Best Bubble Teas of Providence

 

image4 (1)The first time I tried bubble tea was four years ago in New York City. I’d heard rumors of this mysterious drink, but had no idea what it was, so when my friend brought me to her go-to spot and helped me order a tea (I just asked for whatever she was having), I felt cultured and exotic. And upon first sip, I became a devoted fan. These bobas (ie, the “bubbles”) were strange and wonderful, chewy and satisfying, and I found myself wanting to drink (er…eat?) them with every sip while also wanting to conserve them, afraid I’d run out.

It was certainly the most thought-provoking tea experience I’d ever had, and to readers who’ve never tried a bubble tea, I highly recommend it. You’ll most likely either love it or hate it, but it’s worth $5 to find out.

Some background on what bubble tea actually is:

It’s a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in the 1980s. Most bubble tea recipes contain a tea base — such as black or green tea — mixed with milk, to which dark, chewy tapioca balls are added. But from there, the possibilities are endless: you can find bubble tea slushes and smoothies, matcha and coffee teas, fruit teas with fruit jellies, or “bursting” bubbles (bursting with fruit juice), or even red bean in lieu of tapioca. For the sake of simplicity and comparison, for this article I ordered only an original or taro flavored milk tea with tapioca bobas at each location.

One final note: Just as I advise visitors who are afraid to try coffee milk because they neither like coffee nor milk, even if you don’t like tea or tapioca, don’t rule it out. With so many varieties, there’s likely something you’ll enjoy. Here’s what my Bubble Tea Crawl through Providence uncovered.

West Side

Bubble Tea House (849 Westminster). I usually end articles with my favorite spot, but in this case I must start here because all bubble teas should live up to the standard it sets. This is “Rhode Island’s Original Bubble Tea,” and they’ve gotten it right, from quality of product to service to cost.

I ordered a small taro milk tea with bobas, but the first thing I noticed and admired was their signage: They explained their bubble tea options in a clear and concise manner, differentiating between slushies and smoothies, juice teas and milk teas, listing all of their toppings separately (with photos). This was so helpful!

According to Taiwanese tradition, bubble tea is supposed to come an airtight, sealed lid to allow for proper shaking, and this one did. Also, according to tradition, 20-30% of the cup should be filled with bobas. This order came shy of that, but it was comparatively the most generous of the places I visited. And best of all: the taste! It was perfect — not too creamy or sweet. In addition, they offer split cups for people who can’t decide on a single flavor, and they have a rewards card. Whether you’re experienced or brand new to bubble tea, this is a must-try.

Downcity

image3 (4)Sura (232 Westminster). I dropped by 30 minutes before their closing time, and I think they were thankful I wasn’t there for dinner (this is a Japanese and Korean restaurant). Their bubble tea menu is modest, only five flavors with only tapioca pearls, but it makes the ordering process very simple. I ordered the taro, but the hostess warned me it was very sweet — she recommended the original milk tea, so I switched. I liked the original flavor, but the bobas were a little firm and not quite sweet enough for my taste. My advice if you visit: Don’t order a black tea at 10pm — I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. At least we know their tea is caffeinated!

Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt and Bubble Tea (1 Providence Pl, mall kiosk). I have to say this place totally exceeded my expectations, but maybe I didn’t have high hopes for a mall kiosk. The menu was pretty easy to navigate, but for real aficionados, I can’t guarantee how authentic the flavors are (a cappuccino tea sounds slightly suspicious). But the small taro milk tea with bobas was a good choice — little ice, a decent amount of bobas, a sealed lid, good flavor. Plus, the girl working the kiosk was a sweet Hope High School graduate, and I just wanted to hug her. I might not go out of my way to come here, but if I were at the mall, I’d stop by again.

East Side

image2 (2)Apsara Palace (783 Hope St). This is my roommate’s favorite spot, and she’s had bubble tea in Taiwan, so I trust her. Like Sura, this is a restaurant that happens to serve bubble tea, so the menu is small, and we each ordered taro smoothies with boba. This tasted like a taro milkshake, a little too sweet and ice-creamy for me, but I will say it lasted me much longer than teas do! I received very few bobas, but the cup size was generous for the cost. If you want dessert, I’d recommend opting for this smoothie!

College Hill

I saved this area until the end because there are so many bubble tea options — if you wanted, you could visit a different one every day of the week (trust me, I know … and I may have put myself at risk for diabetes because of it). In summary:

Yan’s Cuisine (83 Benevolent). An unflashy Chinese restaurant, I almost nixed the tea when I smelled the food. Nevertheless, I ordered an original milk tea,  and I could actually taste the tea. It was low in sugar, but consequently so were the bobas — they were similar in texture and taste to Sura’s. This was cheapest spot, and it offered a significant amount of flavors. I plan to return to try their taro.

image1 (3)Kung Fu (110 Waterman) and Vivi Bubble Tea (224 Thayer St). The fact I’m lumping these two together will definitely upset self-acclaimed experts who take sides on the issue, but to me they are the same: big chains that are overwhelming and expensive. At both locations, it’s VERY important that you specify the sugar amount; otherwise, the “regular” will honestly kill you. I made this mistake at Kung Fu with a small taro and could barely get through it without a sugar-induced headache. And Vivi gave me so much ice, my tea was watered down in less than two minutes. My thoughts: If you want something specific, these locations are where you can find it, but they’re not my go-to.

Sushi Express (283 Thayer). This is the first place I ever found bubble tea in Providence, and as such, I have a certain kind of loyalty to it. Their one size is pricey with an extra cost for slushed, but I wanted to surprise my roommate, so I bought a taro slush for her. Quality: great. I liked the taro flavor and the bobas, although the slush was still too creamy for me (Bubble Tea House offers a slush with ice only, which seems to be my preference). My roommate, however, wholeheartedly approved, and that was all that mattered.

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