It has been several years since bubble tea exploded onto Richmond’s beverage scene and the sweet drinks are as popular as ever. Bubble tea made its first appearance in Taiwan in the 1980s, when a food entrepreneur mixed the light taste of tea with fruit flavoring, shaking it up to even out the flavors and naming it for the bubbles that would form when the mixture was combined. Later, the addition of tapioca balls to the drink, as well as a large straw through which they could be consumed, gave the drink its token name.

The drink quickly became a hit in Taiwan. Bubble tea shops began popping up all over Asia and in parts of North America heavily populated by Asian immigrants, like Richmond. You don’t have to search hard to find bubble tea in Richmond, and when you find it, it delivers eye candy and a burst of sweetness that will wind you up for hours.

The drink comes in all different flavours (and price tags).Perhaps your biggest challenge will be choosing the drink you want. Fruit tea or fruit slush? Fruit flavoured milk or milk tea series? Black tea or green? Hot or cold? The options continue with the selection of bubbles. Do you prefer tapioca bubbles, beans, or jelly? It’s easy to get lost in the myriad choices.

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A good place to refuel before or after a Superstore grocery expedition, the Bubble Tea Shop is a bright, well-lit space serving a few snack and dessert options in addition to its long drink list. Photo Credit: Lauren Kramer

Downstairs in the Real Canadian Superstore’s parking garage on No. 3 Road, there’s a store you’d never notice unless you were specifically looking for it: The Bubble Tea Shop. From the outside it looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but walk in and it’s a bright, cheerful space filled with natural light, a great selection of innovative drinks and decadent, high calorie waffle snacks. We tried the Earl Grey Milk Tea with tapioca bubbles and loved the icy, rich, smooth taste. The tapioca balls were soft and chewy and the $5 drink ($4.25 + 50 cents extra for pearls) was sweet and satisfying.

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The Bubble Tea Shop’s Super Mango Egg Waffle is a yummy concoction that combines fresh, hot waffles with cream, mango ice cream and mango chunks. Photo Credit: Lauren Kramer

The Bubble Tea Shop is well known for its egg waffles, the most popular of which is the “Super Mango,” a combination of mango pudding, fresh mango and mango ice cream ($8.95). Other flavours include blueberry crumble, Oreo cheesecake and the Triple Decker, with strawberry, banana, Nutella and whipped cream.

If you’re a chocolate fan, this place will hit all your buttons. Specialty drinks, priced at $6.25 and inclusive of pearls, include KitKat, Reese’s pieces, Lindor, After Eight, Ferrero Rocher and Oreo. I counted 61 items on the menu just in the milk tea series, specialty drinks, fruit tea and fruit slush. If you want a coffee variation, alternative hot drink, frappe, lemonade or smoothie, the list continues. The Bubble Tea Shop was the only one of the three we visited that accepts Interac and credit cards. It’s open noon to 10pm Mondays through Thursdays and noon to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

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QQ is the most conspicuous bubble tea shop in the Richmond Public Market, and sells beverages exclusively, cash only. Photo Credit: Lauren Kramer

Located inside the Richmond Public Market food court, QQ is directly in front of you when you climb the stairs to the second floor. The cash-only bubble tea shop came under new ownership in 2010 when Shaun Yang took over, and in 2014 he opened a second location at Canada Place, downtown.

We ordered two drinks at QQ: the winter melon tea and the house special milk tea, each priced at just over $3. The winter melon gets its taste from a winter melon syrup while the milk tea’s sweetness tastes more like condensed milk. The bubbles were wonderfully soft and chewy and we liked both drinks.

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Photo Credit: Lauren Kramer

We had to look hard for our next stop, Peanuts, also on the second floor of the Richmond Public Market, because its signage is mostly in Chinese. The store, owned by Alicia Wu, opened in 1996 and prices most of its teas between $3 and $3.50. We ordered the two most popular beverages: green milk tea and a variation on the original milk tea, with chocolate peppermint. The latter was the clear winner of the two and of all the bubble teas we sampled, this one disappeared the fastest. The green milk tea was more subtly flavoured and had none of the sweet appeal of its competitors.

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The Che Lung Bing at Peanuts are made fresh daily with different fillings, some sweet, some savoury. Photo Credit: Lauren Kramer

Peanuts also sells Taiwanese desserts called Che Lung Bing for $0.60 each. The hot, crisp, round pastries are made in-house with various flavours sandwiched inside. The day we stopped by the selection included peanut, chocolate, coconut, radish, cheese, cream and red bean varieties. We sampled the coconut and were impressed with this bite-size Taiwanese snack – sweet, but not overly so, and easily consumed.

QQ and Peanuts are open Monday through Sunday, 10am through 7pm, and QQ offers delivery of special orders nearby.

Read more about our other bubble tea adventures here.