The latest rage in specialty drinks, bubble tea, has steeped its way into Syracuse
Bubble tea. It’s fun to say and it’s fun to drink. Best of all, it’s becoming a Syracuse favorite. Unlike any other tea—or beverage—you’ve had in the past, bubble tea is completely sensational, maybe even wild.
It began as a popular drink in Taiwan in the early 1980s, quickly spread to other East Asian countries and found its way to the United States roughly a decade ago. Now, bubble tea is increasing both its presence and its popularity among many of America’s food and drink venues.
Diana Huang, manager of New Fuji Buffet, 2960 Erie Blvd. E. (445-8899), is frequently asked, “What is bubble tea?” So she encourages customers to try it with a published coupon presented with dinner. “It’s just like sushi,” Huang says. “Some people like it. Some people don’t.”
Bubble tea is a customizable drink that changes with various temperatures, colors, textures and tastes. It all depends on personal preference. It can be served hot or cold with milk tea or fruit-flavored tea. Traditionally, it is made with sweet and creamy milk tea—usually black or green. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, a fruit-flavored tea like passion fruit or grapefruit may be a better choice.
Huang introduced bubble tea to New Fuji, a Chinese and Japanese-style restaurant, roughly two years ago with about 24 different flavors. Now she offers the 12 most popular flavors, like taro, jasmine, papaya and mango.
Once the tea is made with your choice of sugar, milk or syrup, it’s mixed in a cocktail shaker, which creates frothy “bubbles” on top. Aside from the tea portion of the beverage, a real surprise awaits. The tea is poured into a cup that is partially filled with ingredients that look like tiny marbles, but feel like gummy bears. These will later (briefly) interrupt your gulp and make you laugh a little.
But it’s all part of the experience. You’ve just encountered the ingredient that makes bubble tea unique: gummy tapioca pearls. Sometimes called boba, these typically black, but sometimes white, pearls come in two sizes—one significantly smaller than the other. The larger pearls are more chewy and
more popular. You can even mix the two. No matter what size they are, they sink to the bottom of the cup.
You can also add optional “toppings,” a rather odd name for ingredients that sink to the bottom of the drink. These include pudding, jellies like herb or lychee, and aloe vera; all are generally added to fruit-flavored teas.
Boba Suite Tea House, 713 S. Crouse Ave. (( 53 1 , 219-2261 , specializes in these diverse combinations. Manager Jiayu (Jerry Liu cited about 40 different flavors, although the list is expanding. “You can be creative with flavors,” Liu says. “What I brought to this store is only about 40 percent of what you could get in Taiwan.”
It was love at first sip. Highly recommended by Liu, Boba Black Milk Tea was exactly what he said it would be: fun and addicting. Using a large straw (big enough for the tapioca pearls to fit through , the tea and boba rush to your mouth. The texture is one-of-a-kind—part liquid, part solid—and the taste is all sweet.
“The tapioca complements the tea,” Liu notes. “Desserts are usually solid and have a unique texture. Tapioca adds just that to the drink and makes it a special dessert where you can drink tea and eat tasty ‘toppings’ at the same time. You could really have it any time of the day. It satisfies.”
Nearby, Eric Li runs Unique Tea House, 131 Marshall St. (( 71 820-677 . . “Bubble tea is just like a Starbucks drink,” Li believes. “People like to hold it. They get used to it.”
While Unique Tea House attracts customers year-round, it does exceptional business in the summertime as its cold bubble teas sell fast, Li explains. Still, he sees students consistently throughout the day—especially during 10-minute breaks between classes.
“Many of them come in more than once,” Li notes. “While some get the same drink every time, others try a new one every time— and then, some can’t decide so they mix flavors. Whatever they want, they can get here.”
Downtown sits Roji Tea Lounge, 108 E. Washington St. ( , 383- , offering the same delicious drink in a different style of setting. Much quieter than the other spots (at least during the day , this gem has two rooms: one with traditional pillow-seating and the other with taller tables and couches. Tomomi Yoshida, the manager, became interested in the tea culture through bubble tea. Since the taste and texture stood out to her, she figured it would intrigue others, she says.
Although the majority of vendors use already-made tea powders in their bubble teas, Yoshida stresses the importance of steeped teas, made directly from loose tea leaves and hot water. Roji Tea Lounge uses steeped teas in about half of its drinks like black tea, jasmine green tea, herbal chai and raspberry. “We want people to be able to really taste the tea, so we make it from scratch” Yoshida says.
She explains it as a healthy option as opposed to teas from powders and syrups. “If less creamer and sugar are added, it naturally makes it healthier,” she said. The tea becomes an even more nourishing choice coupled with the tapioca pearls, because tapioca is from the root of the cassava plant and is a good source of iron, Yoshida explains.
Bubble tea typically costs between $3 and $4 and can range anywhere from 8 to 24 ounces (16 ounces is standard . It will probably startle you at first, but give it a try. And who knows? It may even become your new favorite fun drink.
Black pearls: Tapioca gives bubble tea its unusual texture.