By Christian Jay B. Quilo
AS A lover of bubble tea, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to Taipei for the milk tea and boba. Although there are plenty of things to do in this city, to drink milk tea was a priority—no, a mission—for me on this trip. As the birthplace of bubble tea, there’s at least one shop literally in almost every corner in Taiwan, in Taipei most especially — from the popular mainstream brands to the humble and nondescript shops.
Finding one won’t be a problem; choosing which one to try is. With a little research, I’ve narrowed it down to a handful, but I’m sure I’m barely scratching the surface. For my fellow milk tea and boba lovers flying to Taipei anytime soon (Taiwan is visa-free until July 2019), check out this list of 10 must-try milk tea shops in the Taiwanese capital:
Side note: I arrived in Taipei expecting everything was milk tea. However, over the course of the week I was there, I noticed the signature drink of many “bubble tea” shops is not actually milk tea, per se, but rather, just fresh milk (just a common misconception, I guess). When you try a drink and you don’t taste any tea, that’s because it probably doesn’t — it’s just milk with pearls or boba. So when you go through the menu and pick a drink, make sure to double check if it’s just “milk” or “milk tea.”
Drink: Brown Sugar Boba + Pearl
with Cream Mousse
This was the one I was most excited to try, so the day I landed in Taipei, I went to the Ximending branch right away. Among the drinks I tried, Tiger Sugar had the softest pearls. Just by the looks of it — the brown swirls enveloping the insides of the cup — you can already tell how indulgent it is. Is it worth the hype? I’ll let you decide.
Drink: Brown Sugar Pearl Tea Latte
Taste-wise, this one is close to Tiger Sugar but the pearls are more chewy. There’s one store located close to Din Tai Fung (the original one in Xinyi Road), so drop by if you want some boba after eating xiao long bao.
Drink: Soma Original Milk Tea
While I was disappointed initially when I came to find out that they do not serve pearls or boba (as I always find it weird when I have milk tea without pearls), my disappointment disappeared after the first sip — that is quality classic milk tea right there. This is perfect for those who love milk tea but not the pearls.
Drink: Black Milk Tea with Pearls
TenRen is one those lesser hyped milk tea shops I would say, but they have great drinks, nonetheless. If you want your milk tea fix without the long queues, give TenRen a try.
Chen San Ding
Drink: “Brown Sugar Milk”
The staff barely speak English, the menu doesn’t have any translations and the cup has no branding whatsoever — Chen San Ding is your modest and humble neighborhood bubble tea joint. Being the helpless tourist that I am, I simply said to the lady, “One bubble tea, please.” However, what I got was milk with brown sugar pearls. After a quick Google search, it turns out that Chen San Ding does not serve milk tea but only this brown sugar milk concoction. At 40 NTD, this is pretty good considering how cheap it is.
Drink: Ruby Black Tea
Even though it is one of the more expensive ones (priced at 120 NTD), I do think it’s worth it as the taste of the tea is more pronounced in this compared to the more sugary options around. If you observe their work station, you can see that they do use real tea leaves for their drinks. What’s most impressive for me is the bag of tea leaves that they intentionally leave to soak in your drink.
Drink: 3 Gems
With more than 2,500 stores, CoCo is one of the biggest and most successful tea chains in the world and if you haven’t heard yet, CoCo is opening (hopefully soon) in SM Seaside City Cebu. My go-to drink is always the 3 Gems, which is the classic milk tea with the topping trifecta: pearls, pudding and grass jelly.
Drink: Boba Coffee
We’ve always associated boba with milk tea, right? Located in Raohe Night Market, Oneca switches it up with its signature drink Boba Coffee, which is basically a classic latte with boba. If you’re a fan of both coffee and boba, this is definitely a must-try.
Chun Shui Tang
Drink: Pearl Milk Tea
Founded in 1983, Chun Shui Tang claims to have created the pearl milk tea. At 160 NTD, this is the priciest milk tea I had on my trip. Although it wasn’t the best for me, it’s still a solid take on the drink. While you’re there, might as well order some food, which I find better than the milk tea honestly. I recommend the Noodles with XO Sauce and the glutinous rice-covered Pork Siomai.
Xing Fu Tang
Drink: Brown Sugar Boba Milk
Specializing in the traditional method of stir-frying pearls, Xing Fu Tang proudly flaunts a giant wok of boba swimming in brown sugar syrup in its storefront, successfully luring in unsuspecting passersby like me. Here’s a pleasant surprise: after the fresh milk and cream is poured, brown sugar is sprinkled on top and then torched lightly resulting in delightfully crunchy brown sugar bits.