A fruit-flavored slush drink filled with rubbery balls of cassava root may sound disgusting to some, but to many, this concoction is the most delicious relief on a hot day.
The recent heat wave means it’s bubble tea season. The drink, notable for its tapioca pearls, came to the U.S. by way of Taiwan in the 1990s.
If you love bubble tea but are over the subpar offerings close to campus – like Snap in Georgetown or Gallery Market in the Ivory Tower basement – venture to these Metro-accessible bubble tea vendors.
Winner: Kam Sam Supermarket
300 N Washington St., Rockville, Md.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Rockville, Md.’s superior restaurants, supermarkets and cafés reflect a burgeoning new Chinatown. Rockville’s best-kept secret is Kam Sam, which seems like an average Asian supermarket to the naked eye. Just like giant, traditional Asian markets, English is heard rarely, the fish for sale still swim and customers can only pay in cash.
But Kam Sam takes the art of making bubble tea extremely seriously, with an exhaustive menu that spans three white boards which are divided into black and red tea. The wide variety may daunt bubble newcomers, but the patient barista was happy to suggest the mango black tea, and this recommendation made the long train ride worth it. The flavor shot through my taste buds, and the drink was packed with just the right size and consistency of boba. For bubble tea that good, plus the opportunity to stock up on the amazing coconut and taro buns at Bread Corner (591 Hungerford Dr., Rockville, Md.) across the street, I would justify devoting another Saturday morning to return to Rockville.
Ten Ren Tea
7418 Baltimore Ave., College Park, Md.
Metro: College Park-U of MD
Rating: 5 out of 5
Though Ten Ren Tea is a Taiwan-based chain with locations in seven countries, you wouldn’t know it by the homey atmosphere. Manga and board games encourage customers to relax, and the menu is extensive, with a guide on how to order a drink based on your preferences of temperature and consistency. I settled on a raspberry chai bubble tea. Even if you don’t like raspberry flavor, you will love it when combined with this rich chai taste. It evokes warm gingerbread, and mixes perfectly with those chewy tapioca pearls that can make or break bubble tea.
Tea Noodles Rice Café
2049 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Va.
Rating: 3 out of 5
I was wary upon entering this popular office lunch spot, as I haven’t had positive experiences with restaurants selling bubble tea as a side hustle. However, TNR Café has a few redeeming qualities. The friendly hostess recommended a taro smoothie, whose bubbles had the ideal level of rubbery-ness that had me scraping the bottom to eat them all even after the drink was done. The tea was thinner than I prefer, void of the thickness that allows one to nurse the drink going about the day. Moreover, the limited selection of flavors, which doesn't include staple bubble tea flavors like avocado, was disappointing.
2009 R St., NW
Metro: Dupont Circle
Rating: 4 out of 5
Teaism, which has three locations in the city – including the nearby 800 Connecticut Ave., NW – offers only one flavor of bubble tea. On the menu, it is listed as "zhenzou pearls," the Taiwanese term for “pearl milk tea.” Because of its proximity to campus, I'd definitely return to this café if the craving for boba hits. The iced milk tea is refreshing and the tapioca pearls had a nice chewy resistance. The busy eatery has a Japanese tea house atmosphere without being kitschy. Come here on weekends for brunch and add a bubble tea to your meal.