“Applause is an addiction, like heroin, or checking your email.” OR BUBBLE TEA.

June 22, 2008 at 12:45 pm 4 comments

Wise words from Simpsons Sideshow Mel.

I remember the first time I tried it. Slimy balls of black goo at the bottom of my too-sweet bevarage in some dingy cafe in Sydney’s chinatown. Literally chewing my tea. I could sense my Persian ancestors rolling in their graves with every tea-filled bite.

So I put the bubble tea down, declared I didn’t like it, and wrote it off as a gastronomic abomination never to be consumed again. But, after getting back on the horse, I realized it’s because I had never had good bubble tea before. And, living in New York City, I’m happy to say that the opportunity for a decent cup presents itself quite frequently, especially with Chinatown being its biggest purveyor.

What began as abject horror has now sneakily transformed into a legitimate addiction, and my mouth couldn’t be happier.

So from Harlem, NYC, I present you the bible of my favorite bubble tea joints (as well as some places to stay away from). May your adventures be as hydratingly chewy as mine!

saints alp

SAINTS ALP 39 3rd Ave, @ 9th st.
I’m going to cut to the chase here-
This is singlehandedly the best place to get bubble tea in Manhattan. With reasonably priced drinks, speedy service, and a fabulously large menu, Saints Alp has never disappointed. Not only are their tapioca pearls firm and chewy, but the bubbles themselves are boiled in sweetened water- a rare step that gives Saints Alp an edge over its blander-bubbled competitors. This added kick gives the drink a nice base layer for sweetened milk flavors, or plainer versions . I personally prefer my tea black and unsweetened (like my men), but the hint of sugar in the boba is just right. $3.50


TEA KETTLE 26 St. Mark’s Place
No. No no no no. Everytime I go there, they mess up my order. Maybe I have just had bad luck, but I feel as if my request for Black tapioca pearls goes unnoticed nearly every time. Don’t be fooled by their special offer of colored bubbles- they have absolutely no taste, and their varying sizes confuse the mouth. While their black tea (when created properly) is pretty good, their more interesting flavors like Salted Plum are too-sweet and fall flat.

I understand what it’s like to have the craving hit hard, and the convenience of Saint Marks is all-too enticing. However, I beseech you to walk up three blocks to Saints Alp and get more bang for your buck. Tea Kettle is frustratingly average, and its mac-store decor is enough to fool any newcomer. So go ahead, take this gateway drug if need be- but know that there are much better substances throughout the city, waiting to be consumed.

TEA-RIFFIC- 51 Mott St.
I have only had their almond bubble tea, and it seemed, well, pretty good. I’m sensitive to sweet drinks, and while this drink was predictably too sugary, I think it should be alright for those with more conventional taste buds. My only critique is that the bubbles were too small, about the size of a pea. This is an odd feeling, as most bubble tea straws are large, accommodating the normal size pearls (about the size of a nickel). I found myself packing the baby boba in my cheeks as I tried to compensate, chewing more but not getting that satisfactory huge chomp I’ve come to crave, like a heroin addict who needs the feeling of the needle. Shucks.

Green Tea Cafe-45 Mott St.
I ordered a hot, unsweetened black bubble tea here once and am never ordering hot bubble tea again. On top of not enjoying the temperature as much as the iced drinks, the boba were undercooked and starchy in the center, making my jaws ache and my eyes twitch. The pearls were flavorless, the tea bland, and and the whole drink just poorly brewed over all. While I’m only judging the bubble tea here, my friend ordered an apricot icecream and received a green scoop of flavorless, frozen dairy. I think this place is best left skipped.

Tea Spot

Tea Spot-127 MacDougal St.
Not only is this bubble tea over-priced ($4.50), it is overcooked and nearly disintegrated by the time it hits my teeth. I ordered a black-peach tea and received a milky lavender concoction. Leaving the store, I took one sip, then marched right back in.
“Excuse me?” I asked the barista, “Does this have dairy?”

Faking lactose intolerance, I asked for a different flavor since the first one tasted so awful. The barista was very generous and quickly prepared me the same drink, this time without milk (and purple coloring?), no charge. The plain black and peach tea itself was good, so I recommend just sticking to the store’s excellent selection of loose teas instead. Hopefully their boba drinks are just a phase.

While I know I am still missing a few key places (such as Ten-Ren), I feel this is a comprehensive enough guide for those wishing to dip their toes into the hard world of drugs, prostitutes, and bubble tea cravings. Good luck, and remember, always get what you want. If they don’t do your order right, don’t be afraid to fake a disease in search of your true craving quencher.


Entry filed under: Olivia, The Eat Sheet. Tags: , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim Cameron  |  June 22, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I never sampled the delights of bubble tea when I was in New York. It sounds like no other drink I’ve ever experienced (well, other than tea, but you know what I’m saying). So it’s a traditional drink?

  • 2. parkrangerolivia  |  June 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Hmm, perhaps I should have given a brief history/description of what bubble tea (or boba tea) is. Bubble tea is a relatively new drink (circa 1983) that originated in Taiwan. The bubble’s are just little spheres of tapioca (like tapioca pudding) that have been boiled to the point of a chewy consistency.

    While not traditional, per se, it’s definitely a staple in the sort of young Asian pop culture that associates with things like Hello Kitty snacks, especially since it can be served very sweet, in thousands of different flavors and combinations.

    You should hit up your nearest Japanese food store and see if they have it, or buy the bubbles yourself! It’s like Earl Grey, but on crack.

  • 3. Tim Cameron  |  June 23, 2008 at 2:24 am

    Does it usually have milk in it? I noticed most people leave the milk out of their tea in America, which is why there is so much conservatism and racial intolerance.

  • 4. parkrangerolivia  |  June 23, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    hey now, i like milk in my earl grey, but when it comes to bubble tea, the “milk” that is usually served with it is in fact a milk powder. yeah, it makes it sweeter and creamier, but i’m a dairy purist. most people prefer it this way but they’re just suckers. all of them.


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