Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? What the hell IS bubble tea? During my recent bubble tea tour around town, I came up with some clear answers, but also left with some questions. After slurping down gallons of that bubbly goodness, though, one thing remains true... I'm a bubble tea addict.
The bubble tea basics are that it generally contains a combination of the following: tea (green or black), milk (usually soy-based), flavoring (powder or liquid), and a solid (tapioca pearls, fruit chunks, or coconut beads).
The flavor choices alone are confounding, and every time I go to a bubble tea shop, I nearly have an anxiety attack just looking at the menu. The first time I ordered it, I had absolutely no clue what to say and ended up shouting "Peach!" at the counter-person like an autistic. I was then handed one of the most bizarre drinks I'd ever seen. It was large, frosty, pastel orange, and it had a family of black balls at the bottom. I jabbed the cute plastic top with a straw that was the width of a small tree trunk, and sucked up four balls... bizarre and vaguely disturbing, but fun. I was amazed that I enjoyed chewing on a beverage—but I did, a lot—those slimy tapioca balls are amazing!
And so the bubble tea tour began...
4258 SE Hawthorne
Half the fun of Trendy City is browsing the aisles of random Asian imports while your bubble tea is being blended. Looking for a miniature bottle filled with fake eggs over easy? Yep! They've got it! The peach bubble tea was divine, blended well with a nice pile of pearls to chew on.
1907 SW 6th, 224-3730
The staff at the Chit-Chat Café was more helpful than any other bubble tea location. It was completely dead on the Sunday afternoon when I visited, so I felt like I could admit my bubble tea curiosity and ask a ton of questions. The dude behind the counter wisely advised me against ordering the sesame flavor, therefore I went with the mango with tapioca, and loved every sip of it.
510 NW 11th, 221-2130
You'll be enjoying your unique beverage along with half of the Pearl district at the Tea Zone, so keep that in mind if you are looking for a mellow bubble tea experience. I'd recommend the papaya flavor, but I wasn't so into the coconut beads. The texture isn't as chewy as tapioca, and the rectangle shape has no resemblance to a bubble.
Milky Way Tea and Pastry
9895 SE Sunnyside, Clackamas, 652-7875
Very rarely do I find myself on Sunnyside, but every time I do I stop by the Milky Way. Their menu is made up of tempting bagel sandwiches made with fake meats like eel, turkey, and tuna, so bring your vegan friends and make them profoundly happy. Also on the menu—as you may have guessed—are icy dairy-free bubble teas (try the pina colada) and vegan milk teas complete with requisite tapioca balls.
Cafe Be Van
6846 NE Sandy, 287-1418
Cafe Be Van is the best little lunch hole on Sandy Boulevard. Not only do they make a perfect bubble tea (the coconut was heavenly), but they serve a delightful and super-cheap Banh Mi. Banh Mi are French-Vietnamese sandwiches on a crispy baguette, stuffed with meat, fish or tofu, fresh herbs, sliced veggies, and a savory aioli. But wait! There's more! You can even end up MAKING money during an afternoon break at Be Van because they have a whole menu of lottery games!
Bubble Bubble Tea
4408 SE Woodstock Blvd, 771-0878
The first words that come to mind when thinking of Bubble Bubble Tea are: Holy brightness! There is nothing dull about this bubble tea location; even the girl behind the counter had florescent green hair. I braved the non-fruit-based flavors on my visit, giving taro root a chance... bad idea. It's what I'd imagine waterlogged wood tastes like, but with sugar added. Apparently it's an acquired taste that my tongue just doesn't like yet. But my mouth sure does like chewing up those slimy tapioca balls.