What’s your opinion on bubble tea? Love it or hate it, the bubble tea craze is clearly here to stay, and Waterloo is definitely no stranger to that — on the contrary, the Taiwanese drink has had a presence on campus for much longer than you might think. To provide some context, the concept of “boba” (a popular slang term for bubble tea) — chewy tapioca balls in milk tea —– only really originated in the 80s. Sweet Dreams Tea Shop, the boba spot right beside E7, was started by fourth-year economics student Jin-Hee Song in 1999, in an era where tapioca pearls, the staple topping of bubble tea, were being described as “marble-sized gummy bears.”
Sweet Dreams has continued its long-held good standing with the UW community for almost 25 years, hosting events both in store and with on-campus partners. UW students’ obsession with bubble tea has led to more boba on campus as well. DC now has its own Chatime Express location, allowing quick and easy access to boba between classes. There has even been a club created around the drink, UW BobaTime, which offers themed events and up to 20 per cent discounts to local boba spots around KW to members. Gillian Middleton, an events director for UWBobaTime, said that the club has garnered a community that meets both online and in person to hangout, play video games, host dance nights, and, of course, drink boba.
Here at Imprint we love boba as much as everyone else, so we decided as an office to rank our favourite boba spots around main campus and see which one is best. To keep things simple we tried a classic milk tea at half sweet with tapioca from each location.
Convenient? Yes, absolutely. Basic? Also a yes, absolutely.
I think for many, Chatime was their introduction to bubble tea, so I can accept that for some there’s a certain nostalgia factor that draws them to it, and I can even relate to some extent — a Chatime opened up in the plaza I frequented during high school, and I remember clearly how we once tramped down to the spot to treat ourselves after what felt like a pretty sub-par computer science exam.
However, its existence as a nostalgic memory is exactly how it should remain. I found Chatime way too sweet for my taste, even at half sugar, which completely overtook any flavour from the milk tea that might’ve been there. We all know that the ultimate compliment for any Asian dessert (speaking for my own East Asian heritage, at least) is that it’s “not too sweet!” Because that’s not how I would describe it — quite the opposite — I can’t give Chatime any more than two stars.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Alicia Wang, Senior Editor
If you go to UW, it’s unlikely that you haven’t at least heard of Sweet Dreams. Located in University Shops Plaza, you hardly have to step off campus to enjoy a variety of boba flavours, as well as many other food options. With such a wide variety on offer at Sweet Dreams, it can be hard to know which flavours are truly worth trying — I would suggest going for their specialties, or asking staff what their favourite menu items are.
As for their classic milk tea, this seems to be a great option for those who really like to customise how sweet their drink is. We tried the sweetness at 50 per cent, and compared to some of the other drinks on this list (looking at you, Chatime) the milk tea from Sweet Dreams was anything but sweet. It maintained its milkiness, but provided a super strong tea flavour even amidst the sweeter-tasting boba. I might have wanted a little more sweetness, but that’s just me.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Andie Kaiser, Staff Writer
I think Coco is overlooked by the community based on the fact that it’s tucked away, and the ubiquity of Coco internationally. Though I do think the quality of Coco justifies its expansion. Coco has many different options like their Yakult series with good quality tapioca pearls that have reasonable QQ texture (bouncy texture). With reasonable prices compared to places like The Alley, Gong Cha, and Machi Machi, students living at UWP or around University Avenue should be glad that a Coco is close by for their boba fix.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Andrew Yang, Head Video Producer
A well established chain, Gong Cha offers a large menu with seemingly endless customization options. Located right on King Street, this is a great option for anyone looking to step out of their boba comfort-zone. For those who like the classics, however, Gong Cha remains a worthy choice. The classic milk tea boba offers a variety of sweetness and ice options, as well as the option to add any number of toppings. With such a personalised experience, it’s hard to go wrong here. I thought the balance between sweetness and tea flavour was great, and also appreciated that this item won’t break the bank.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Andie Kaiser, Staff Writer
Now Tea is a pretty convenient spot especially for anyone living on or around Lester Street, nestled right between kebabs, Korean fried chicken, and what is likely the only Nigerian place in town. The hanging lanterns and mildly dark lighting make for a comfortable atmosphere, which is always a plus, and the milk tea itself isn’t too sweet or otherwise strangely flavoured. Boba can be a pricey habit, but unlike some other competitors on this list, getting your fix here feels a little more worth the impact on your wallet, as it’s probably the best boba you’re going to get near UW’s main campus. It’s got the actual milk tea flavour, tapioca that walks the line between bouncy (or what Andrew would say, QQ) and gummy, and a really adorable hedgehog on the cup that, in this writer’s opinion, does indeed deserve its own call-out.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Alicia Wang, Senior Editor