If tea is the national drink of Britain, vodka is the national drink of Russia, and soju is the national drink of South Korea, then bubble tea must be the national drink of Taiwan. The origin of the bubble tea is not clear: it is sometimes said that it was invented in Taichung, some other times in Tainan. Bubble tea remains a Taiwan specialty anyway, created in the 1980s and that quickly grew popular in South-East Asia.
To drink the best bubble teas, Taiwan is thus a destination of choice. In Keelung alone, there must be a hundred specialist bubble tea shops alone, and we’re discounting the many cafes and restaurants that include bubble tea in their drinks menu and the many breakfast shops that sell soy milk, rice milk, and milk tea all with the option of adding tapioca pearls.
Tackling the extensive menu of a bubble tea shop
Menus are extensive to cater for all tastes, and so it can seem a little intimidating to first-timers. But once you get over how vast the options are, it’s actually very easy. Most menus not only have English translations but are also designed for easy navigation and drinks are grouped in sections. If you know from the start that you’re feeling like something fruity, for example, or something based on coffee, then you can zoom straight into that specific section without having to trawl through the entire menu.
How to custom your bubble tea?
Once you choose your drink, the server will ask you how you want it. It’s here that many first-timers are stumped. What do you mean? The normal way… I guess? What can I do with a green tea?
The best thing about Taiwan’s bubble tea culture is that these places encourage you to customise your drink exactly to your liking: specific toppings, sugar, hot or cold, the amount of ice, ... It's easy to get lost among all these choices. That's why we’ve put together this simple guide which should make you appear like a bubble tea pro.
At the heart of it, there are three main types of adjustments you get to make:
There will always be the classic zhenzhu naicha—bubble milk tea—on the menu. But it doesn’t mean that if you want your fix of chewy tapioca pearls, you are obligated to have milk tea. You can pick whatever drink you like then pay a small supplement (normally 5-10NTD) to add tapioca pearls or any other variant thereof to your beverage.
Popular additions aside from tapioca pearls include grass jelly and QQ jelly. When you make your order, prefix your topping of choice with the word 加 (jia), which means “to add”.
全糖 (quantang) Regular sweetness
少糖 (shaotang) 70% sweetness
半糖 (bantang) 50% sweetness
無糖 (wutang) Unsweetened
正常冰 (zhengchangbing) A regular amount of ice
少冰(shaobing) Your server will leave a few ice cubes in the shaker
去冰 (qubing) Your drink will be shaken with ice as per normal, but all the ice cubes will be left in the shaker and out of your final drink.
熱 (re) Hot
These terms will be too much to digest at once, so we suggest starting with the go-to for many people: bantang shaobing (half sugar-less ice), and then make adjustments on your next order until you find your perfect combination.
You’d say: (Drink of choice), jia (toppings of choice), (sweetness), (temperature).
An example: (Matcha Latte), jia (zhenzhu), (bantang), (shaobing).
And if you want to have an eco-friendlier bubble tea and avoid waste, don't forget to bring your own reusable straw!
You can now try by yourself, or join a Keelung For A Walk tour to discover more about Keelung food!