Everything about bubble tea intrigues me: the crayon-box colors, the big fat straws, the chewiness of the tapioca pearls . . . but, coming from a place (Detroit) that's not exactly loaded with bubble tea shops, I have a few questions.
First off -- based on the bubble tea I had last weekend at a place (Tea Shop #168 or something like that) on a sleazy block of Yonge -- is it SUPPOSED to be totally artificial?? As I watched my green tea-mango-milk concoction being put together, I was amazed at the number of scoops of variously colored powdered substances that went into it, and the total absence of anything that resembled green tea, milk, or mango. I would have expected at least one ingredient that looked, well, like something I'd normally drink (although I should add that it was the aggressively UNnatural taste of the strawberry tea that won the heart of my 10-year-old traveling companion).
Was this entirely normal (the way the tea was made, I mean, not my 10-year-old's love of artificially-flavored drinks)? Or do some tea shops specialize in natural brews, and others in powdered instant versions?
And what's the relationship between bubble tea and other tapioca pearl beverages? In a Vietnamese place on a recent jaunt to Denver, I had another (real) milk and (real) mango tapioca drink that dispensed with tea, and generally was more like a Latin American batido (except with tapioca pearls and one of those great fat straws). Is that the Vietnamese version? The dessert version? A western U.S. variant? Or just the idiosyncracy of that particular restauranteur?
I intend to investigate further on my next trip to Toronto, coming up next weekend, and would love a bubble tea primer and tips on especially delicious or fun places to drink it.