Served hot or cold, jam-packed with fillings or toppings, this crazy popular Taiwanese-born drink has taken Tokyo by storm. Many of the top Taiwanese chains have been opening multiple outposts around the city, while trendy cafés are also serving up Instagram-worthy boba drinks for thirsty Tokyoites.
The capital's version of bubble tea has gone beyond the standard milk tea offerings and has enough flavours and variations to tantalise your taste buds, some incorporate Japanese matcha for a local twist while others come topped with salty, savoury cheese foam. However, if all this is too fancy for you, and you prefer a classic Japanese green tea or matcha, you'll find the city's best tea rooms here.
RECOMMENDED: Make your way through Tokyo's best cafés
Satisfy your bubble tea cravings
Tokyo’s army of bubble tea purveyors counts another member to its group with the addition of Tapista in Jiyugaoka. The colourful takeaway counter offers drinks made with brown sugar tapioca pearls, resulting in a more robust, molasses-like sweetness. Besides the standard milk tea, you also have the option of Uji-matcha or Thai milk tea, as well as choosing from a wide range of toppings including almond jelly and flavoured milk foam.
Besides brewing black tea from handpicked tea leaves, Comma takes a lot of liberty in creating their own take on the bubble tea trend. Your standard milk tea with tapioca perals can be made extra with the light and airy house-made cheese foam topping that's formulated from cream cheese and rock salt (we find the combination of sweet and salty very addictive). Not a tea fan? Comma has herb soda, too.
The Alley is one of Tokyo's most popular Tapioca tea stands, with numerous locations across town including this Nakameguro venue. For starters, The Alley offers different types of tea, from assam to jasmine green tea and peach oolong tea. But the menu goes beyond that as it also offers brown sugar tapioca latte, its signature and very photogenic fruit-based slush drinks Aurora, as well as snacks such as Baked Bar Muffin or Steamed Muffin.
Head to Pearl Lady Cha Bar in Minami-Aoyama for Japanese-inspired bubble tea creations, including hojicha and matcha served with tapioca pearls. Other popular items include the flavourful ‘Cha Latte’, the ‘Rock Salt Cream Cha’ that's topped with a salty-sweet cream, or the ‘Fruit Bubble Tea’ which combines your favourite fruit with tea. You can even choose a free topping; options include large tapioca pearls, brown sugar tapioca, collagen jelly or nata de coco.
When a big food trend hits, Tokyo is quick to follow up, and the latest cheese-topped tea fad is no exception. The thought of tea and cheese together does sound bizarre, but you'll see what all the fuss is about once you've taken your first sip. So how does it work? Think green, black or fruit tea topped with a salty-sweet cheese foam made from cream cheese and condensed milk. For your base drink, you can also go for tapioca milk tea or a matcha latte.
This LA-born café and restaurant is best known for its organic coffee, bubble tea (which they call 'boba') smoothies and classic café fare including sandwiches and fluffy pancakes topped with seasonal ingredients. This Daikanyama outpost offers its signature bobas in towering glasses, featuring flavours like matcha, earl grey and 'divine spice chai'.
A favourite haunt among LA's trendy tea drinkers, Alfred Tea Room in Aoyama is a pretty-in-pink establishment featuring an extensive list of teas ranging from matcha latte to peach blossom. The Instagrammable space also offers a milk tea menu with house-made tapioca and syrups. In the food department, you'll get to choose from a range of both gluten-free and regular desserts, in addition to light savoury options including a falafel sandwich.
Taiwanese tea chain Chun Shui Tang has a few locations dotted around Tokyo and each is just as busy as the last. Get a taste of Taiwan with an additive-free bubble milk tea prepared by a certified 'tea master', or try the variety of noodle dishes the next time you are at its Roppongi outlet. Enjoy your bubble tea hot or cold, depending on how the weather's treating you.
Located right by Harajuku Station, Coco's lengthly menu serves all the usual drinks in addition to a Harajuku-only fresh grapefruit green tea and a few more offbeat concoctions: how about some 'lactic acid mango' or 'lemon king', made from a whole lemon? This tea stand also takes pride in preparing its tapioca pearls fresh every morning, so the chewy beads are always, well, chewy and not rubbery.
Get your Taiwanese dessert fix in Kichijoji at frozen sweets purveyors MeetFresh, conveniently located just north of Kichijoji Station. In addition to signature favourites such as 'Imo-en' (shaved ice covered in black sugar syrup and topped with a mix of sweet potato dumplings, taro, azuki and tapioca), it also sells a range of frozen drinks and bubble tea, including almond milk, jasmine milk tea, matcha milk tea and more.
After starting out with a single store in Taiwan in 2006, Gong Cha successfully expanded to China, Singapore, Australia, America, Cambodia and other countries across the globe. At this Harajuku location you can choose from 30 drinks on the menu, including milk tea, fruit tea and smoothies, or customise your own. Along with tapioca bubbles, you can add in other interesting ingredients like aloe, nata de coco and grass jelly.
Ikebukuro shopping mall Wacca is home to this commendable drink stand that prides itself on using fresh tapioca pearls. Not frozen after boiling, these chewy morsels add an extra element of interest to the already brilliant milk tea, fruit drinks and green tea latte. Most drinks go for around ¥300, and you're given a choice between warm and cold varieties for tea and coffee.
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