My obsession with bubble tea

I thought I would never get on board the brown sugar milk trend - brown sugar pearls and fresh milk, without the tea - that started last year.

But 50 cups later, I acknowledge that I have fully caved.

I even tried to make my own version as I could not get over paying more than $5 a cup.

The attempt, which resulted in hardened sugar syrup, was dismal, so I gave up and drowned my sorrows in, of course, brown sugar milk - the store-bought variety.

The chewy brown-sugar-soaked pearls never tasted better and more satisfying, and now I understand why I pay a premium for this beverage.

Over the years, I have spent a fortune on bubble tea, as nothing quite gives me the quickest comfort and satisfaction.

Over the years, I have spent a fortune on bubble tea, as nothing quite gives me the quickest comfort and satisfaction. Whether as a post-meal drink, mid-day pick-me-up or solace, bubble tea has been my comfort drink ever since I was a teenager. 

Whether as a post-meal drink, mid-day pick-me-up or solace, bubble tea has been my comfort drink ever since I was a teenager.

Prior to the brown sugar trend, the regular milk tea with pearls, honey green tea or soothing hot ginger tea have been my top three go-to drinks.

I picked up the habit in my teens - a good 20 years ago - when green apple green tea was my drink of choice. The syrupy concoction was common in bubble tea shops that dotted neighbourhood estates.

Brands such as Quickly and Cool Station were all the rage then and I was a loyalty card-wielding regular, producing the cards from my long denim wallet for a stamp each time I bought a drink.

It became a competition among my friends to see who could collect all 10 stamps first and thus get a free drink.

I derived immense satisfaction from having the most cards, as well as the most free drinks.

 

But throughout the different waves of bubble tea trends, I have stuck to my favourites. I'm generally not keen to try unusual flavours or interesting permutations with ingredients such as pudding, Oreo crumbs or taro.

The two trends I never got on board with are cheese tea and fruit tea - another rip-off with chunks of fruit floating in tea in an over-sized cup. I do see the appeal, but, well, not my cup of tea.

In my travels, the search for bubble tea continues. In the queue, I often see other Singaporeans trying to quench their collective thirst for something familiar and comforting - a void that only bubble tea could fill.

My mood is inextricably linked to bubble tea.

I have often rejoiced when a new brand from Taiwan or China hits Singapore, and so many have done so in the last year.

Together with one of my colleagues, also a bubble tea fanatic, we would seek out the various brands, compare the flavour and texture of pearls and decide whether to add the brand to our go-to list.

We have had many heated debates and have been frustrated by pearls that are too mushy or hard or tea that is too diluted or overly sweet.

When my honey green tea disappeared from a brand's menu, she was there to sympathise with my loss.

When she was having a bad day, I sent a cup of bubble tea to her via GrabFood.

On average, I drink bubble tea once a week, and am trying to limit brown sugar milk to once a month.

I am aware of the sugar content and its effects on my health, yet, during a recent trip to Hong Kong, I had brown sugar milk every day from brands that had yet to enter Singapore.

I have attempted to kick the habit, but seriously, who am I kidding? When I'm in need of a drink, I will reach for a bubble tea - just like I'm doing now.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 05, 2019, with the headline 'My obsession with bubble tea'. Print Edition | Subscribe