No, it's not some oddity of nature. Boba -- "black pearls," or just plain tapioca balls -- are the bubbles in " bubble tea" (a.k.a. pearl tea). Though many New Yorkers, Californians, Chicagoans, and most Asians are familiar with the drink, it is just now making its way to South Florida. "Jose" Ma, manager of Bamboo Garden III in Pembroke Pines (10041 Pines Blvd.), has carried pearl tea for more than a year, but he claims that few seem to have heard about this sweet, blended drink with little chewy balls at the bottom, and many aren't willing to give it a try. Like most other restaurants serving bubble tea, Bamboo serves it in a clear plastic cup with the trademark superwide, neon-colored straw. With flavors like coffee, red bean, green tea, coconut, and plum, they offer a healthy selection at $3.25 a pop.
Just across the street, Pepper's Chinese Restaurant (9976 Pines Blvd.) also claims to serve the drink in taro, honeydew, watermelon, and black tea ($3.99) flavors, but at the time, they reportedly didn't have any "fresh" pearls. Casey Kleiman, assistant manager of Teavana in the Galleria Mall (2466 E. Sunrise Blvd.), says he keeps the tapioca fresh all day with a solution of sugar and water. His store and the Boca Town Center location serve concoctions made of loose-leaf teas, some with fruit purée or cream blends ($2.95 to $4.45).
Gao's Garden (3856 N. University Dr.), a new Chinese restaurant in Sunrise, has the most creative version on the market. Bubbles can be added to any "slush" or "milk" drink, and the list of flavors is mind-boggling. Ever thought of trying an avocado slush or a Coke with lemon milk tea? Most people probably wouldn't, but for $2.99, they really should consider it. The chilled treat was also rumored to be at Pho Nam Do (4461 N. State Rd. 7), a Vietnamese noodle house in Lauderdale Lakes, but alas, they had tea but no bubbles. Up the street, Saigon City (4301 N. State Rd. 7) has it for $4 (taro, Thai tea, or honeydew only). And they put a little whipped cream on top.
"It's a really fun way to enjoy your tea," Kleiman says. "[People] can't get over the fact that they are drinking tea and chewing at the same time." -- Riki Altman