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Vancouver’s bubble tea culture

If you have lived in Vancouver for more than a year, it’s almost certain you would have encountered bubble tea….

By Vinnie Yuen , in Noodle Bowl Notions , on February 6, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

If you have lived in Vancouver for more than a year, it’s almost certain you would have encountered bubble tea. Whether it’s someone asking if you’ve tried it or walking pass a bubble tea café, this Asian drink is present in almost every neighbourhood.

Bubble tea is commonly known as a red tea or green tea based drink with black tapioca pearls, made with or without milk. The drink is shaken with ice before being served. Many variations on the drink can now be found, including fresh fruit smoothies, ice-cream smoothies, flower-scented teas and many more. Some are unaware that bubble teas can be served hot, which makes for a toasty treat on a cold day.

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. The trend first spread to nearby East Asian countries but crossed the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver via immigrants. Bubble tea has been in Vancouver for at least a decade and a half—I remember asking for a bubble tea on hot summer days during my elementary school years here. Today, bubble tea cafés are most prominently seen in Richmond, but they can be found all over Lower Mainland.  Some bubble tea cafés serve strictly bubble tea and nothing else, while others are more like restaurants that serve Taiwanese appetizers, entrees and desserts.

What makes or breaks this drink is the strength and quality of the tea. A weak tea produces a weak drink. Of all the bubble tea places I have tried over the last 10 years, Bubble World has the best tea-based drinks. Their tea is strong but not overbearingly bitter.

Honey Green Milk Tea from Bubble World

Bubble World has expanded over the years and now many locations, including Simon Fraser University, Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey. Some of them are sit-down restaurants, like the one near Metrotown, while others are more like a fast-food format—you order, you take your drinks and/or food, and you sit wherever you like. Be aware that the drinks are more costly at sit-down restaurants as opposed to the fast-food format, like the one at Granville Street and 64th Avenue.

Dragon Ball is a popular favourite among fruit-based bubble tea lovers. They use fresh fruit in their fruit smoothies/slushes and their tapioca pearls have a soft and chewy consistency.

Vancouver is definitely one of the best spots in North America for authentic and delicious bubble tea, due to its proximity to Asia and its high population of Taiwanese immigrants. My sister, who now lives in Hong Kong, still misses the bubble tea in Vancouver. For her, the bubble tea in Hong Kong is still no match for the bubble tea here.