One of the big perks of moving across the world into a new country is that you no longer have to pay high prices for “trendy” food and drinks. In the states, you can expect to literally pay 5x the price for a dish that is typically dirt-cheap in its home country. Last time I was home, I paid $5 for a bubble tea- a drink that is considered “exotic” and therefore, overpriced. And it wasn’t even that good! Nah, that isn’t happening for me. I’d rather move to Taiwan.
When the Taiwanese are taking a break from shrimp fishing or gambling, they can probably be found meandering outside a bubble tea stall. Bubble tea was created here in Taiwan, and has become a cultural classic. While still relatively novel in the Western world, these places are incredibly popular here, especially with the younger generation.
Bubble tea shops come in many shapes and sizes, from big chains like CoCo’s and King Tea, to smaller independent operations set up on the corner of the street. Serving up everything from the classic pearl milk tea (zhen zhu nai cha) to lavish dessert-like concoctions filled with fruit, grass jelly and everything in between. With over 50,000 shops on the island, you’re sure to never be far from one.
Navigating the menu at many of these establishments can be easier said than done. Usually, the shop will divide the options into sections based on the type of tea (milk, green, oolong etc.). Many shops will also have a large TOP 10 section on the side containing their most popular drinks. Other options include fruit juice drinks, ice coffee and even chocolate milk! Luckily, if you don’t speak the language the bigger shops will have an English menu, or if you’re feeling brave you can use the international language of pointing at what you want.
Forget hot or cold, the Taiwanese take drink customization to the next level. Nearly all shops will ask you how much ice you want, which can range from 100% to no ice at all. You may notice many locals rarely get ice in their drinks, which stems from a long-standing Chinese belief that cold drinks are not good for you. The same goes for the sugar level, which can go from the extremely sweet ‘full sugar’ to the more health conscience ‘sugar free’. Most shops have between 3 and 5 levels for ice and sugar. Fun fact – the Chinese phrase for no sugar is wu tang, which the hip-hop heads amongst you will be sure to appreciate.
Price wise bubble tea consumption is an extremely affordable habit with most drinks costing between $30-$50 TWD ($1-$1.60 USD). If you’re not sure what to order for your first time, I’d recommend starting with the classic pearl milk tea, sometimes known as ‘boba tea’ and expand your drink horizons from there.
From time to time, I begin to resent these yummy opportunities given to me by travel. If I ever want to have my favorite Asian dishes at home- I will scoff at the price and non-authenticity. I am getting spoiled out here. I love waking up in Taipei and going for a bubble tea simply because I can! Partaking in the food and drink scene is a personal way to be a part of a country’s culture. I find that each country is truly passionate about what they’re good at making, and visitors can sense that. So, the next time someone asks you why you travel, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell them that you’re following your taste buds.