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Wednesday, 28 October 2020 15:03

Bubbling Up

Written by  Josh Veal
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Ding Tea, Rák Thai. Ding Tea, Rák Thai. Courtesy Photos

Bubbles are ephemeral — here one minute, gone the next.

That’s what makes them so darn fun! They’re quite literally created out of thin air, delight us for a moment, then vanish with an ever-satisfying pop. Boba tea, AKA bubble tea, captures this joy and puts it right in your mouth.

While you could eat the bubbles that come from wands in summer, I think you’ll find the mouthfeel lacking and the flavor a bit heavy on dish soap. Instead, we look to Taiwan, for the magical experience of bubble tea. 

The most simple explanation of boba is: A cold, tea-based drink that includes tapioca balls or jellies, and a wide straw to suck them up. If we lost you at “tapioca,” don’t worry — it’s practically flavorless in tea, which is exactly why they use it. These balls/bubbles/pearls fly right up the straw with your tea, popping in your mouth. It’s a pleasant, yet exciting, chewy sensation.

Of course, if tapioca isn’t your cup of tea, the options are limitless. You can go with little flavored jellies, formed into fun shapes like stars. Or go for the “popping” boba, which explode with flavor when you bite down.

The tea itself comes in all shapes and sizes too! Milk tea is the most common base, often made with nondairy creamer, despite the name. Most shops have dozens of flavors to choose from — my personal favorite being taro, a root that’s hard to describe but tastes similar to the remaining milk in a cereal bowl. You can also get your drink frozen, resulting in more of a fruit slushie-style drink.

When I discovered boba tea 10 years ago, I could only find it in East Lansing. Now, the bubbles are taking over West Michigan, with multiple “cafes” in downtown Grand Rapids alone. Here are a few of our favorite boba-centric spots around town.

RÁk Thai
435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Inside the Downtown Market, Rák Thai took over the stand across from its food counter to set up a boba shop last year. Decide between frozen or over ice, with more than a dozen flavors to choose from, including passionfruit, peach, and green apple. Then top that off with tapioca pearls, mango popping bubbles or coconut jellies! In our opinion, the key to a great boba is perfectly formed pearls. Rák Thai nails it. 

Ding Tea
45 Ottawa Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Ding Tea is new to town, tucked away on Ottawa across from the Van Andel Arena. The menu is loaded with options, including milk tea, flavored tea, aloe vera juice, slushies, lattes, coffee and yakult, a yogurt-style drink. There’s a variety of jellies and other toppings to choose from as well, so you’ll definitely find something for you!

Sunny Boba
38 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Also in downtown Grand Rapids, right by Posh Nails, Sunny Boba is a cute little spot offering a variety of authentic Asian snacks and treats. Choose from an array of smoothies or milk tea, alongside great food options. Grab a green tea ice bar, mango mochi and a freshly made banh mi while you’re here!

Café Boba
4314 S. Division Ave., Kentwood

Café Boba is the godfather of boba in Grand Rapids. This cute and friendly shop is conveniently located by Kim Nhung Superstore and Pho Soc Trang, so you can get dinner, a drink, and groceries all in one trip. Choose from a smoothie, slushie, Italian soda or tons of tea options. The boba options include multiple flavors of popping boba, fruity jelly, coffee jelly, red beans and more. While you’re at it, try out the dumplings and daily dessert offerings. 

Rollup Ice Cream & Tea
3262 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo

Rollup is best known for its rolled ice cream, but there are loads of signature bubble tea flavors as well. Here, you can try something truly unique like Marshmallow Mashup, with toasted marshmallow, vanilla and caramel flavors. Of course, you can build your own tea too. It’s one of the best and only places to get boba in Kalamazoo.

Boba House
143 Douglas Ave., Holland

Boba House serves the lakeshore area, and is best known for having the most jelly and bubble options you’ve ever seen. With a dozen jellies and more than a dozen popping bobas, you can change up your order with every visit. As for the drink itself, you have unique milk teas to choose from — like Cookies n' Cream and Magic Mocha — alongside fruit teas, frozen blends and nondairy smoothies. Stop in for lunch to grab a cheap banh mi and whatever boba your heart desires.

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