Sydney is definitely in the grips of a bubble tea boom. New bubble tea shops are rolling out quickly and gaining devoted followers willing to queue for up to 40 minutes just to get a sweet refreshing beverage.
In the 30 years since a restaurateur in Taiwan poured tapioca balls into milk tea, the drink has gone global and it’s all about the bubble. Starch powder and water is boiled into soft and chewy little balls, also called boba, pearls, or tapioca balls, and provide the essential textural element of this drink. Variations are endless. The tea base can be black, green or oolong, or even no tea, and topping options have expanded to include tapioca balls, puddings, popping boba, grass jelly, fruit jelly, fresh fruit, biscuit crumbs, brown sugar pearls, and cheese and milk foams. Customising your own perfect bubble tea is half the fun, dictating everything down to the ice and sugar levels, or serving temperature. Want to get involved? These are our top picks of where to get your fix.
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Order the: Pearl milk tea
Coco is a giant in the bubble tea scene - there are nine outlets in Sydney already, three on the same street. Coco’s longevity has not been affected by the swathe of newcomers and it has a huge fan base. Being one of the old guard, Coco serves only the classics from the Taiwanese bubble tea canon, ranging from flavoured milk tea to yoghurts and smoothies. If you're a bubble tea rookie, this is a good place to start. The most popular order is the pearl milk tea. Every bubble teashop has this on the menu, but Coco’s version is the total package. There’s a strong aroma of black tea, a surge of sugar, and soft, chewy pearls. The quality is really consistent here, which is why people keep coming back.
Order the: Cheese fruit tea frappe
Unlike the bigger bubble tea chains, No Fail is an indie brand from Sydney, closely following the bobba trends in Asia. It’s conveniently located on a busy street near Chinatown, alongside several popular hot pot restaurants – it is the place for your post-dinner pick-me-up. The menu here covers fresh fruit tea, cheese fruit tea frappes, brulee milk tea, and bubble tea with cheese foam. What sets them apart is how well balanced their drinks are: keeping sugar and milk ratios in check so as to not veer into overly sweet territroy. Order the tasty cheese fruit tea frappe. They use real fruit pulp that they blend with crushed ice, and the slight saltiness from the creamy cheese foam leaves you with a lingering freshness. The frappe line varies with seasonal produce. Maybe you’ll get golden finger grape in autumn or white peach during summer. If you are big fan of cheese foam, their hidden menu item - a cup of pure cheese foam with Oreo topping – should be on your hit list.
Order the: Matcha lattes with brown sugar deerioca and fresh milk
It’s a latecomer in the Chinatown scene, but the Alley Lujiaoxiang built up its fame through their crowd-favourite brown sugar deerioca series, a variant of the brown sugar flavoured milk tea. Their handcrafted tapioca balls are called deerioca, in line with its deer-themed branding. They use their own sugar cane syrup recipe and a traditional boiling method to ensure the pearls are infused with a rich burned sugar flavour. For a luxurious treat, the matcha latte and brown sugar deerioca with fresh milk is a beautifully tri-layered beverage where the hot brown sugar pearls and icy matcha meet at a milky border. The interplay of bitter matcha, super sweet brown sugar pearls, smooth milk achieves flavour harmony and the chewy, squishy texture of the deerioca is the highlight of a visit to this shop. The Alley aces presentation – beverages are served with a marble-look or an array of coloured layers from different densities of milk, tea, juice and toppings for maximum Insta cred.
Order the: Yifang Fruit Tea
Yifang is another famous bubble tea/fruit tea chain from Taiwan with a reputation for quality produce, which is why their fresh fruit tea and brown sugar pearl milk tea are so popular. It’s only a short walk from Burwood station and their shop is more of a hole in the wall with no seating and a long queue hovering outside. Rather than the ultra sleek and modern city shops, they have rustic appeal here, thanks to their handmade tapioca pearls and roughly chopped chunks of fruit. They claim to import the finest tea leaves and cane sugar to reproduce that authentic and traditional flavour for anyone missing Taiwan’s original drinks. Their signature fruit tea is intensely fresh and sweet, involving a large cup of cold brewed tea infused with real pieces of watermelon, passion fruit and orange. They add pineapple jam as a flavour enhancer, made from a 100-year-old recipe from the founder’s family (you can add it as a twist to any drink in the fruit tea range).
Order the: Peach Oolong Teaccino
There’s no fancy interior, no complicated menu, no endless long queue, or any artificial ingredients at this bubble tea shop. Beautea is a simple place where genuine tea lovers flock for the beauty of a fresh brew. You come here to maximize the mellow flavours of the green, black and oolong bases. They use nothing but fresh milk for a smooth, long finish and people gradually fall in love with their lighter take on bubble tea. The front-runner is the peach oolong teaccino. The oolong has been carefully brewed for a delicate aroma and a slightly bitter flavour, which pairs with the fruitiness of fresh peach. Topping choices are very limited here as they only offer pearls, grass jelly and taro balls, but the appeal is in the details, like the fact that their handmade sweet potato balls are soaked in coconut sugar syrup, adding a creamty, tropical twist to the chewy pearls.