Locals and visitors are always on the lookout for cooling pit stops in summertime Richmond. But while air-conditioned malls, breezy shoreline parks, and ice cream are popular, it’s also worth diving into what may be North America’s tastiest bubble tea scene. It’s one of the best $4-to-$7 ways to cool-down you’ll find anywhere.

The first local cafes specializing in bubble tea and its many associated varieties began popping up in Richmond a couple of decades ago. But the bubble tea scene has become far richer and more innovative in recent years, with homegrown independents and imported franchises from Taiwan and beyond popping up on city streets.

Richmondites typically have their favourites, but there’s always a new bubble tea spot to try just around the next corner. And for visitors, it’s a fun—and thirst-quenching—scene to explore. Read on for details on some intriguing bubble tea flavours to try here in Richmond.

ORIGINAL (“CLASSIC”) MILK TEA WITH PEARLS

Where to find it: This is on the menu at most bubble tea shops, including Peanut’s Bubble Tea (Richmond Public Market, 8260 Westminster Hwy)

Peanut’s Bubble Tea is a family-owned and operated stall inside the Richmond Public Market that has been serving traditional Taiwanese bubble tea since 1994. An early purveyor of bubble tea, Peanut’s introduced many local residents to the idea of sweetened tea with milk and chewy tapioca balls. One of its most well-known menu items is the original milk tea with pearls, consisting of black tea and milk, shaken with ice and poured into a cup of warm tapioca pearls.

The original milk tea with pearls might be a simple drink, but it was one of the first variations of bubble tea (or “boba tea”) in Taiwan. For starters, we recommend trying an original milk tea with pearls for a taste of authentic Taiwanese bubble tea.

Peanut's Bubble Tea
Try some bubble tea from Peanut's (left to right: mango slush with pearls, classic milk tea with pearls, and lemon black tea with pearls and coconut jelly). | Photo: ​Tourism Richmond

3 GUYS

Where to find it: CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice (Continental Centre, #2116 - 3779 Sexsmith Road)

One of the world’s biggest bubble tea chains (with upwards of 3,000 stores), CoCo Fresh has two outlets in Richmond—including one in the Continental Shopping Centre. With an interior colour scheme swathed in orange accents and shiny white tiles—not to mention their enigmatic mascot—check out the screens above the counter for your choice of everything from Bubble GaGa to Red Bean Matcha Milk Tea.

But the 3 Guys—available here and at the Blundell Centre branch—is one of their most beloved milk tea staples. Rich, refreshing and satisfyingly creamy, it’s a winning combination of pudding, chewy tapioca, and soft grass jelly. Want to skip the grass jelly? This beverage also comes in a 2 Ladies version, made with tapioca and pudding only.

BROWN SUGAR PEARL MILK

Where to find it: Almost every Bubble Tea shop has its own version of this trendy drink. However, Xin Fu Tang (#130 - 8311 Lansdowne Road), Tiger Sugar (8291 Westminster Highway), and Jenjudan (#125 - 5599 Cooney Road) specialize in brown sugar drinks.

Unless you’ve been avoiding bubble tea, you’ve probably heard about its latest trend—brown sugar pearl milk. Three simple ingredients make up this decadent, creamy beverage: fresh whole milk, brown sugar syrup, and warm tapioca pearls. For those who cannot consume dairy products, there are other variations of the drink, substituting the fresh milk for powdered milk tea, soy milk, and oat milk.

There’s another reason why people are obsessed with this drink: it looks just as good as it tastes. The tapioca pearls are cooked on low heat with brown sugar syrup gradually added to it. This gives the drink its smokey, caramel flavour and tiger-striped appearance.

Xin Fu Tang, a bubble tea franchise from Taiwan, stir-fries the brown sugar pearls in front of its customer to ensure maximum freshness. Fun fact: its name means “Happy Realm” in English, and there are fortune-telling sticks at most of its locations. Xin Fu Tang only has one location in Richmond, which is inside the T&T Supermarket at Lansdowne Centre.

Xing Fu Tang
Brown sugar pearl milk from Xin Fu Tang. | Photo: ​Rebecca Wu

GARDEN MILK TEA

Where to find it: The Alley (#1316 - 8368 Capstan Way)

The Alley is one of the newer Taiwanese bubble tea chains in town, opening in mid-February 2020. While the Alley can be found in dozens of countries all over the world, this is only their second location in Western Canada. A short walk from the Aberdeen Canada Line station, The Alley is conveniently located in the Union Square Shopping Centre.

This popular establishment takes pride in handcrafting its signature pearl-shape tapioca—known as “deerioca,” a name derived from its “deer” mascot and the word “pearl —which are made in-house from scratch. The Alley offers many intriguing specialty drinks, with names such Deerioca Fever, The Apple of My Eye, and Orange Lulu, that will immediately pique your interest. However, the flavour that caught our attention was the Garden Milk Tea.

The photogenic Garden Milk Tea—named for its potted plant appearance—is made with assam black tea, milk, and topped with oreo crumbs. You can adjust the sugar and ice level of the drink, and add tapioca pearls (extra charge) to add an extra level of texture to the drink. Tip: the Garden Milk Tea can be ordered hot or cold, making it a great choice all year long.

Black Tea Salted Cheese

Where to find it: Happy Lemon (#105 - 6011 No.3 Road)

Happy Lemon is a popular import with locations around the world—check out their wall map to see that their first Shanghai store opened in 2006, with later stores opening in London, San Francisco, and beyond. Famous for its winking lemon mascot (you can buy merchandise with her lemony face on it), this funky little café is across from the Canada Line's Richmond-Brighouse Station, which means it’s often frequented by locals grabbing a cool drink on their way home.

Favourites here include Oreo Tea and Lemon Kumquat Tea, but it’s the Salted Cheese range that has become its undoubted signature. Tasting far better than it sounds, the Black Tea Salted Cheese looks, at first, like a malty brown beer with a creamy head. But after stirring, it becomes a silky smooth blended treat with a creamy viscosity. Any salt or cheese notes are extremely subtle and the tea and creamy sweetness dominate.

Happy Lemon - Photo: John Lee
Black Tea with Salted Cheese at Happy Lemon. | Photo: John Lee

WINTER MELON ROAST MILK TEA

Where to find it: Tea Monarch (#175 - 6971 Elmbridge Way)

With its exposed brick accents, chic wood floors and counters, and retro-look sofa area at the back of its slender store, Tea Monarch has a more sophisticated, hipster-driven feel than many of Richmond’s cute bubble tea joints. Which doesn’t mean they don’t have a highly visual mascot here as well: check out the magisterial lion logo that’s painted on the back wall and also emblazoned on the cups here.

But being cool isn’t just about how you look. Menu-wise, Tea Monarch covers everything from Oolong Roast Milk Tea to Four Season Milk Tea. But for something a little different, check out their Winter Melon Roast Milk Tea. The winter melon fruit adds a crisp, refreshing lift to this creamy drink—which makes it the perfect accompaniment to a hot sunny day in the city.