Dressed in white overalls, a ‘tea specialist’ is stationed behind the counter at the newly launched bubble tea bar Dr Bubbles – Chai Specialist, in Bandra. It resembles a laboratory with its white walls and neat interiors. A series of jars filled with various liquids (flavours), and two large steel containers (to store the bubbles) line the counter. A colourful board overhead lists varieties like chocolate, almond, hazelnut and green melon, among the 20 options. Curious and, admittedly, a little apprehensive, we find out more about this ‘special’ tea.
The milky, frothy drink — invented in Taiwan in the ’80s — is a popular trend in a lot of Asian countries. Over the last few months, Mumbai-based Asian restaurants like Lemon Leaf and Eat Thai in Bandra, Trikaya in Andheri and tea lounges like Tea Trails have introduced various flavours of bubble tea on their menu. Most recipes include actual tea — and contain milk or fruit flavours — as the base, to which chewy tapioca balls or fruit jellies are added.
There is a misconception that it is called ‘bubble’ tea because of the tapioca pearls. The name actually comes from the fact that when the drink is prepared, it is shaken in a coctail shaker to form air bubbles, making the drink frothy. “The main attraction of this drink is its texture and presentation. It gives an unconventional twist to regular iced teas,” says Mitesh Rangras, partner, Lemon Leaf.
“Not everyone likes the original bubble tea,” says Adnan Sarkar, owner, Dr Bubbles. To make it more palatable, or to “suit Indian tastes”, he has customised it by adding fruit jelly and fruit-flavoured poppers to his milk and fruit teas. Sarkar has even introduced a special ‘chai’ flavoured variety.
Bubble tea, in its original form, is more of an acquired taste, owing to the heavy use of tapioca. Yet, it has made it to Australia, US and UK over the last five years. Internationally, honeydew-flavoured bubble tea is quite the rage. At Lemon Leaf, Rangras plans to introduce five new flavours, including Green Apple and Malaysian Spice.
Encouraged by the response to his flavours, Sarkar has already signed on three more locations. “We’re looking at Lower Parel, Lokhandwala and Phoenix MarketCity, Kurla, for the outlets,” he says.
For those who like the original bubble tea, Dr Bubbles – Chai Specialist offers freshly made tapioca as one of the toppings. And if you are in a mood to experiment, watch out for new additions like chocolate and coffee poppers. While the teas are refreshing and different, all the ingredients used to make the tea are naturally sourced. For instance, the poppers are made of aloe vera gel (instead of the usual gelatin) and the fruit-based jellies are made of coconut.
Quirky packaging and the thick straw are also part of the draw. In fact, drinking bubble tea almost always turns into a game, as you try to fish out the bubbles with the straw, and then feel it pop in your mouth. As Ashish Sajnani, co-owner of Eat Thai says, “It is new, refreshing and fun. In Bangkok, it is touted as the hip drink for the youth. And it is growing in popularity in Mumbai as well.”
WHAT TO TRY WHERE
* Dr Bubble - Chai Specialist: Try the passion fruit bubble tea with mango jellies
- Dr Bubbles – Chai Specialist, opposite Globus, Hill Road, Bandra (W)
* Tea Trails: Serves three kinds of bubble teas — lychee, mango and tapioca
- Capital Building, BKC; Viviana Mall, Thane (W); Hyper City, Malad (W); Mind Space, Mulund (W)
* Eat Thai: Try the Cha Nom Khimuk — Thai iced tea with tapioca pearls
- Pali Naka, Bandra (W)
* Trikaya: Go for the mango, saffron and marigold iced bubble tea
- Seven Bungalows, Andheri (W)
* Lemon Leaf: Try the pomegranate bubble tea with pomegranate pearls
- Pali Hill, Bandra (W)
* Wok Express: Order the Pink Guava Bubble Tea
- Pali Hill, Bandra (W)
(The writer tweets as @CultureCola )