We’re talking tapioca, hundreds of flavour combinations, giant straws and the perfect drink for hanging out. You are correct if you said, “What is Bubble Tea and pearls?”

Pearl Castle Cafe - pearls - web

Before we jump into how tiny, chewy, precious tapioca pearls find their way into our bubble tea, let’s have a quick look at what it actually is. Tapioca is a wonderful thing. It’s a starch that is derived from the root of the cassava plant. Because cassava is a root vegetable that can withstand really dry environments, it’s a valuable commodity and a staple in many developing counties. Tapioca is gluten-free and due to its starchy nature, it’s also used to thicken foods, like pies or soups. Luckily for us, when the starch is combined with water, it can be rolled into little tapioca pearls or in Mandarinit’s called boba.

Bubble Tea was originally created in Taiwan in the 1980’s and has become very popular in North America within the last 10-15 years. Tapioca pearls are chewy with no actual flavour. However, with drink flavours ranging from mango to taro to red bean, they’re the perfect compliment to any flavour. Bubble Tea was originally created in Taiwan in the 1980’s and has become very popular in North America within the last 10-15 years. Not surprisingly, bubble tea is a specialty that can be found in many cafés and restaurants in Richmond.

Pearl Castle Cafe

I figured I’d hit Pearl Castle Cafe since that was also Lindsay’s first Bubble Tea stop during her 365 journey. Lindsay sums it up best,

“If you’ve never had bubble tea before, this is how it works.  The glass (or clear plastic cup, if it’s to go), arrives full of your drink of choice, and with the tapioca pearls or cubes of jelly crowding at the bottom.  You take a sip from the giant straw, and along with the drink comes pieces of these sweet, chewy bits, which you munch on while enjoying the drink itself.  It can become oddly addicting, as I’ve discovered.”

I will add to that and say it’s definitely an acquired taste, but one that someone can grow to love. You do have to ready yourself for that pop of chewiness that comes through the straw. I’m a fan of anything mango and while it’s not the most exotic choice, it’s my go-to flavour especially on a warm Summer evening. Judging by how busy it was inside along with lots of teenagers sipping their drinks outside on the benches, I wasn’t the only one who had a Bubble Tea craving.

Pearl Castle Cafe - mango Bubble tea - web

The mango bubble tea ($4.50) was very mango-y, ice cold and the pearls were very chewy. To me, a chewy pearl is a sign of a fresh pearl. Older pearls have a tendency to get a little hard, not so much on the outside, but on the inside. The drink also wasn’t too sweet, which was perfect. Bubble tea can be especially sweet and if that’s not your things, ordering it “half-sweet” is always a good plan. I tend to forget, but I like things sweet, so I don’t mind.

Continental Centre
#1128 – 3779 Sexsmith Road
Richmond, B.C. V6X 3Z9
(604) 270-3939
7 days a week – 11:30am-1:00am

Tortoro Cafe

With mango already checked off my list, I was drawn to the papaya bubble milk tea at Tortoro Cafe. I hadn’t had anything papaya in quite a while, so it was an easy decision to satisfy my craving. As the name suggests, milk tea (served both hot or cold) is a mix of both milk and whatever else you’d like, be it papaya, strawberry, caramel, rose, etc. If the pearls are not your thing, you can have it without or you can order with pearls for an additional $0.50 which is the standard price.

Papaya Bubble Tea - Totoro Cafe - web

I’m not sure how big the glass was or how many ounces of liquid it held, but add in all the pearls and it’s a meal in itself! Pearls itself don’t have much nutritional value, but they sure can be filling. The ice cubes lasted the entire drink and were still there when I had finished so it was great to enjoy a cold drink that remained cold the entire time. Like Pearl Castle Cafe, the drink itself wasn’t too sweet, the pearls were fresh and it definitely satisfied my papaya craving ($5.25).

In addition to lots of tables down the side of the restaurant, there were some really funky couches that would hold groups of six to eight people. As you can see, there was a large group having fun at the front of the cafe. My only criticism (and minor one at that) was that the server never checked on us and we had to get up and ask for our bill. My drink was very good, so I’d certainly go back, but sometimes, it’s just the little things that make the difference.

Totoro Cafe - Outdoor shot - web
#2140-8391 Alexandra Road
Richmond, B.C. V6X3W5
Monday to Thursday – 6:00pm-2:00am
Friday & Saturday – 6pm-3:00am
Sunday – 6:00pm-11:30pm
Cash only

Leisure – Tea & Coffee

I’ve always been fascinated by Asian cuisine and how they embrace both sweet and savoury ingredients regardless of the application. Bubble tea also falls into that multiple use category. Like bubble tea in general, taro bubble tea is either something you love or not. Yes, taro as in the root vegetable. It’s another widely-used ingredient around the world and it makes for a great bubble tea flavour. I’ve found that taro bubble tea tastes different for everyone. The first time I ever had taro bubble tea, I thought it tasted like a chocolate chip cookie.

Leisure Tea & Coffee - Taro Bubble Tea - web

On a very busy weekend night, Leisure was a happening place and a great place to go with friends and chill out. It’s located on Alexandra Road (like Totoro Cafe) which is a great street to wander and choose pretty much whatever you’re craving, bubble tea, sushi, Korean BBQ, you name it. Leisure is a very cool spot and has the feel of a proper British Tea House. It’s very dark and moody with lots of photos on the walls. I immediately liked it when I walked inside. I know I wanted a taro bubble tea ($5.25) at some point, so I decided this would be the place.

Leisure Tea & Coffee - Indoor - web

When you have taro bubble tea, especially fresh (not in prepared in powder form), you have to prepare yourself for a slightly chalky taste. This is normal since it’s the starch from the taro itself, but means it’s fresh. While I didn’t get the “chocolate chip cookie” taste in this drink, it was still very good. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it tasted like, but it was very good. Add in the ambiance of the cafe and I really enjoyed Leisure.

#1110-8391 Alexandra Road
Richmond, B.C. V6X3W5
Sunday to Thursday – 12:30pm-1:00am
Friday & Saturday – 12:30pm-2:30am
Cash Only

Bubble Fruity

Bubble Fruity is more known for their desserts, specifically sweet dessert soups. Not surprisingly, Lindsay made her way to Bubble Fruity during her 365 experience and sampled a variety of dishes from the menu. I, however was only focused on bubble tea. To begin with, it’s a very small place, so keep your eyes open for an open table or be prepared to sit outside with your drink. With the taste of taro still lingering from my previous stop, I opted again for something on the sweet side, so I went with passion fruit bubble tea ($4.50). This was the only time in my bubble tea adventures that I regretted not asking for it less sweet and like I said, I love sweet things. It was very good and definitely provided the passion fruit I was looking for, but it was too sugary for me. I will definitely go back again to try their desserts and next time, I’ll know to ask them to make it less sweet.

Bubble Fruity - Passion Fruit Bubble Tea - web

180-8188 Saba Road
Richmond, B.C. V6Y4E2
Open till 12:00am – 7 days a week
Cash only

While bubble tea makes for a perfect cold Summer drink, it’s really a year-round option since most places serve it cold or hot. If you’ve never tried bubble tea before, just give it a try and brace yourself for those pearls. It’s definitely something to be enjoyed with friends, so go in a big group and order a bunch of flavours. I’m convinced there is a flavour out there for everyone and it makes for a great evening out.

About Our Guest Writer: Ethan Adeland is a freelance food and travel writer and the voice behind FeedingEthan. He shares his honest adventures in the kitchen, behind the camera or iPhone and wherever his travels may take him. He has never turned down an opportunity to Instagram a sunset or his next meal.