It's hard to say when the bubble tea craze in Singapore started. Some chains have been around since our school days (hello, Each-A-Cup), but the fervour seems to only have intensified in the past year, which has seen a mad dash by international chains to open up bubble tea outlets in Singapore. Here is what's worth a try.
Chi Cha San Chen is serious about its tea, and it shows – its signature brews have been handcrafted by Taiwanese tea masters with over two decades of experience in growing, roasting and tasting tea. Its standard bubble milk tea ($4.20) is made with a black tea base and cream, but the highlight is undeniably the award-winning Ding Dong Oolong milk tea ($4.70) which we daresay is one of the best in Singapore. Other options include a refreshing High Mountain Pouchong tea with lemon juice ($4.20), and the Cassia black tea with mousse ($4.70).
This Insta-worthy bubble tea gets its name from the drips of brown sugar adorning the walls of its cup, said to resemble tiger stripes. Its signature drink is the brown sugar boba milk with cream mousse ($5.30), which you're recommended to shake 15 times before consuming. While the giant boba pearls give a satisfyingly chewy bite, the milky concoction is nothing to shout about. Unless you're doing it for the 'gram, we'd recommend skipping the queue until the hype dies down.
Xing Fu Tang's first outlet is at Century Square, with three more in the works, and it adds to the already long list of stores that tout the brown sugar milk as their signature drink. XFT's rendition, like Tiger Sugar's, is priced at $5.30, but there's a slight difference in taste and quality. Its brown sugar pearls are freshly-made in-store and lightly fried to give it a burnt, caramelised taste, but the milk seems better and fresher. The rest of the menu is slightly kitschy and clearly made for the 'gram – the mango smoothie with pink cactus pearls ($6.90) has a rabbit-shaped jelly atop it, while the matcha pearl milk ($6.50) and strawberry pearl milk ($5.90) are coloured in different hues, all the better to be photographed.
The Alley's range of tasty teas has won it loyal fans. The joint makes its own sugar cane syrup and tapioca pearls, and its signature drink is the Brown Sugar Deerioca Fresh Milk ($5.30). The outlet at Cineleisure Orchard even offers freshly-baked pastries which you can enjoy with your tea. Its aesthetically pleasing drinks come to a peak with its Aurora series, of which our favourite is the Northern Lights ($8.80). The series includes a range of bottled teas made with ingredients like butterfly blue pea flowers, apple cider vinegar and fruits, making its drinks refreshing and tart.
While everyone seems to be going gaga over brown sugar bubble milk drinks at the moment, Heytea is marching to the beat of its drum. The Chinese brand is said to be the original creator of the cheese tea, and the King Fone Cheezo Tea ($5.50) is its most popular drink. Freshly brewed oolong tea is covered with a thick layer of cheese foam – think of it as a salty and savoury macchiato – that isn’t overly cloying thanks to the bitterness of the cold oolong tea.
PlayMade’s another joint which hasn't bought into the brown sugar hype, although its burnt caramel offerings taste pretty similar. Still, the brand has more unique flavours than most, with a chrysanthemum milk tea ($2.90) and brown rice milk tea ($3.40). It has its own tea farm in Taiwan, and its pearls come in black sesame, burnt caramel, chrysanthemum and pink cactus flavours, the last of which is its signature item. The pink cactus pearls are made with a variety of cactus native to Taiwan. To prepare it for consumption, the cactus is broken and ground into pulp, before being sent to Singapore.
Hollin, meaning “good to drink” in Hokkien, lives up to its name with its extensive bubble tea menu. What’s special about this Taiwanese import is that it offers an array of flavoured pearls every single day. For those tired of the basic black tapioca variety, mix things up with matcha pearls (Monday), cocoa pearls (Tuesday), coconut pearls (Wednesday), coffee pearls (Thursday), peanut pearls (Friday), sesame pearls (Saturday), and rock salt pearls (Sunday). Its signature white pearls are available daily but if you need to get your daily fix of bubble tea, try all the pearl variations with simple black milk tea ($3.20).
This bubble tea shop has humble beginnings, starting first at Shilin Night Market in Taiwan before becoming a chain store that set its sights on conquering overseas markets. Its brown sugar pearls are diligently cooked and glazed every few hours, and the brown sugar boba milk ($5.20) is one of its top-sellers, but we'd recommend the Oreo brown sugar boba milk ($5.50), made with fresh milk, chocolate and creme wafers, just like the addictive cookie. Other recommended drinks include the matcha green tea with red beans ($5.20) and brown sugar boba Thai milk tea ($5).
This local brand only has two outlets so far, but both have seen a steady stream of returning customers who have fallen in love with its tea. It prides itself on using only premium grade ingredients like pure matcha powder, Okinawan sugar and Hokkaido milk, and its best-selling drinks are the roasted oolong milk tea ($3), milk cap oolong ($3.50) and cheese cap tea ($3.70).
This underdog surprises us all with its own rendition of the now-ubiquitous brown sugar milk tea ($3.80). Launched in Singapore in partnership with Koufu last year, this Taiwanese import has been expanding fast, with several outlets across the island. And while we're not normally a fan of any drink with cheese in it (sorry, Liho), R&B's brown sugar boba milk with cheese brûlée ($5.80) is surprisingly good.
Real talk, Koi is the OG – and for good reason. Despite the many new entrants that have come aboard the bubble tea train in Singapore, we simply can't find one that beats the flavours, variety and price point that Koi offers (prices start from $2.30). The joint is unfailingly generous with its toppings, its golden bubble gives a good mouthfeel, and the tea and milk are well-balanced so that the drink is never too cloying. Call us old-fashioned, but we're sticking with this brand.