Like my mocha, tea, or frappaccino, bubble tea isn’t something that I liked to make a big effort to obtain. That’s because growing up in NYC, I was used to bubble tea being widely available.
But in Dubai, getting good bubble tea used to involve a long drive (for me as I live in New Dubai) to Sino Chai Teahouse in Healthcare city. In the last few years though, dedicated bubble tea cafes have opened up in Dubai Mall (Bubbles & Boba), Sharjah (Happy Time), and the Deira City Center Metro station (Share Tea), plus many restaurants now often bubble tea options.
What is bubble tea?
Imagine your average cup of black tea with milk and sugar…then shake it up (covered of course) so that it gets frothy and bubbly. Now add “boba” (which are black tapioca balls, 1-cm thick, and made from the starch of the cassava root) and add optional flavorings and it is instantly transformed into what is known these days as bubble tea.
The first appearance of bubble tea occurred in Taiwan in the 1980s. Now, three decades later, there are hundreds of variations depending on the type of tea (jasmine, Earl Grey, green, oolong, etc), flavorings (taro, sesame almond, etc), or fruit (strawberry, mango, lychee, etc) that is used. The tea can be served hot or cold and coffee variations are also available.
A friend told me that in Munich, bubble tea is served at McDonald’s! Oh, and shakes and smoothies (and almost anything these days!) can also be transformed into a bubble concoction.
With bubble tea, besides flavor and sugar content, it is also important to get the consistency of the black tapioca pearls correct. The tapioca pearls should be properly cooked so that they are not hard and distasteful like uncooked flour lumps nor overly soft like a flaccid gummy bear that sticks to your teeth. They should be just chewy enough to move around the mouth a couple times while pondering one of two options – how to position the extra wide bubble tea straw to either suck up another pearl or avoid it altogether.
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Whenever I am in Dubai Mall, I try to stop by Bubbles & Boba (located in Level 2 by the ice rink and Costa coffee) where staff donning grey bandannas and pink T-shirts create your individual bubble tea selection in a shakey-shaky-mixer thing (for lack of the proper technical term) and then vacuum seal the cup with a plastic lid where you then insert the pointy end of a fat colorful straw to begin sipping and chewing.
At my first visit a few months ago, I was uber-excited to see taro flavor on the menu (my all-time favorite) but quickly simmered down my excitement as it often happens in Dubai that what’s listed is not always available. Sure enough, there was no taro to be had that day.
“Soon,” I was told. Yeah, yeah, heard that one before.
They have lots of free samples for you to try before committing to a full-cup size:
I tasted their original flavor (Assam milk tea with tapioca) and their Thai milk tea with tapioca and settled on an order of a small Thai tea which was very satisfying, just the right sweetness for me, and the tapioca pearls were properly chewy.
Pricing is strange to me as there is only an insubstantial 2 dhs ($0.55) difference (19 dhs vs 21 dhs) between a small and a large.
Don’t know what the liquid measurement is but at those prices you should always go for the larger size for better bang for your buck but having said that, I tend to go for the small size unless I am with someone who will help me drink a large because it’s too much liquid and too much sugar for me in one go.
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Back in 2008 when I was scouring Karama and Dragonmart in search of bubble tea – it was underneath my nose the whole time in China Palace in the food court of Ibn Battuta mall, only 5 minutes from my apartment, where they literally dispense bubble tea for the bargain price of 6 dhs. There is also a China Palace in Dubai Mall and in the span of one week I tried the bubble tea at both locales and found that I preferred the tea from the Dubai Mall outlet as it is not as sweet as Ibn Battuta’s.
I also periodically (well once per year actually) stopped by Kitsch Cubcakes in Jumeirah to try their bubble tea but it was usually a frustrating effort. The first two times I went they didn’t have tapioca pearls.
Now bubble tea without tapioca pearls is just plain tea. No need to drive 20 minutes out of my way to get milk tea.
The third time I went to Kitsch was the only time I was successful in getting a cup of bubble tea with tapioca pearls but the fourth and final time I went I left empty (or should I say emp-tead) just like the first two times.
On that fourth visit I was very pregnant (I was in my third trimester) and left very upset as can happen when a pregnant person is denied her cravings. I’m sure the shop assistant isn’t reading this but I would like to publicly apologize if I was impolite or acting crazy upon being told “no tapioca” and denied bubble tea for the third time – I blame it on the pregnancy hormones.
Noodle House used to serve bubble tea in their Dubai Marina branch but shortly removed the selections from their menu – they were never able to achieve proper tapioca consistency anyway.
The best bubble tea I’ve tasted in Dubai up until Bubbles & Boba opened up was at Sino Chai restaurant in Healthcare City.
As I mentioned, it is a bit of a drive for me to get to Healthcare city, so I only enjoy Sino Chai’s bubble tea if I just happen to be in the area.
They have a variety of hot and cold bubble tea and because they are a tea house as well, their tea is very good quality.
My favorite is the jasmine hot tea that is served in clear tea pots and the tea is poured into a matching glass teacup filled with tapioca pearls.
Prices range from 22 dhs to 33 dhs. Sino Chai calls their tapioca pearls “QQ” which came about because it sounds like “chew-chew” in Taiwanese and Mandarin.
Wee Scotch and I are escaping Dubai for the summer and taking up residence in my hometown of New York City so if this summer is anything like last year, I will be having bubble tea quite regularly – yay!
Have you had Bubble Tea in Dubai? What are your fave outlets and are there others I haven’t mentioned and must try?