Echo Eats: Battle of the Bubble Teas

Written by Joyce Chin and Jessie Gan

 

If there’s one thing us Asians share in common is our unwavering love for the marvellous creation – bubble tea! For the uninitiated, bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea, bubble milk tea, or simply boba) is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. It has since skyrocketed its way to mainstream popularity in recent years, and is deeply ingrained in our hearts.

Ever wondered why the drink is named bubble tea? Well, let us enlighten you with a little anecdote. It’s a common and understandable misconception that bubble tea gets its name from the bubble-like tapioca pearls that fill the bottom of the cup. Whilst we may not have a proclivity for Physics but we know that what goes down must come up, so let’s shift our focus towards the top of the beverage.

When you order a bubble tea, the mixture is shaken vigorously, by hand or by machine, before being served. This shaking process creates foamy bubbles at the top of the drink, and this action gives the upmost layer of the drink its signature frothiness, hence the term ‘bubble tea’ was born was coined.

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Gif source

Sunway has solidified its position as the undisputed bubble tea capital of Malaysia, with a plethora of options to choose from within close proximity of the campus to which the probing question – “Where do I get my boba cravings fixed?” will often come to mind.

Fret not, in this month’s edition of Echo Eats, we shall delve deeper into the world of boba by trying out five different takes on the humble pearl milk tea at different price points (so you don’t have to), which will hopefully help ease your pre-boba jitters and make your experience a hassle-free one. To keep things on an even playing field, we decided to go with the standard pearl milk tea. Keep in mind that the order doesn’t represent their ranking, so stick around till the end to find out which bubble tea emerges victorious!

#1 Tealive

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Image source: Tealive website

As one of the OG bubble tea chains that first took Malaysia by storm, we had to include Tealive in the list. A newly opened outlet right outside college means we can now save the walk to Sunway Pyramid and still get our Tealive fix! Tealive goes by adopting a simple “no-frills” concept and doesn’t try too hard to be fancy with their interiors and packaging like artisan boba shops, which makes it a household favourite for a quick fix of your boba cravings.

Original Pearl Milk Tea

Price: 5/5

At only RM 6.50 per cup, Tealive’s boba is probably one of the cheapest you can find in Sunway. Definitely a value for money if you’re broke but still want that boba fix!

Tea quality: 3/5

The drink has a very standard, subtle tea taste but nothing spectacular like the fresh, hand-brewed alternatives.

Boba texture: 3.5/5

The pearl size is pretty standard, not too big nor too small, and the chew factor is there. However, Tealive’s pearls do have a slightly artificial or ‘plastic’ taste which indicates that lower quality tapioca is used.

Sugar level: 3.5/5

If you’re a sweet tooth, the original sugar level would be perfect for you. However, we’d suggest to half the sugar or even try it without any sugar as the pearls are slightly sweet on their own.

Average score: 3.75/5

Honorable mentions:

1) Classic Roasted Milk Tea with Grass Jelly (or you can switch to pearls)

2) Sparkling Passion Fruit with 3Q Jelly (a refreshing alternative)

 

#2 Chatto

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Image source: Joyce Chin/Sunway Echo Media

Craving for a relaxing space to de-stress after a long day of school? Then head over to Chatto – conveniently a stone throw away from school to get your dose of positiviTEA (pun intended) in this cozy tea bar with a minimalistic aesthetic to help declutter your train of academic thoughts. Fun fact: Founded in Iskandar Malaysia, Chatto is in fact a local establishment, so yay to Malaysian representation!

Charcoal Pearl Oolong Pearl Milk Tea

Price: 4/5

Slightly on the steeper end of the spectrum at RM8.90, one can argue that the size of the boba falls short in comparison to its competitors just down the block. Considering the fact that we sometimes suffer from budgetary constraints, the total spherical volume of the boba is a main drawback here when it comes to value for money but nevertheless, it isn’t fair to judge a boba by its size.

