A curious kind of cuppa: Britain boards the bubble tea bandwagon

Bubble tea is big in Asia and the US but now this strange brew – complete with tapioca 'pearls' – is reaching the sipping point here, says Neela Debnath.

Despite Britain's reputation for being a nation of tea drinkers it seems that we are behind the times when it comes to a cuppa. While we have embraced herbal, green and iced varieties, tea has not really experienced the revolution that coffee has undergone.

But away from our shores, tea has had a remarkable makeover with the invention of bubble tea, a Taiwanese drink consisting of tea, ice and tapioca pearls that look like bubbles. The beverage has been around since the Eighties and already has a following across the world that spans Asia and Australia, with thousands of bubble-tea shops in the US. In Germany, McDonald's is now offering bubble tea at all of its McCafés.

No one seems to know just how bubble tea found its way across the globe, but most agree that it began with Liu Han Chieh, who first added tapioca pearls to his teas at the Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung. The idea quickly caught on in Taiwan, but the story goes that it was not until it featured on a Japanese TV show that it spread across Asian countries and then on to the US and Canada through the Asian communities there.

Britain has been late to board the bubble tea bandwagon but thanks to Bubbleology, a brand of bubble-tea shops created by a former investment banker, Assad Khan, we are starting to catch up. Khan discovered the drink in New York in 2005 and wanted to bring it over after seeing the dearth of bubbly tea in the UK.

He launched his first shop in London's Soho last year before opening a second one in Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. Most recently, Bubbleology arrived in Notting Hill and Khan says the reception has been phenomenal, though "when we opened first, naturally the majority of our customers were Asian". Now, however, most of the customers are British and European women aged between 18 and 30.

As a newcomer to bubble tea, I decide to pay a visit to the latest branch to experience it for myself. There are two types of bubble tea: milk or fruit, which come in a range of flavours and can be drunk hot or cold. Bubbleology strives for authenticity and the ingredients all come from Taiwan, however the tea flavours are more exotic than the usual Asian teas.

The ethos of Bubbleology is experimentation and the combinations of bubble tea are limitless. Customers can choose the amount of sugar, milk and ice they want, and on top of this there are flavoured jellies and clear balls of fruit juice known as boboa.

The sensation of drinking bubble tea is an odd one, a mixture of eating and drinking simultaneously whereby you slurp the concoction through a fat straw before chewing on the tapioca pearls while negotiating the tea. I try the passion fruit with cucumber followed by the branch's best-selling flavour: plain Assam.

Both are deliciously refreshing but I'm not completely convinced by the tapioca pearls. Usually associated with school puddings, the tapioca in bubble tea is completely different: it has been caramelised and formed into small, flavourless pearls that share the same consistency as gummy bear sweets.

Still, the customers here seem to know what they want and are enjoying it. Cy Chan, a 16-year-old student from Hong Kong is at the store with his mother. He is drinking plain Assam and explains, "I like the tea by itself but the chewy balls add something a bit special to it." Both of them have had bubble tea before and say it tastes authentic.

Friends Justyna Szumilas and Ewa Piszczek are in their early thirties. Ewa is drinking white peach, "I like the little balls, they kind of explode in your mouth. It's quite a nice feeling. I really like those and I didn't think that tapioca can be something I will like". Justyna, who is sipping on a cup of white peach with apple, admits to coming here a couple of times a week.

For those looking to experiment with bubble tea at home there are a number of bubble-tea kits on the market. However, making it from scratch is not simple. Khan says bubble tea is a technical process. "It's like sushi – it either tastes nice or it tastes awful and there's nothing in between," he says. He only hires staff who have fully mastered the mixing process.

Along with London, a Bubbleology branch recently opened in Poland, and the company is continuing to expand into other countries, including Kuwait, Russia and Switzerland. So bubble tea – and Bubbleology – will continue to spread.

As Britain plays catch-up, what other tea trends can we look forward to? According to Alex Beckett, a senior food and drinks analyst at market researcher Mintel, there has been a strong growth in teas with health benefits such as green tea and herbal tea.

As it is younger people who are trying these new teas, perhaps the next big thing in tea will be a product related to dieting or wellbeing.

Although bubble tea is not like a conventional brew, it has caught the British imagination and is proving popular across the globe as more bubble tea outlets open up. Despite not being instantly smitten with this curious kind of cuppa, I later find myself with a surprising craving for those tapioca balls – so there's certainly something to it.

Stylish sipping

Coconut water, the juice of young coconuts, is causing such a buzz in Britain and the US that Madonna has invested $150m (£95m) in one brand, while Rihanna is the face of another. It's completely natural, thirst-quenching, refreshing and full of electrolytes, potassium and other good things. No wonder celebs like it. Cocolyte, the UK brand, is served in its husk for extra fun.

The slickly bottled Zeo, which launched in the UK earlier this summer, is clear in colour but flavoured with berries, herbs and spices and served in smart bars as an alcohol-free grown-up tipple. It also makes a decent mixer.

The UK chain Shakeaways has given milkshakes and smoothies an exotic makeover, offering 170 flavours, with trimmings from fruit and Lindt truffles to 23-carat edible gold.

The Japanese love a soft drink and have taken to the Fanta Furufuru Shaker, a sort of drinkable jelly. You shake the can vigorously before you open it and it also comes out fizzy. It is yet to catch on anywhere else.

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
VIDEO
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit