The UK’s first bubble tea store opened in London in 2011. Since then bubble tea has taken the country by storm, and soon no British city will be complete without one. What the West knows as ‘bubble tea’ we Chinese call ‘pearl tea’. The pearls refer to the dark, chewy tapioca balls inside the drink, while ‘bubble’ refers to the froth created by shaking the tea before serving. Last week, I paid a visit to the Chatime café in Oxford, which opened in September this year.Having entered the European cha (Chinese for ‘tea’) race in 2012 with a store in London, the Chatime franchise is expanding this year with new branches in Birmingham, Nottingham and Sheffield as well as Oxford. It claims to serve ‘the best and most authentic Taiwanese bubble tea in the UK’. I ordered a hot cha, which costs more than a cold cha, probably because of the fancy lid they put on top.
What’s great about Chatime:
- The variety of teas and toppings.
- You can mix and match.
- You can change the sweetness and amount of ice if you’re ordering a cold cha.
What’s not so great about Chatime:
- The high prices. The cha on its own is expensive already, and there is a separate price for the ‘bubbles’ of the bubble tea.
- Some flavours are better than others. My Chatime milk tea was great, but my friend Luona’s jasmine green milk tea just tasted like very milky tea.
- I would rather they use a normal lid and sell the hot and the cold cha for the same price.
My friend Ting-Ting from Taiwan who has tried the tea at both Chatime and Formosan, the first bubble tea store in Oxford, prefers the tea at Formosan (the ethnological term for ‘Taiwan’). She says that Chateime tea tastes like it is made with milk powder but fresh milk is used at Formosan, and that the latter is how bubble tea should be made. I had originally believed Chatime to be more authentic, but the bubble tea I know is Hong Kong style bubble tea. Nevertheless, the chain is Taiwanese-owned, so it can’t be that far from real Taiwanese bubble tea.
If you just want Taiwanese bubble tea, you can find cheaper ones elsewhere. If you want to customise your tea with a wacky combination or have multiple toppings in your tea, then this is the place to go.
Updated since publication: Now in 2017, Hong Kong eggies, or “bubble-wrap waffles”, are the next Taiwanese street food craze to take over Europe.