Tea quality: 4.5/5

If gothic philosophy were to present itself in the form of bubble tea, this would be it! While the association of the colour black is often linked to mystery which leads to uncertainty but somehow we were compelled to give the drink a shot! The element of charcoal brings out strong earthy flavours which worked hand-in-hand with the richness of the tea. A refreshing change from mainstream bubble tea variances, the drink could either be a hit or miss, depending on your personal preference but in this case it is – a hit!

Boba texture: 4.5/5

There isn’t nothing much to shout about because the pearls are ordinary plain Janes. What it lacked in terms of size, certainly compensated in its generous serving. Needless to say, the QQ factor is there and that thoroughly made the boba experience an enjoyable one.

Sugar level: 5/5

Chatto’s main selling point ultimately boils down to the level of customisation and attention to details. It’s safe to say that they’ve hit the nail on the head with this one because it was the perfect balance of sweetness with a note of bitterness, in a good way.

Average score: 4.5/5

Honorable mentions:

1) Kee Mun Pearl Milk Tea (if you’re old-school and like tradition)

2) Matcha Pearl Latte (if you love green tea)

 

#3 Gong Cha

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Image source: Jessie Gan/ Sunway Echo Media

Next up on the list, we embarked on a 10-minute walk to the local mall to a chain which prides itself for its extensive range of quali(tea) – GongCha. The term “Gong Cha” is translated as the ancient act of offering tea to royalty, such as the Emperor of China. With that in mind, we went in with high expectations to be treated like royalty but suffice to say, we shall let the tea do the talking.

Earl Grey Pearl Milk Tea

Price: 4/5

The earl grey tea is priced at RM6 but for this review, we couldn’t possibly abandon the star of the show – the pearls! The bill amounted to RM7.50 which is fairly reasonable and you probably won’t be giving up your lunch after treating yourself to this one but was it worth the price? We’ll be spilling the tea.

Tea quality: 2.5/5

The watered-down quality of the tea was reminiscent of still water but sweetened. The rich flavour of earl grey we longed for didn’t shine through due to the overpowerment in terms of sugar which is a big letdown. Perhaps it just so happened to be bad luck on our part.

Boba texture: 4.5/5

The pearls are the drink’s redemption arc, quite literally. Bouncy and light, they are easy to chew which elevated the overall boba experience, making it boba(tastic) for your gustatory senses. Despite the shortcomings from the tea, Gong Cha manages to redeem their themselves, so thumbs up to that!

Sugar level: 2.5/5

Very sweet would undoubtedly be an understatement because at the first sip, we were immediately hit with a sugar rush which is quite frankly, overwhelming, to say the least. Pro-tip: The next time you ever order a beverage from Gong Cha, be sure to reiterate that you would prefer your drink at a sugar level way below the recommended amount to save yourself those extra calories.

Average score: 3.38/5 (after rounding off to 2 two decimal places)

Honorable mentions:

1) GC Signature Winter Melon Tea (for a healthier alternative)

2) Taro Milk Tea (if yam is your cup of tea)

 

#4 Koi

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Image source: Jessie Gan/ Sunway Echo Media

En route in search of the best bubble tea available in the Sunway area, we had to make a pitstop at Koi, conveniently located near the entrance leading to the canopy walk in Sunway Pyramid. KOI goes by the philosophy of intertwining the relationship between luscious flavour, refreshing fragrance and lingering aftertaste – for the perfect brew. We heard many rave reviews about the chain’s extraordinary pearl milk tea so we thought we’d go hop onto the bandwagon to try it for ourselves.

Golden Bubble Milk Tea

Price: 4/5

At RM8.20, the price point of the drink is right in the middle of the boba pack – neither too expensive to the extent that it would cause a serious dent in your wallet nor too cheap that you could perhaps drink it every day (we’re not judging). Anyways, you get the gist and to set the record straight, the cute cup size doesn’t give it extra brownie points.

