Here, have a cup full of cold milky tea with strange gelatinous bubbles in it, you'll love it. Someone said this to me many, many years ago in a Chinese restaurant and I was a little alarmed. They called it taro tea and encouraged me to take a sip. It was intriguing and not without its charm, but little did I know, this unusual drink would become a worldwide phenomenon within my lifetime.
There are dozens of bubble tea chains scattered across Auckland, serving up every flavour of tea you can imagine, from rock melon to matcha, poured over a layer of ice and a bed of tapioca pearls, ready for sipping. Where did this unusual, Instagrammable drink come from and where will the madness end?
What is bubble tea?
Bubble tea is a mixture of tea, sugar, milk and chewy "pearls" made from tapioca which sit at the bottom and are sucked up using a wide straw. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s but in the last decade it has taken the rest of the world by storm, with hundreds of bubble tea chain stores popping up across Australasia.
Traditionally based on either black or green tea bubble tea has sugar, milk and flavouring added (everything from fruity flavours like peach to the traditional taro flavour) and this "tea'" mixture is poured into a tall glass with small jelly-like "pearls" at the bottom. The pearls, also called boba, are made from tapioca flour and have the texture of a gummy candy, but with less sugar and a bland, but not unpleasant flavour. Interesting the name bubble tea does not refer to the pearls, but rather the bubbles that form when you shake it to mix. Usually bubble tea is served in a plastic cup enclosed with a thin plastic film on top so it can be shaken, then the top is pierced with a wide "boba straw".
Bubble up at home
New Zealand coffee makers Avalanche saw that the popularity of bubble tea wasn't going anywhere and decided to get in on the action. They realised that with a price point of $7-$10 there was a gap in the market for an affordable make it yourself at home bubble tea version. A hole they decided to fill.
Avalanche co-founder Paul Tobin talked to us about the journey to releasing the new product. "We saw a big opportunity. It was pretty damn obvious there would be a market there. People are looking at it on social media, on TikTok, it's really Instagrammable, we already had the perfect target market.
"We wanted to make a really good product at a reasonable price and disrupt the market," continued Tobin, and it seems their plan has already come to fruition. The TikTok-loving target market that he hoped to tap into have already spotted the product and, in Tobin's words, it went "mental".
No sooner had Avalanche released their DIY bubble tea kits in Australia than a TikTok savvy user shot and posted a video about the product. The video was posted by Adelaide-based Brittany Boyle (@brittty.b) as a "PSA for all my bubble tea lovers". Those lover headed the call. Her video has been viewed more than two million times and Avalanche's Bubble Tea kits have sold out nationwide in the blink of an eye.
Avalanche have announced that they will shortly be releasing the kits in NZ supermarkets (they have already sold out online) and fans can't wait. We were lucky enough to get a sample of the kits to try. Are they worth the hype?
Bubble tea taste test
Three cute and colourful boxes of bubble tea arrived at our office and we were intrigued. We pondered them for a while – the flavours were taro, brown sugar and strawberry - and then decided, let's do it.
Assembly was easy, you simply take the sachet of pearls and either microwave or soak in boiling water for one minute. Pop the pearls in a cup, cool with ice, add your flavouring sachet, pour over some cold water and stir well.
My colleague Beth and I mixed up all three flavours one by one and gave them a bubbly good taste.
We started with the taro flavour. It was a pale purple colour and had a sweet, yet slightly powdery taste. Beth said it reminded her of strawberry Nesquik. I could see where she was coming from but felt that it more powdery than that, as if the Nesquik had been mixed with cornflour. The pearls were lovely though, great texture and the right amount of sweetness.
Next came the brown sugar, which, when mixed, was instead very brown. This flavour was much more my vibe and Beth said she preferred this one too.
Last came the strawberry flavour. Beth was really excited about this one and it seemed to meet her expectations, she claimed this as her favourite. On the topic of Nesquik, this one was very reminiscent of that, making it a little too sweet for me, but I can definitely see the appeal.
As a bubble tea lover Beth was pretty impressed with the Avalanche range and with a box of five costing what you might pay for just one cup, this DIY product will definitely be a game changer for her, and for bubble tea lovers all over NZ.
What about me you ask? I am just a tiny smidge outside of the target market for this product, so the tasting did not have me rushing out to buy more, but if my kids were older teenagers I could see myself snapping these boxes up for them in a heartbeat.
The Avalanche $8 DIY Bubble Tea kits are currently sold out but the guys at Avalanche assure us that they are working to stock shelves again and the kits will also soon be available in supermarkets nationwide.