Bubble Tea in Japan
Bubble tea has more than one name — bubble tea, boba, tapioca; whatever you call it, it’s all talking about that sugary drink with balls of goodness at the bottom of the cup. This Taiwanese-born drink needs absolutely no introduction — just the brief mention of “bubble tea” brings ideas like tapioca and bubble tea into mind. Bubble tea has taken the world by storm, and Japan is no exception. In fact, the capital city Tokyo is one of the biggest victims to be brainwashed — in a good way, of course — by this pearly goodness. As the years go by, the popularity and hype of bubble tea seem to only be growing — and to be very honest, I see no end to it! This bubbly drink has since evolved from the classic Taiwanese milk tea to all sorts of renditions; Tokyo is definitely one city to be hold accountable for their creative mixes and creations. Let’s take a look at how bubble tea dominated the streets of Japan, as well as the top bubble tea shops in the capital city, Tokyo.
Rewind a couple of years back, Tokyo (and Japan) streets in every neighbourhood are lined with local ramen (ラーメン) stalls, konbini (コンビニ) and unexpected small boutiques. When the trend of bubble tea started brewing, it didn’t take long for the Japanese people to pick up on it. That’s when the ordinary Japanese-looking food and shopping districts started to get invaded by fresh-looking, kawaii (かわいい) bubble tea shops that attract the crazy crowds, all lined up outside the stall with possibly no end. I have to admit: I wasn’t one for bubble tea. It was too...overhyped. I’m more of the down-low, hipster kind of girl. But even with my stubbornness and extreme disapproval of the trendiness, the boba goodness got me hooked! As did many other girls, and guys, like me. With crazy demands, the only solution to that problem was to have bubble tea shops popping up constantly at every corner of this neon light city. And what’s more, it’s not only Taiwanese chains — local Japanese cafes and restaurants added bubble tea to their menu, as well as local businesses solely offering bubble tea fill up the gaps on the streets. You can tell the difference of the classic Taiwanese drink to that of the Japanese’s; local ones have a unique touch in their menu, experimenting and pushing boundaries no others thought of. Can anyone actually say no to a Japan-exclusive bubble tea?
Tokyo’s Top Bubble Tea Shops
We all know the reputation that Tokyo has: a fun, crazy city with innovation and creativity oozing everywhere. Of course, that applies to bubble tea as well. In this lively city, not only will you be spoilt for choices for the classic Taiwanese bubble tea, but you’ll also have a selection of wild and exciting new mixes. If that hasn’t gotten you pumped up about the bubble tea craze in Japan, let’s take a look at the top bubble tea shops this dazzling capital city has to offer!
1. Comma Tea
First off, we have Comma Tea. If you’re wondering why they’re called that, they have an explanation for that. In our busy daily lives, we’re all too caught up with everything that we sometimes forget to take a break. The idea of a “comma” is like pressing pause on life when you take a sip of bubble tea, free from the shackles of work piles and personal problems. This local Japanese bubble tea shop has not only a single shop in Tokyo, but multiple ones nationwide. Every cup is customisable — adjust the sweetness to how you like it and pick the toppings that suit your taste. If it’s your first time and you’re lost clueless, what you don’t want to miss out on is their signature black tea. Go for the Bruleed Brown Sugar Latte, a bubble tea drink topped with a layer of lightly-bruleed creamy foam.
One of the newer bubble tea shops on our list is OCHABA — opening its doors in March 2019. Ever since then, their success has been unimaginable. What makes OCHABA different from the rest is that they are the first-ever brand to use Japanese tea in their drinks! With each sip, you’ll taste the Japanese authenticity from the tea leaves harvested from Shizuoka itself. If you think that’s amazing, you’re in for a treat. No, really — an actual treat! OCHABA is not your typical bubble tea shop that uses sugar pearls and jelly balls — instead, their toppings are a little closer to home. Pick from a whole range of Japanese sweets for your bubble tea toppings — mochi (もち), warabi (わらび) and shiratama (しらたま) are just to name a few that are offered. The combination of Shizuoka tea with wagashi (和菓子, Japanese sweets) might as well make this drink the most authentic Japanese drink in the country!
