NYC’s Bubble Tea Boba Desserts Trend


Bubble tea (also known as “pearl milk tea” 珍珠奶茶 in Asia, or “boba” here in North America) is just a little older than these Dessert Correspondents.  Invented in the early 1980s in Taiwan, it is today found in some form or other, in every major city across the world.  For those who have visited Taiwan especially in the high peak of summer there, you will discover the the reason for its invention.  Because – as we learned when we visited about five years ago – nothing satisfies your thirst quite like a plastic cup of black milk tea with tapioca pearls bobbing around waiting to be slurped up, sucked in and chewed out.  Of the past year or so in NYC, we have spotted a curious trend of bubble not being contented with being confined within said plastic cup.  What follows is our sightings of bubble tea-inspired desserts in NYC.  At the time of writing this, we have even heard that some (possibly crazy) restaurant has recently started offering “bubble tea hot pot” (?!)…and we read something about a “bubble tea pizza” (?!).  How adventurous will you be?

*Updated June 2022.

Bubble tea ice cream

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Bar Pa Tea, Nolita/Soho, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Ice cream ($6.00 + tax).  What’s better than a cold bubble tea drink on a summer day?  Icecream!  Specifically, oolong and black tea-scented soft serve icecream wreathed by bubble tea pearls.  Say what?!  Say “YES”!!  We generally prefer proper icecream to soft serve, but Bar Pa Tea’s bubble tea soft serve ice cream is one exception we have no hesitation in making.  For bubble connoisseurs, the bubble pearls here have a softer, less chewy mouthfeel, as compared to the mainstream offerings.

Brown sugar bubble tea ice cream

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Xin Fu Tang, East Village, Manhattan.  Also located elsewhere.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Ice cream ($7 + tax).  Xin Fu Tang is famous for its pillow soft bubble tea pearls.  Scoop those bubbles into a plastic cup, rinse that cup with brown sugar syrup, swirl in bubble tea soft serve ice cream, and voilà, you have an ultra-sweet treat with decadent toffee caramel tones for all those humid NYC summer days!

Bubble tea ice cream tower

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Surreal Creamery, Midtown East and Greenwich Village.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Ice cream ($10 + tax).  For when you can’t decide between bubble tea as a drink, or as ice cream, Surreal Creamery has come to the rescue with its “Floteas.”  Pictured below is the Thai bubble milk tea with twin swirls of rather subtly-flavoured ube and matcha green tea soft poured into a plastic cup that must measure a ruler’s length.  We highly recommend that you share this with at least one more dessert-loving friend, if not two.

Bubble tea cream puff

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Alimama, Chinatown, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Cream puff (approx. $5).  Squeezed somewhere along the meandering streets of Chinatown is Alimama, makers of some seriously chewy doughnuts (see our review here), and…bubble tea cream puffs.  Yes, you read that right.  On the outside, it’s a somewhat ugly rock-looking thing.  But, this large puff is filled with a fluffy milk tea-flavoured cream, embedded with brown sugar tapioca (aka bubble pearls), and the crusty top acts as a counterweight to the cream.  Perhaps you might be sceptical?  We were, but after a few nibbles, that huge puff is all mine, thank you.  Not sharing! 😛
  • (For more cream puffs, check out our round-up review here).

Bubble tea egg tart

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Bibble & Sip, Midtown and Chinatown, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Bubble tea egg tart.  Egg tarts from Hong Kong and Macau are one of our favourite desserts, veritable bowls of sunshine custard contained in a flakey pastry crust.  We couldn’t imagine it could be evolved into something different, until we came across Bibble & Sip’s bubble tea egg tart.  Instead of egg-flavoured custard, Bibble & Sip infuses the custard with hojicha tea, and layers it with tapioca pearls.  The results?  A very curious, rather addictive dessert mutant.