Tea quality: 5/5

It truly is love at first gulp. The tea has a slight robust flavour which helps elevate the flavour profile to the next level. The tea-brewing process brewed carefully under controlled temperatures, and according to KOI’s website, authentic flavours of tea can only be extracted through the traditional method of brewing the leaves in a kettle to achieve the perfect ratio of tea to water. Sometimes sticking to tradition is the way to go because it’s the attention to detail that matters most.

Boba texture: 4.5/5

Taking a risk in breaking away from the stereotypical black pearl which we’ve all grown to love could either work for or against you. Well, that leap of faith paid off tremendously for KOI because those wonderful bubbles of sunshine were an absolute delight. If you have yet to try them, you definitely should! A life-changing experience indeed.

Sugar level: 5/5

The amount of sweetness in this drink is at the optimum level. The motion of slurping which might be considered a mundane activity to some due to its repetitiveness but the truth is, it isn’t. Words don’t do this drink justice, and all we can say is, “You have to try it for yourself!”, if you aren’t madly in love with bubble tea yet.

Average score: 4.63/5 (after rounding off to 2 two decimal places)

Honorable mentions:

1) Caramel Black Tea Macchiato (for a stronger kick)

2) Passion Fruit Aloe Vera (if you want to cut down on calories)

 

#5 Tiger Sugar

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Image source: Joyce Chin/ Sunway Echo Media

I’m sure most of us have seen this boba shop flooding Instagram stories with their signature brown sugar ‘tiger-striped’ boba in which their name originates from (and also the mile-long looking queues). This Taiwanese bubble tea chain freshly opened up a kiosk in Sunway Pyramid around New Year’s and certainly is the talk of the town for boba enthusiasts in Sunway. So of course, we had to give it a shot and see what the hype was about!

Black Tea Latte with Cream mousse

Price: 2.5/5

The pricing for this extravagant looking cup of boba is definitely….extravagant as well. This regular cup of boba retails for RM 12.90, certainly up there with all the pricier boba teas and a ‘treat yourself’ kind of drink. However, all can be forgiven if the taste and boba are extraordinary.

Tea quality: 3/5

Unfortunately, the black tea used to brew this cup of bubble tea was ordinary and nothing phenomenal. The cream mousse had a very strong milky taste which slightly overpowered the subtle black tea and quite frankly did not complement each other the way we hoped it would.

Boba texture: 5/5

The saving grace for this drink was the amazing boba pearls! When you first get your drink, the boba pearls are still warm and the contrast between the warm pearls and the cold milk tea was heavenly to say the least! The brown sugar soaking the boba also tasted high quality and had a lingering ‘caramel-ly’ aftertaste. Not to mention, the chewiness was oh-so-addicting.

Hack: if you have an extra buck to spend, do try out their mixture of normal and mini-sized boba pearls for the ultimate boba experience.

Sugar level: 3.5/5

For the amount of brown sugar used in their drinks, the bubble tea was not overwhelmingly sweet, but still leaned towards the sweet side. We’d suggest ordering the drink with half the sugar, but then you’ll lose some of the great brown sugar flavour. What can we say, pick your poison.

Average score: 3.5/5

Honorable mentions:  

1) Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cream mousse (their best-selling drink which has no tea in it)

2) Brown Sugar Green Tea/Black Tea with Boba or Pearls (if you’re not a fan of milky drinks)

 

Final verdict: It was a tight race as all of the outlets had their own quintessential uniqueness but after doing the maths, drumroll please – KOI comes out on top in the battle of boba! That being said, it hereby rightfully solidifies its spot at the top of the boba hierarchy. All hail Queen Koi!

Did this review make you crave for boba? If it did, we hope we helped you decide where to get it now. Thanks for staying till the end of this edition of Echo Eats! Do leave us a comment on your thoughts about the best boba place in Sunway, or recommend what we should do next. Till next time!

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