You’ll be in for quite a treat at this local bubble tea shop. Ask any local youth on the streets of Harajuku if they know about ZJins, and their answer will always be yes. This is another not-your-average bubble tea shop; ZJins set the standards for brand collaterals at a whole other level! Just one step into the store is like being in a fairytale — this bubble tea shop flooded Instagram with aesthetically pleasing drink accessories and a beautifully divine interior. Flowers, fruits, purplish-pink atmosphere — all that, and more! That’s not to say that the actual drinks are rated below the appearance. Select from a variety of drinks — from classic milk teas to cheesy mixes, not to mention fruity flows! Keep an eye out for their seasonal menus that will constantly impress you, raising the bar higher and higher each time.
4. Alfred Tea Room
For this bubble tea shop, you don’t want to leave your camera phones at home, ladies (and gents). Alfred Tea Room hits the streets of Tokyo, all the way from Los Angeles. You can’t miss this one — the all-pink aesthetic is definitely an eye-catcher. Oozing warmth and friendly hospitality, don’t think that the highly-presented drinks are just for the ‘Gram. If anything, they exceed every high expectation one has for bubble tea. The drinks menu is quite extensive — pick from the bestselling category, with the top choice being the Peach Blossom Latte. Rest assured the quality is second to none, with syrups and tapioca being made in-house with their very own recipe.
If you’re walking randomly in Japan and stumble upon a store with pastel pink and minty green aesthetics, it’s without a doubt the bubble tea shop Tapista. They basically own the combo — easily spottable, highly reputable and extremely famous. What you get from the store’s presentation is just a sneak peek into what their drinks are all about. Trust Tapista to pull off a bubble tea drink so extremely beautiful that it’ll be a shame to drink it. This bubble tea shop is full of surprises — unique flavour combinations that make up the drinks menu, natural sweetness for toppings that give the flavour an edge over the rest, and of course customisation that twerks each up to their drinker.
6. Fortuner Tea Box
For those who are such cheese enthusiasts, what if I tell you that there’s a bubble tea shop in Japan that specialises in cheese bubble tea? Yes, you read it right — CHEESE bubble tea. Fortuner Tea Box prides themselves in being one of the best shops out there to offer cheese tea. Known more famously as a cheese tea shop, Fortuner Tea Box tops off every drink with cheese foam, adding a new dimension of flavours for each and every drink. Say no to straws — not only for the environmental causes — but also for the cheese foam. Switch to a lid that allows you to drink directly from the cup. Don’t forget to add your selfie with a cheese foam mustache alongside the other aesthetically pleasing photos of this unique bubble tea shop!
7. Pearl Lady Cha Bar
Another local Japanese bubble tea shop not to miss out on is Pearl Lady Cha Bar, with countless stores all around Japan! Serving the freshest bubble tea since 2009, this bubble tea shop has quite a reputation. It’s everyone’s go-to and number one choice. Pearl Lady Cha Bar never keeps their tapioca pearls for more than 24 hours. In fact, they don’t keep them at the end of each day at all! Every day, a new batch of those round, sugary goodness is made to ensure the freshest and chewiest for every cup sold. What’s more, you can pick the size you fancy for your pearls. Bubble tea lovers go to Pearl Lady Cha Bar for their classics as well as their limited edition and seasonal ones. There’s one particular range that got the attention of many: the Nilgiri tea range. From Berry Black Latte to Rose Black Tea Latte, the constant evolution of this bubble tea shop makes the loyal customers stay loyal, and the new ones into loyal customers.
Bubble tea shops in Tokyo — or Japan in general — are not short of surprises and creativity, just like the country itself. Anything and everything you want from a cup of boba, from the unrealistic imaginations to the traditional cravings, you can find them here. Put “bubble tea shop-hopping” on your list of things to do in Japan on your next trip to this sweet, bubbly country!
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