Bubble Milk tea is a phenomenon that has taken Taiwan by storm. Over the past twenty years, bubble milk tea shops have sprung up around the world, truly making it Taiwan’s greatest cultural export. Honestly, it would be hard to find any major city that doesn’t have a handful of shops specializing in milk tea and its varieties. I remember having a Taiwanese bakery and tea shop open near my home in Orange County around 15 years ago. A few years later we had half a dozen choices – a testament to the drink’s deliciousness and popularity.
When in Taiwan it’s absolutely necessary to buy a cup of milk tea, or two, directly from the source. Let’s take a look at the history of milk tea and discuss where to find the most delicious versions of the drink!
If you’re interested in knowing more about Taiwan and its culture be sure to check out our guide to Taiwan. It’s great if you’re planning a trip to Taiwan (or already here).
Now, on to the bubble milk tea!
Milk and tea have been going hand in hand for the past several hundred years. It’s said that the creation was an attempt to cool down the hot tea which tended to crack the cups of that time. The result was a drink that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world.
In the 1980s a tea shop in Taichung, Taiwan decided to add boba to the already delicious milk tea. The result is the bubble milk tea we know and love. There are others who claim to have come up with the idea, but most credit the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse with originating, or at least popularizing the idea.
Taiwan has always had a strong tea culture and is famous for its cultivation and consumption of oolong tea. It’s no wonder that the bubble milk tea trend caught on.
What to order at Milk Tea Shops
Milk Tea – Milk tea comes in countless variations of tea types and mix-ins. This can get a bit complicated unless you’re looking for plain milk tea. Milk tea with fresh milk and milk tea with milk powder are the two main types to choose from. Fresh milk is typically more expensive averaging 50-60 NT$ per cup while using milk powder averages 40-50 NT$. There is no best milk tea variety as it is all up to your individual taste. If you ask around you will find fans of both types of milk tea, and each will tell you their milk tea is the only one worth ordering.
The next big decision is whether or not you want to add boba. Bubble Milk Tea also called Pearl Milk Tea is wildly popular with tapioca pearls being the most common addition to milk tea in Taiwan. Adding them to your drink only costs 5-10 NT$ so it’s worth trying at least once! It’s all a matter of preference though. You can’t go wrong with a classic like milk tea/pearl milk tea!
Brown Sugar Milk – This tealess drink is exactly what it sounds like. Take a glass of fresh milk, drizzle in sticky brown sugar, and top it off with a scoop of chewy boba. That’s Brown Sugar Milk wrapped in a cup. This drink has become quite popular over the last couple of years and it’s easy to see why. It might not replace Milk Tea as Taiwan’s #1 drink, but it is certainly worth giving a try!
Ice Cream Milk Tea – This is milk tea but in a sweeter, richer variety. Picture a cup of your favorite milk tea – now add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to that! Be sure to shake it well so the ice cream mixes with the tea. It can be sweet if you go with the standard amount of sugar. Try going with 30% or 50% sugar for a more enjoyable drink.
Oolong Tea – If you’re looking to stay in shape (milk tea won’t help with that), opting for a cup of oolong tea is a fine choice. Taiwan is recognized as having the finest oolong tea in the world. The reason for its stellar reputation is the fact that Taiwan’s oolong tea is grown at high elevations throughout the island. The general consensus is that the higher the tea is grown, the better the taste will be. Taiwan’s mountainous topography lends itself well to the cultivation of oolong tea. Demand, however, far outpaces production meaning true high-mountain oolong will be somewhat pricey. If you’re going this route I’d recommend visiting a sit-down tea shop where you can relax and savor the taste of the tea.
Jasmine Tea – Jasmine is a type of green tea that comes from Camellia Sinensis – the same plant as oolong tea. The difference is Jasmine Tea is not fermented while Oolong Tea goes through a partial fermentation process. The result is Jasmine Tea which is a smoother tea with a lighter taste. Jasmine Milk Tea has a unique taste and is worth trying so as to compare it to standard Milk Tea.
Something Else – If you’ve tried all of the drinks listed above it may be time to try something else! You can find hundreds of drink combinations offered at milk tea shops around Taiwan. Each shop tends to have its own specialties and unique recipes. Stop by any tea shop and take a look at the Top Sellers list. Most shops will have one on display and it’s a good way to get some teaspiration.
Look below for some of Taiwan’s best tea shops.
Where to buy milk tea in Taiwan
Would you wait in line for 3-hours just to try a cup of milk and sugar? Well, that’s what people did when Tiger Sugar first launched in Taiwan. Their flagship store in Taichung, Taiwan was where the island was first introduced to Brown Sugar Milk. The store opened in 2017 and lines were several hours long at all times. It seriously brought flashbacks of shopping on Black Friday. Except for this time, it was for icy beverages that were in demand rather than discounted electronics. There are now many locations located in Taipei and the rest of Taiwan.
As more shops started selling brown sugar milk some of the hype surrounding Tiger Sugar has died down somewhat. This is good news for tourists who can enjoy the same wonderful taste without spending half a day standing in line. Brown Sugar Milk is a highly recommended drink to try in Taiwan. If you’re headed to Tiger Sugar be sure to order Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Fresh Cream. This is their signature drink and the one that made this new company famous.
Milk Shop is a good choice if you’re in the mood for milk tea. It has a good standard for quality and you can’t go wrong with any of their drinks. The price is around the average for milk tea and the service is pretty fast. Overall I’d say Milk Shop is one of the best milk tea shops in Taiwan.
50 嵐 (Wu Shi Lan)
50 嵐, called Wu Shi Lan in Chinese, has a long track record of selling fine quality drinks in Taiwan. They have typically been thought of as a premium tea shop as prices were a few dollars higher than their competitors. The slightly higher cost was worth it though, and this milk tea chain can be found all over the island. Today, they are more in line with the other milk tea chain stores as a wide variety of specialty tea shops have sprung up that cater to high-end customers. 50 is reasonably priced in comparison and makes a fine choice when looking for bubble milk tea, or ice cream milk tea.
Xing Fu Tang
This is the latest bubble tea craze in Taiwan. The best way to find them is at their store in the center of Ximending here. Expect to find a bit of a line at Xing Fu Tang even on days with bad weather. On a recent stop, we experienced a 20-minute wait which was still worth it once we had our drinks.
One of the things that make Xing Fu Tang (幸福堂 in Chinese) so interesting is the large glass windows that allow customers to observe the process of making boba. The tapioca pearls at Xing Fu Tang are cooked in a brown sugar mix that infuses the pearls with a unique flavor. The cost is significantly higher than a typical tea shop at NT$ 95 per cup of their prized brown sugar milk. The NT$ 65 that you see listed online is outdated and not correct anymore. On the top end, Xing Fu Tang’s Bubble Milk Tea and Brown Sugar Milk goes all the way up to NT$ 235 per cup. It is pricey, however, this is for the more exotic toppings and flavor infusions.
So, let us know. What are your favorite drinks in Taiwan? If you’ve been to Taiwan I’d love to hear what you thought of bubble milk tea in Taiwan!