taste of what the common bubble tea is like despite being a little far from campus.
1. Chatime, 2060 N. High St.: “Chatime Milk Tea with Bubbles,” $4.25
The drink was actually pretty sweet, which I prefer. The milk tea was very creamy but still had a little bit of tea flavor, which was perfect.
The bubbles were very soft, but not quite gelatinous. It had a little bit of a bounce, but still a little gooey and could bite through on first try with enough effort. The tapioca pearls really felt like they carried the milk tea flavor, and a combination of the tea and bubbles left a bit of a smoky aftertaste.
Chatime is the closest off-campus bubble tea shop so distance-wise, I would highly recommend it for those looking to try bubble tea for the first time or students wishing to fulfill a craving.