Bubble tea was ubiquitous a decade ago – until a German study falsely linked it to cancer, sparking a racist backlash that all but eliminated the drink in Berlin. But today, like a Mandalorian emerging from the gaping maw of the Sarlacc, boba is once again fett.
The new breed of bubble tea is more photogenic, more planet-conscious (vegan milk options, reusable containers) and more tuned in to Asian trends like cream cheese toppings and frothy Dalgona coffee. And while its original teenage fanbase remains as devoted as ever, the food-conscious crowd is starting to catch on as well. Here are a few of our favourites.
Best hometown success: An’s Tea House
Named after the nine-year-old daughter of Vietnamese founders Tung Nguyen and Sim Tran, this chill Torstraße hangout helped lead the bubble tea comeback in December 2018, and has since expanded to three locations in Berlin and 11 others across Germany. Trained in Taiwan at beverage giant Ding Tea, the couple uses fresh German milk (the old-school variety uses milk powder) alongside the usual selection of fruit syrups, tapioca pearls and/or chewy aloe or lychee bits to add on to your choice of black/green/jasmine/matcha/oolong/peach tea. Customise your own, or opt for one of their signature brews like the Brown Sugar Bubble Milk (€4.50-4.90, black tea and tapioca) or the Mango Cream Cheese smoothie (€5.20, green tea, fresh mango and whipped cream).
Torstr. 41, Mitte, Mon-Fri 12-20, Sat 12-21, Sun 13-19
Best import: The Alley
The cult Taiwanese boba franchise with the deer logo sparks viral hype wherever it goes, be it China, New York, London, or, since March 2020, Berlin. What’s the big deal? In three words, Brown Sugar Deerioca. The Alley’s signature drink (€4.70-5.90) doesn’t even involve tea: it’s just cow, soy or oat milk with house-brand tapioca pearls and dark streaks of cane sugar syrup, optionally topped with creme brulée, matcha powder, Dalgona coffee or crunchy streusel. There are a handful of non-milky options (like the bright-orange Passionfruit Green Tea with coconut jelly and tapioca, €3.90-4.40), but only the dairy is worth braving the queues for.
Neue Schönhauser Str. 1, Mitte and Wilmersdorfer Str. 115, Wilmersdorf, daily 12-20
Best for Instagrammers: Pao Pao Modern Tea
Just a stone’s throw away from Berlin’s staple bubble tea house ComeBuy, this hip pink-and-black sanctuary – owned by a trio of twentysomething Berliners with Vietnamese roots who trained in the art of bubble tea making in Hanoi – is just as eye-catching as its colourful layered brews. Don’t miss the Purple Moon Litchi (€3.70-4.20): aloe, tapioca, basil seeds and lychee fruit floating in a psychedelic violet haze, the chemical result of combining butterfly pea tea and warm water.
Rosenthaler Str. 66, Mitte, Fri-Sat 13-22, Thu & Sun 13-21
Most sustainable-ish: Tudo and Bubble Bauch
Bubble tea bars might be the last place on earth where plastic straws, that most maligned of environmental bogeymen, are still fashionable – how else are you supposed to slurp up your tapioca? But at Tudo, the drink shop attached to the Bahnhof Zoo branch of Vietnamese chain Pho Noodlebar, the straws are paper and the to-go cups are made of a “biodegradable” cornstarch-based PLA compound.
The latter may not be demonstrably better for the environment unless it’s disposed of in a special facility, but Tudo’s earlier attempt at providing paper cups seems to have fizzled out – what’s the point of drinking a black-and-tan Dirty Dalgona or gloriously multicoloured Rainbow Tea if nobody can see it? At least you can also drink out of a real glass with a bamboo straw in-store, or bring your own reusable cup for a discount. It’s a similar deal at Bubble Bauch in Prenzlauer Berg, where for a €7 surcharge you can even buy a cute reusable plastic carton for your creamy, fruity or cheesy tea of choice.
Tudo, Hardenbergplatz 2, Charlottenburg, daily 11:30-22; Bubble Bauch, Danziger Str. 59, Prenzlauer Berg, Tue-Sun 13-19
Best desserts: Dosha
Yes, bubble tea is often a dessert in itself, but this ultra-Taiwanese tea house in Friedrichshain serves its drinks on the less sweet side – sugar options include “a little”, “slightly” and “none”. Which gives you plenty of leeway to accompany them with adorable paw-shaped waffles filled with vanilla or chocolate cream, cheese, or, in a meta touch, tapioca pearls. The tea itself (€3.90-4.70) is imported from Taiwan and surprisingly sophisticated, whether you get the delicate, floral Nantou Rose blend or the Rouge Latte with taro pearls and organic milk.
Boxhagener Str. 65, Friedrichshain, Mon-Thu 12:30-19:30, Fri-Sun 12-20
Best for vegans: Kong Yin
Previously known for its multi-course gourmet Sichuan meals, Friedrichshain restaurant Kong started serving its own dairy-free interpretation of bubble tea this past April – containing neither bubbles nor tea. Instead, what you get is a towering, multilayered blend of homemade soy or coconut milk with sesame or matcha cream, or silky caramel or sesame tofu, rounded off with fermented rice, pureed avocado or purple sweet potato. Instead of tapioca, the chewy component is provided by homemade mochi balls. The result? Extraordinary, with lots of natural sweetness and contrasting textures. One of our most surprising lockdown discoveries – and for €5.40-5.60 per drink, definitely worth a sip.
Niederbarnimstr. 4, Friedrichshain, daily 13-18
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