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Photos: Yiqing Zheng

[Boba Gone Wild]: Bubble Tea From Pizza to Bao

A 2018 food trend gone out of control: tapioca pearls have jumped out of the milk tea and on to the menu
By Dec 17, 2018 Dining


I love bubble tea. It doesn’t matter whether it’s called bubble tea, or boba, or pearl milk tea or 珍珠奶茶, I am a fan. But after the past week, going to the outer limits of the boba world, my loyalty is being tested.

The classic combination of milk tea and the chewy black pearls is where I’m at. It’s typically made with cassava starch, and sweetened with brown sugar or caramel. But now things have gone off the rails, and all kinds of chains and independent restaurants have caught some kind of virus, leading them to experiment with things like boba pizza and boba toast. One of them even has an entire savory boba menu. Make them multiply!

Bobo Ice Cream

Where: All HeyTea outlets; try this store downtown


Bobo Ice Cream (18rmb) is inspired by Heytea’s crazy success with cheese teas. For this dessert, they take green tea (Ever Spring) or red tea (Red Blossom) and use it to flavor the ice cream, which they then mix caramel boba into. This was originally a seasonal summer special but due to popular demand, it’s now a permanent menu item, available at all HeyTea outlets.

If you’re keeping track, HeyTea is the brand that debuted in Shanghai with a several hour wait. Rumour has it those lines were artificially inflated. Maybe? Either way, they have opened up a number of new stores recently and the lines have died down, so as long as you can stomach ice cream in freezing temperatures, there’s a low barrier to entry for this one.

Boba Souffle + Tadpole Pizza

Where: The Caxton


The Caxton has a whole boba menu, from the inoffensively mild to the absolutely wrong. In the first category, there is a harmless Taiwanese Bubble Tea Souffle (88rmb), an airy and spongy cake doused with milk tea and served with a bowl of boba on the side. It’s light and, dare we say, enjoyable.


Things go wrong on the savory side, however. The Crazy Bubbles menu is a boba too far: boba pizza, boba mantou, boba sandwich, boba pancakes, boba cocktails and boba tiramisu. The boba pizza — Pizza Bubbles with Cheese (58rmb) — seemed the most bizarre, so that’s what I had. It looked like tadpoles on a cracker and it didn’t taste any better: salty mozzarella cheese and sweet boba is a disgusting flavor combination. The taste ended up somewhere near teriyaki sauce gone wild. I asked what was in the sauce. They said it was a secret. I hope it’s one they will keep to themselves. Forever.

Boba Milk Panini

Where: Selected Happy Lemon stores


Happy Lemon is a bubble tea chain facing fierce competition, and looking to get a soft, blobby edge over the competition. Hence, the boba milk panini (12rmb), two pieces of toast welded together with boba and a milk tea sauce. It’s made to order, so the toast is hot and crisp when served. It’s good.

Unfortunately, of the million Happy Lemons in Shanghai, only seven are set-up to make the boba milk panini. Four are in Pudong (IFC, 96 Plaza, Super Brand Mall (4F) and Lujiazui Century Financial Square) and three are in Puxi (Henderson Metropolitan, Hongkou Cloud Nine Shopping Center and Changning Cloud Nine Shopping Center). Fortunately, this is also available on delivery apps, though of course the toast won’t be as hot and delicious.

And R.I.P....

The Crispy Creamy Creation

Once upon a time at: Shi Li Fang


It burned too bright, the zang zang boba bao. A combination of two so-hot-right-now trends, the Crispy Creamy Creation combined a zang zang bao, the 'dirty bun', with boba, to make something like a cream puff stuffed with boba and covered in cocoa powder. It was dirty, it was chewy, and it was lighter than you thought all of that would be, despite the gooey caramel sauce. Unfortunately, Shi Li Fang took it off the menu last week. So short-lived, much transient. Wow.



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