Friday, 15 March 2013

26: Bubble tea

If you’ve walked around Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or Prenzlauerberg recently, you’ll notice there is a new drug fuelling the masses. It is of course bubble tea.

This strange concoction comes in hundreds of different variations and is sold by everyone from McDonalds to coffee houses. Nothing could be more in hand for the debonair of the city. McDonalds describes it as “the drink innovation of the moment;” celebrities across the globe are tripping over themselves to be photographed gulping the lumpy drink-cum-meal. 

Bubble tea: Bright colours for the big city
Bubble tea is what happened when a fisherman took a pile of eyes and drank them in his morning coffee. The drink, also known as ‘Pearl Milk Tea,’ comes in a sealed plastic container similar to the water capsules distributed as part of in-flight meals, only larger and full of edible marbles known as tapioca.

It takes tea to a new level, a kind of libation Nirvana where yogurt, milk and juice forget their differences and get up, close and personal with jelly.

For years, tea was the elixir of choice, keeping communities from China to Chennai sitting under the mango tree chatting about/with spirits. Sugar spent centuries lobbying a way into the equation. Lemon only found its way in on rare occasions. Even the spirits needed visas. Coffee had to wait millennia to make an intercontinental landing. Then there was bubble tea. 

The craze started in the early eighties in Taiwan, according to Wikipedia, who says:

“Bubble teas are typically of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas and milk teas. However, some shops offer hybrid "fruit milk teas". “

I must have had the latter, a pale orange soup with lumps of jelly loitering at the bottom. Piercing the plastic sealing with a straw more suited to piping, I tentatively moved my head down towards the drink. As soon as I started sucking, the lumps of jelly, which up until this point had sat quietly on the base of my drink, started shooting into my mouth like tennis balls fired by a machine.

 I tried to call for help but skirmished jelly balls flew from my mouth. Children looked at me as if they’d time-traveled into Madame Tussauds and were staring at a 3D replica of the Alien.

The bubbles, more like soggy berries, now sat at the bottom of the glass alone. Whereas before they had thrown themselves into the straw, without the liquid they wouldn’t move.  Which makes me think bubble tea is not meant for consumption, but to be seen with; a drinks accessory.

The girl at the counter in the bubble tea store (a chain dedicated to the plague??!!) offered me instructions but I passed telling her I’d consumed liquids before. “Getting a balance between juice and bubbles is key,” she’d said.

My new balance is 100 per cent tea. With bubble tea stores cropping up like forgotten STDs, it is time to take a stand. Because bubble tea is not a drink, it’s a movement. And only tea can stop its curse – it's time to burst the bubble, people.


  1. I'm personally quite partial to a bit of bubble tea... helps the concentration (in the trying to not spill any). Not sure they are ready for it in Moabit though as my local bubble tea emporium recently closed down. It seems I was one of their few customers.

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