Arts and Culture

Tapioca tea is on the bubble

Kate Turner

Ever heard of bubble tea? Kate Turner tells us about the unique Taiwanese tea.

Bubbling under: Tempting flavours of tea with gummy balls of   tapioca lurking at the bottom of the cup. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

"Happy.me is the next generation of beverages," says Jan Roode, one half of Happy.me, Jo'burg's first bubble-tea franchise. Jan and his partner in all things, Jay, are serial entrepreneurs, with a clairvoyant knack for property development, and have travelled widely. "We have visited over 65 countries," Roode says. 

One day while navigating the grit and glint of hyper-city Hong Kong, also known as the Pearl of the Orient, an encounter with another sort of pearl took place: tapioca pearls. 

"We stumbled across our first bubble-tea experience," Jan says, "and it was love at first sip!"

Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea or boba, is a Chinatown treat, in which gummy balls of tapioca squat in the bottom of a plastic cup brimming with sweetened tea and milk. 

It was invented in the teashops of Taiwan in the 1980s and, like many Asian crazes, has a certain pop-culture naiveté about it (although in New York they are now serving an alcoholic "spiked" bubble tea). 

It's a happy drink, appealing to your inner kid – largely because of the fat straw, which is big enough to slurp those tapioca pearls through – and is satisfyingly silly.

After a binge on boba, Jan and Jay sat down and conspired on how to bring bubble tea back with them and, more importantly, with it being something of an acquired texture, how they would finagle South Africans into becoming bubble-tea devotees. "We decided to seek out the best beverages from around the world, and blend them with the principles of bubble tea – break it down and reassemble it." 

Enter Happy.me, where you are the master mixologist. (Can't get your head around squidgy tapioca? Just leave it out then.)

Flavours that curl and bloom include watermelon, cranberry, Earl Grey, Matcha green tea and coconut milk. Then blend in your accompanying pearls or jelly. Or don't. The concoction is up to you.

Village Green Shopping Centre, 127 Greenway Road, Greenside, Johannesburg. Phone 011?888?5658. Eastgate branch: the Food Court, shop 10. Visit happyme.co.za

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