Bubble Tea in Chinatown, NYC

Stumbling unexpectedly upon something, somewhere that catches your eye, your mind and your heart forever is a pretty rare event. Re-visting these attention-grabbing somethings even just one time can be quite exciting. And multiple times? Oh, the glee.

When I travel down to New York, one something that long ago grabbed and has forever held my attention is the bubble tea of Chinatown. Here it is – your choice of tea blended with milk and served over ice in a tall glass with a fat straw sticking out so you can suck dark-colored marble-sized gooey, chewy balls of tapioca off the bottom. Sound repugnant? It’s fabulous. This tea is part of the reason New York City is on my map.

My boyfriend cringes and shudders and makes horrible faces each time I speak lovingly of this tea in our life at home. Traveling with me to my favorite little tea shop on earth in Chinatown, sitting at the same table and watching me slurp up tapioca ball after tapioca ball out of a glass filled with thick purple, green or black fluid is a testament to the depth of his feelings for me. He sits politely, sipping a nice, normal cup of hot tea, minus tapioca, while I chug-a-lug myself into a cross-eyed state. He loves me.

solo female traveler - full glass of bubble tea

Pretty Bubble Tea

I discovered these delectable giant chewy glasses of tea many years ago while roaming the streets. The Green Tea Cafe announced itself on the front of a shop on Mott Street and, being an avid drinker of green tea, I entered. Before me stood very small tables with incredibly small stools filled with people drinking colorful drinks with dark circles at the bottoms of their glasses. “What is that?” I asked my waiter, a question that sealed my fate.

I was into this huge time beginning with my first glass of the bizarre substance. To add to my happiness while drinking, I ordered an appetizer. And, as I sat at a table near the back of the restaurant, struggling to manage the tapioca shooting its way up my straw for the first time, my waiter, an exuberant and friendly guy, patiently taught me how to use chopsticks for the very first time, sticking with me till I got it just right. First impressions carry a lot of weight, and this little extra touch welded The Green Tea Cafe fondly into my long-term memory.

As a bubble tea aficionado fanatic, in the early days I would travel alone to Chinatown, first driving in my car to the train station, then taking a train in to New York, then taking a subway downtown, then walking the remaining distance to the cafe – a journey of about three hours – just to get a fix of this stuff. Having utilized multiple modes of transportation to reach my destination, I felt strongly that drinking just one glass of the tea would be a waste. Plus, all that travel made me really thirsty. So on each trip I managed to suck down three teas, one glass of bliss after the other. What a charge.

As deeply as I wished for this tea to be more readily available and as many times as I searched unsuccessfully for it back home in Connecticut, once I noticed that these bubble tea shops were springing up in other parts of New York, my feelings were mixed. While I was glad I didn’t have to travel all the way down to Chinatown to enter bubble tea paradise, its presence in other areas diminished the special aura of the tea. Several years have passed since I’ve seen those other cafes. Hopefully, they have vanished.

Yet there is still at least one more bubble tea restaurant, standing just a few doors down from my favorite tea cafe. I partook of their bubbles once, only to feel guilt. My original bubble tea experience will always be the special one, and it is the Green Tea Cafe which I will hold forever in my thoughts. If I do ever locate another bubble tea shop, I may just pass it by. I surely don’t want to ever again experience the guilt of drinking someone else’s bubbles.

solo female traveler - empty glass of bubble tea

All Gone

20 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Now this is an example of what I call a real professional writer. You took something really disgusting-sounding and made it sound like a mouthwatering adventure. Plus, you gave me an idea.

    Now, I’m not one of these folks who put milk and sugar in my tea. Even my iced-coffee has to be so strong a spoon will stand up in it. As soon as I drink my next three black coffees, I’m gonna run home for lunch.

    Throw a can of chilled peaches in the blender with some peanut butter and green tea leaves and see how that turns out. You’re an inspiration!

    Cheers,
    Mike

  2. neha says:

    This sounds like an adventure in a mug! Yum!

  3. inka says:

    I didn’t make it to Chinatown on my recent visit to New York, but next time I’ll head straight for that Tea/cafe. Like you I am an avid gree tea drinker but this concoction I must try.
    And…you dedication to travel and new experiences is exemplary.

  4. Sabina says:

    Ha-ha! I want to know how the concoction turned out, Mike.

    And the bubble tea IS a “mouthwatering adventure”!

  5. Sabina says:

    It is yummy-yummy. It’s basically a drink and a snack all in one glass.

  6. Sabina says:

    Thanks, Inka. Oh, yeah, definitely go. It will still be there. It’s got a nice atmosphere too.

  7. Candice says:

    Ahhh I want to try this! Except I’m old fashioned and can’t get past my orange pekoe, it’s my source of comfort. Perhaps I’ll hunt this down when i’m in NYC.

  8. Sophie says:

    Sounds great. Will try some bubble tea in NYC when I visit this summer. I should make my kids try it as well (one’s adventurous, the other one a wimp when it comes to trying new food :)

  9. Sabina says:

    Okay. I thought I was old fashioned. But I’ve never heard of orange pekoe. What is it?

  10. Sabina says:

    Great! It’s delightful. And it is food as well as a drink, basically.

  11. Janz says:

    YUMMY!!!

  12. Sabina says:

    Indeed it is!

  13. Alouise says:

    I’ve had Bubble Tea before, but that looks amazing. I can’t wait for summer, long hot days and an icy Bubble Tea. Is there anything more perfect?
    .-= Alouise´s last blog ..Shoes =-.

  14. Matt Westergard says:

    Hey Sabina – great article, great photos, great blog. Funny, because I had never heard of bubble tea until last night when I read your post. And then this morning, I’m sitting at JoJo’s Coffee here in Hartford and I hear the guy tell this customer about their tea “we have everything but the bubbles…” Haha – funny how coincidences like this happen. Hope you’re well – Matt.

  15. Sabina Lohr says:

    Alouise,

    Yes, bubble tea is the best! I’m glad you’ve had a chance to drink some.

  16. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hi Matt!

    I’m glad you checked out my blog! That is quite a coincidence. No bubble tea ever in your life, then two mentions in half a day. Cool!

  17. Jon says:

    Looks …. interesting. Sort of like a “frappucino”, but with tea instead of coffee?
    Jon recently posted..Green Tea and Oolong Tea – What is the Difference and Do They Aid Weight LossMy Profile

  18. Sabina Lohr says:

    Hi, Jon. It is most positively interesting. It looks like a frappucino, I guess, although I’ve never tasted one. I can see you’re into green tea. You should try it with tapioca some time ;)

  19. Nice post, it looks really delicious and yea as Sabina Lohr says, it looks like a frappucino.
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  20. Mike says:

    Bubble Tea is all the rage here in China – loverley jubbley – totally hooked on the stuff, although the coffee equivalent is something else

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