Bobas, Bubbles and Pearls

Dongguan is bubbling over with bubble tea. this is a popular sweet drink among locals and expats, but what is bubble tea? here! finds out more about the Taiwanese drink sensation, as well as two of the best places to go in DG.

Bubble tea, also known as boba or pearl tea, originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and quickly spread in popularity across Asia. The drink also made its way to many Western countries. The “bubbles” inside the milk-based tea are made of tapioca, or cassava root, and brown sugar. They have a consistency similar to gummy candy. The tapioca mix is rolled into a dough, cut to make marble-size balls and boiled. The bubbles only last a couple of hours after boiling before becoming too soggy, and though the bubbles are slightly sweet, they don’t have much flavor and absorb the taste of the drink they are in.

Though it is a tea, its health value is limited, and each bubble is pure starch. There are an estimated 450 calories in your average 500 ml drink, but this is dependent on the type of bubble drink and additional ingredients according to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health.

While trying to find more information on bubble tea, I spoke to several shops around Dongguan. This is a drink that is meant to be enjoyed in the afternoon because most places do not have their bubbles ready before noon due to the long process of making them. I wanted to know the extent of the drink’s popularity, especially after having a 30-minute wait at a shop in One Mall. None of the shops would give out the number of bubble teas sold per-day in fear of their competition finding out. A shop did say they made bubbles every two hours but did not clarify if it was because of the number sold or the bubbles’ shelf-life.

Small but Mighty
+/-2°C was my reintroduction to bubble tea. The establishment serves a bitter to sweet selection of bubble teas, allowing the customer to decide what level of sugar and ice they want. Famous for their small locations and even smaller prices, +/-2°C quickly became a success in Dongguan. Their signature bubble milk tea and TW NO.12 Oolong ACA milk tea originated in Taiwan and have been in Dongguan since 2012.

Upon entering their location in Dongcheng Walking Street, I immediately noticed the small size of the establishment. It is well equipped for pickup and takeout orders. Having tried their standard bubble option before, my colleague suggested I try the Oolong bubble milk tea instead. She said it is not as strong as the standard black tea used. I was delighted to find out she was right, and it was lighter in flavor and more refreshing.

Fruity and Delicious
Step into old Dongguan on level B2 of DG Mall. Hidden among the historic displays and storefronts is the discrete tea shop, One Zo. Diner style benches lined the walls and traditional Chinses folk music played in the background. One Zo not only has your regular bubbles they also serve different flavored bubbles, among which are cactus, strawberry, caramel and lychee. I opted to try the Oolong milk tea with cactus bubbles. Strange combination, I know, but had to try and it was surprisingly delightful. My colleague, on the other hand, opted to try one of the “Creative Mix” drinks and got the cactus bubbles and honey lemon. She said the lemon overpowered the bubbles making it hard to enjoy.

Find out for yourself why these bubble tea shops are so popular.