Bubble tea wheel cake

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Teavva, East Village / Lower East Side, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Wheel cake ($4 + tax).  Wheel cakes are a popular street snack in Taiwan, and are typically filled with red bean or black sesame paste, and perhaps also an array of sweet creams.  Teavva takes this dessert and injects a silky vanilla egg custard and bubble tea pearls into two circlets of a spongy waffle-like cake. 

Bubble tea french toast

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Grace Street, Korea Town, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  French toast (approx. $15).  If you cringe at the thought of yet another lackadaisical avocado toast, monotonous Eggs Benedict or flaccid pancake dish (yes truly NYC, your brunch game is becoming so rather soporifically predictable and unjustifiably $$), here’s a memorable brunch plan for you.  Have a platter of Korean Fried Chicken around the corner, then head to Grace Street for a breakfast dessert that ambushes you with its craziness — there’s ice cream, caramel popcorn, condensed milk syrup and bubble tea pearls.  It’s brain freeze, then sugar coma, then major serotonin happiness spike in quick succession.

Bubble tea mille crepe cake

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Prince Tea House, various locations in Manhattan and Queens.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story: You may recall that we have reviewed Prince Tea House before, and in that review, we recommended the reliable and consistent, casual afternoon tea experience.  If you don’t have the stomach space for the full afternoon tea affair, there are singular slices of mille crepe cakes ($9-10 a slice) on offer.  Although we love the “Mango” one the most, the “Bubble Tea” mille crepe cake is certainly, one of those cakes you have to try at least once. 😛
  • (For more mille crepe cakes, check out our round-up review here).

Bubble tea souffle pancakes

  • ☑ Dessert destination:  Softbite, Korea Town, Manhattan.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Souffle pancakes (approx. $15).  Japanese-style “fluffy souffle pancakes” were all the rage the summer of 2019 in NYC (and the present summer in Australia, too).  We haven’t featured it on this dessert blog, because honestly, we think it will go the way of “freak-shakes” (recall, those gargantuan milkshake constructions of yesteryear, embellished with a supermarket trolley’s worth of candy).  In a similar vein, we feel that “fluffy souffle pancakes” are hyper-hyped — mind-boggling gravity-defying when you see it, yet mind-numbing in its overwhelming egg and air taste.  Of all the souffle pancake sellers in NYC, the only one we have managed to eat more than a spoonful was from Softbite — possibly because the egg flavour was muted by the smothering of caramel popcorn, earl grey milk icecream and bubble tea pearls.  Worth a try, but be warned, “fluffy souffle pancakes” garners either extreme love or extreme hate.  As a side tip, we’d recommend you call your order 20-30 mins ahead of time, to bypass the queue of eager Instagrammers.

Extreme bubble drink

  • ☑ Dessert destination: Most bubble tea shops now offer this variety of bubble tea, but Tiger Sugar is the original export from Taiwan which conceived this trend.
  • ☑ Short and sweet story:  Brown sugar milk drink (approx $5-6).  One part of these Dessert Correspondents grew up utterly grimacing through every mug of childhood milk.  If you are like her and need your daily calcium intake flavoured, you may be interested in the latest dessert craze in NYC that is known as “brown sugar bubble milk.”  Zero parts tea, all parts milk and sugar, this “new” re-interpretation of the traditional bubble tea is distinctive for its waterfall of brown sugar caramel cascading down the sides of the plastic cup.  It tastes almost like a liquidized creme brulee or flan, with a touch of coffee.  Your Dessert Correspondents love desserts, it’s our raison d’etre, but having sipped “brown sugar milk” once, we don’t think we will be partaking in this anytime soon again.  We waited in line for a longer period of time than it took for us to say “cannot handle anymore” of the concoction.  Conclusion?  This plastic cup arguably contains 10000000% of your recommended daily sugar intake (and a lot of ice…).  Strictly for the photos.  Book your dentist appointment afterwards.  If you are craving for bubble tea (rather than sugared milk), we’d recommend the less saccharine classics at Gong Cha instead.

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