Oh, bubble tea. My favorite drink of all time. I was first introduced to bubble tea four years ago during my first trip to China. Just like America has vending machines and gas stations for your quick soda caffeine fix, China has bubble tea stands lining the streets. Whether you order a fancy bubble tea in a glass or a quick to-go drink in a disposable cup with a vacuum-sealed plastic cover, the drink is always delicious.
Sure, it might seem a little scary at first. After all, what are those little black balls in the bottom of the cup? They might look intimidating but they are nothing more than tapioca balls- sweet and chewy and filling too! And it’s because of these chewy tapioca balls that bubble teas come with bigger straws- to suck the boba up with! Oh yeah, that’s another name for bubble tea: boba tea.
In Chinese, bubble tea is 珍珠奶茶 (zhen zhu nai cha), which mean pearl milk tea. If you like sweet flavors, you can order lychee, passionfruit, mango, strawberry…pretty much any flavor. Or you can keep it simple with the original flavor (that’s what I do). Unfortunately, outside of China and Taiwan, where the drink originated from, bubble tea is usually only sold in bigger cities. So for the poor bubble tea-lovers like me who live in smaller cities, we have to put in much more effort. I’m not going to lie, I’ve driven 45 minutes to the nearest bubble tea place in Tampa, Got Tea?, to satisfy my bubble tea craving.
After sipping my first bubble tea that fateful day in Beijing, I was hooked. For the rest of my trip, I would venture off in search of bubble tea stands and quickly picked up the few vocabulary words needed to order my newly-discovered drink. I had only studied one year of Mandarin by this time, so my Chinese was rough, but just making the effort to order my drink helped me feel more comfortable in this new foreign language. Once I figured out what questions they tended to ask, ordering became easier and the bubble teas flowed freely.
How to order bubble tea in Mandarin:
你要点什么？ni yao dian shen me? What do you want to order?
一杯珍珠奶茶。yi bei zhen zhu nai cha. One bubble tea.
好，什么味道？hao, shen me wei dao? Ok, what flavor?
原味。yuan wei. Original.
要冰的还是热的？yao bing de hai shi re de? Do you want it cold or hot?
冰的。bing de. Cold.
好。四块。hao, si kuai. Ok, 4 yuan.
(puts in the tea, adds some milk, plops in the bubbles, seals on a lid with an automatic sealer, and grabs a straw)
可以开吗？ keyi kai ma? Can I open it?
可以可以。keyi keyi. Yeah.
So with bubble tea in one hand, big straw in the other, the man will pop the straw through the plastic covering and hand it over to me. Smiling, I’ll start to sip my bubble tea. A bubble might rise up the straw, I’ll chew it, and then I’m off. My bubble tea and I, off to explore China.