Thursday, April 22, 2010

Battle of the dishes: Bubble Tea

Posted By on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 1:12 PM

click to enlarge Tea Drops on Main Street is bringing bubble tea downtown.
  • Tea Drops on Main Street is bringing bubble tea downtown.

Bubble tea is a bit of a tough sell in Kansas City. Exhibit A? The bluetooth-enabled collared shirt behind me in line at Tea Drops' downtown shop.

"What's in bubble tea?" asks Bluetooth.

"It's a tea drink with tapioca balls," begins the barista.

"Just stop right there," says Bluetooth, who proceeds to order a black tea.

Apparent texture obstacles aside, bubble tea shouldn't be so easily dismissed.

The bubbles in bubble tea are "boba" -- chewy tapioca balls that rest at the bottom of the drink, which can either be tea or milk-based and typically is sweetened with fruit flavoring or juice. Drinking it is a bit of a game, because it's served with an oversized straw to allow you to suck up the peanut M&M-sized tapioca pearls. After asking baristas which flavors were popular, I ordered bubble teas from two shops to see how well they might help Kansas Citians embrace this Asian treat.

The bubble tea and a magic muffin top from Nica's in Overland Park.
  • The bubble tea and a magic muffin top from Nica's in Overland Park.
click to enlarge A strawberry, green tea bubble tea from Tea Drops.
  • A strawberry, green tea bubble tea from Tea Drops.

Nica's Cafe (14319 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park): Strawberry Peach Green Tea
The flavors include caramel and chocolate to prickly pear and pomegranate, while black, green, herbal, red, and chai tea are also available.

I stuck with peach and strawberry green tea on a recommendation from the barista, who asked whether I liked fruit roll-ups.

The combination of juice, green tea, milk and ice did indeed taste like a milky, fruit roll-up. It was powerfully sweet, a lighter version of a fruit milkshake. 

click to enlarge A strawberry, green tea bubble tea from Tea Drops.
  • A strawberry, green tea bubble tea from Tea Drops.
Tea Drops (1 H & R Block Way) -- Strawberry Green Tea.
Tea Drops has a huge variety of bubble teas -- the menu is a bit overwhelming. In addition to more than a dozen fruit flavors, you can order a green tea, black tea, milk, soy milk, or yogurt lassi base. The fruit and milk or tea mixture is then served frozen, heated or shaken.

Tea Drops also has a shaking and sealing machine -- a plastic top to make your 16 or 20 ounce cup spill-proof. You then puncture the surface with your oversized straw like a juice box.

I had a shaken strawberry green tea bubble tea. It wasn't treacly, and in addition to the tapioca pearls, little bits of strawberry puree came up through the oversized straw. It was a bubble tea that actually tasted like tea, which was slightly unexpected, but I enjoyed more the longer I drank it.

The Verdict. Nica's hand-shaken bubble tea was better blended. But the sweetness and tea seemed to mix better at Tea Drops, where the boba was also slightly fresher. If you're new to Bubble Tea, Nica's might be a good introduction because it walks the line between smoothie and bubble tea. If you've had bubble tea before, then Tea Drops is the better choice.          

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