Now here's something you don't see every day -- especially here in South Florida. A bubble tea bar. The Wellington Green mall is home to the Black Pearl Boba Tea bar, a sort of coffee house that specializes in Japanese milk tea, otherwise known as tapioca milk tea, pearl tea and momi milk tea.
What is it, though?
It's been reported that bubble tea originated in a Taiwanese teahouse known as Chun Shui Tang by founder and creator Liu Han-Chieh, who first came up with the idea of serving Chinese tea cold in the early 1980s after visiting Japan where he sampled his first iced coffee. It wasn't until 1988, however, that his product development manager -- a Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui -- had the idea to add her sweetened tapioca pudding to the mix.
It didn't take long for the idea to become a craze, getting it's name from the method of making the drink -- all teas should be shaken, not stirred, resulting in a slight foam that creates "bubbles" at the surface when served. Today, boba tea houses can be found at nearly every street corner across much of Southeast Asia, from Japan and China to South Korea. Large coffee shop-style tea houses, they serve a varied menu of drinks, including smoothies and coffee, most alongside a menu of snacks and small dishes. At the Chun Shui teahouse, it takes servers up to six months to learn to make each of the 60 or so drinks. Here, they use only the highest quality Taiwanese-produced milk, and tapioca balls are discarded if cooked for more than three hours.
But here in the U.S., it's a different story. Although you'll find plenty of boba tea bars in cities like Los Angeles and New York City, not so in South Florida. In fact, the Black Pearl is the only store of its kind in Palm Beach County. What you'll get: a non-alcoholic and non-carbonated bubble tea that's a mix of green, oolong or black tea, milk, fruit and sugar. The ingredients in bubble tea often change from store to store, but here in the U.S. -- and at the Black Pearl -- most are made using a non-dairy milk substitute and your choice of flavored syrup.
The Black Pearl menu offers more than 20 flavors, and left us struggling between pale pink strawberry, a mellow yellow banana and bright orange mango. After much deliberation, Clean Plate Charlie went for the shop's most popular flavor: taro root, large potato-like tubers native to Asia that yields a soft pastel shade of lavender in your milk tea. Not your cup of tea? You'll have a variety of fruit flavors to choose from, including passion fruit, watermelon, lychee, peach, pineapple and mango. Other popular non-fruit flavors include taro, ginger, chai and green tea.
The best ingredient of any bubble tea isn't the drink itself -- it's the tapioca "boba" pearls used to add texture and flavor to the drink. And let's face it, to make drinking tea more fun that it should be. The size of a small marble, they are chewy, jelly-like beads that sink to cluster to the bottom of your drink. Once there, you'll need that extra-fat straw to slurp them up.
At Black Pearl the tapioca come in a range of flavors and colors, from the standard large black beads to tiny jelly balls with a hint of green tea or lychee. Unfortunately, here you won't find the more exotic drink additions you'll see at the tea houses in Japan and China -- mainly mung bean paste, aloe, egg pudding and sago, balls made from the starchy paste of an Asian palm plant.
With a large lounge space and quiet corner storefront outside the mall food court, Black Pearl is one of the chillest spots in Wellington Green. Like any tea house or coffee shop it invites you to sit down and stay awhile. Aside from a large drink menu you'll also find an assortment of pastries and sweet snacks, everything from cookies and cheesecake to cream puffs. Looking for something that doesn't have a ton of sugar? Lunch specials change frequently and include buns and dumplings with pork, beef, vegetables, chicken or shrimp (your choice of 10 mix and match for $5.95).
For more information visit the Black Pearl Facebook page or call 714-717-2449.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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