Tealips Bubble Tea & Coffee – Burnaby, BC

Tealips Bubble Tea & Coffee
7139 Arcola Way
Burnaby, BC
(778) 397-3972

Offering a wide ranging menu of bubble teas, coffee, loose leaf tea, smoothies, shaved ice, waffles, and sandwiches, this hidden, out-of-the-way cafe in the Middlegate neighborhood of Burnaby has steadily built a strong following.  Or so it seems on my visits there as its always got a steady number of customers inside.  I suppose it benefits greatly from the steady stream of traffic to the nearby businesses, as well as the multiple condo towers that look down upon the building in which it is housed…

Tealips does have a slightly different premise compared to other bubble tea houses around town.  For instance, the thing that struck me upon entering the doors was the more relaxed vibe and seating arrangement that sprawled out before my eyes.  A lot more inviting as a result and the kind of place that makes you want to stick around.  The crowd seemed to be dominated by younger couples or soloists who were clearly students cramming behind a heavy textbook or busy scanning the screen of their personal computer.

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Random Chinatown Chowing (June 2010) – Edmonton, AB

Its been said many times, but there is something special about the big blue skies of summer in Alberta.  On a recent visit to Edmonton, I had the pleasure of driving around a bit, seeing some rural and urban landscapes that reminded me of how great the scenery can be where there isn’t that abundance of grey clouds and gloomy rainy weather that dominates the west coast in June.  I guess that has something to do with the large quantities of great produce and livestock product that comes out of this oil-rich province.  Good eats under sunny skies, what could be better!

During my stay, I made a completely random jaunt to 97th street just north of the downtown core of Edmonton that resulted in a trio of stops all within the span of about an hour!  While the Alberta capital’s Chinatown isn’t as pronounced nor expansive of say Vancouver’s version, it does have some of the same classical appeal and is worth checking out.  Alas, this early Saturday morning resulted in stopovers at least than traditional Chinese places for the most part, but hope you can follow the story…

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Estea Beverage Club – Burnaby, BC

Estea Beverage Club
6401 Kingsway
Burnaby, BC
(604) 438-0186

Finding a good, well balanced menu between food and beverages in a place that specializes more on their liquids is often a problem that I encounter (most izakaya in Japan being the exception).  Here in North America, I experience this phenomena primarily in bars, public houses, as well as in bubble tea shops.  Located virtually across the street from Posh, Burnaby’s Estea Beverage Club has taken on this challenge of jacking up their food options despite being more of a drink-oriented place.  Places like Pearl Fever Tea House come to mind when I think of BBT places that don’t serve any hot food at all.

Alas on this weekday evening when we were seated at one of the four-top tables along the east side of the space, nestled in tightly among many young Asian teenagers making me keenly feel the generation gap, I quickly decided to order one of their fruity slushies sans pearls.  I’m not quite sure if its a trend but lately I’ve discovered that these ice cold drinks taste so much better when I have them inside, rather than when they are scooped up into a plastic to-go cup.  This passionfruit slushie was no exception – sweet and silky smooth but a thicker consistency unlike those terrible liquidy 7-11 Slurpees.  I am quite sure they make this from fresh juices as it had none of that awful powdery consistency hidden inside.  Aside from a pair of horrific head rushes the deep cold of the drink gave me, I really enjoyed it!

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Well Tea & Asian Cuisine – Vancouver, BC

Well Tea & Asian Cuisine
5728 University Blvd
Vancouver, BC
(604) 222 0016

Well Tea (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Its a well documented fact that finding good eats in certain places is always a challenge.  Airports.  Train stations.  University campuses.  Perhaps its the transient nature of these places, full of people on the move and just wanting a quick bite as they come and go.

Well at the University of British Columbia (UBC) this stereotype definitely holds true…

The enclave that is the University Village is an interesting microcosm of the perceived general populace of students who attend this institution.  Set in this two block area, the overwhelming majority of retail space is taken up by places to eat… with many of them are ethnic.

There’s been a lot of turnover in recent years as well, be it swaps in ownership/management (e.g. Suga Sushi), or just rapid closures (e.g. some taco shop lasted mere months before shutting down).  Coincidentally, this a fore mentioned collapsed fast food joint is now the site of the subject of this post, Well Tea & Asian Cuisine.

Located not too far away is the Pearl Fever Tea House.  So it was a little bit surprising to find yet another bubble tea serving place pop up.  But given the large Asian student body at UBC, I suppose they have the right demographic in dense concentration to survive the dangers of potential “bubble tea cannibalization”.

This outlet of Well Tea also has a place to eat in, its in an area accessible by a steep climb up some stairs to the second floor.  I had no idea there was space up there, as I don’t think the previous tenant had seating up there.  Regardless, with my intention to only get something to go, I only glanced up at the alleyway leading to the seating area, and can only guess at how many people can actually fit up there.

I’m not sure if you are like me, but do you ever find some menu’s really daunting?  And I’m not talking in terms of not knowing the cuisine.  Its the sheer size and volume of choices, especially in places like run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants, or in this case, bubble tea shops.  I often wonder how one can come up with twenty-odd dishes that are listed under generic headings such as beef, chicken, pork, rice and noodles.  The same goes for tea.

Its almost like looking at the departures screen at YVR.

After going through my fair share of bubble teas this past year, which was preceded by very little exposure or interest to this drink, I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of them taste the same to me.  Perhaps this is because I often sample the same base tea, and don’t get creative with the extras beyond the pearls.  In fact, the pearls are likely the only true distinguishable thing (too soft, too hard, too chalky, etc.) between one place and another for me.  It doesn’t mean I don’t like bubble tea.  But perhaps I should stop drinking it for a while.  The offering at Well Tea is nothing extraordinary, and if I had to choose, I’d go with Pearl Fever.

Take-away orders are available, and upon opening the bag once I was back home, I smiled when I saw these distinctive looking packages containing my meal.  Not the usual Styrofoam containers you get at other fast food places, or as boxes to take home any left overs at restaurants, these had a clear Asian motif.  Not knowing what they say, I can only guess they are a generic brand of packaging, but well suited to the food that can be had here.

To further explain my earlier sentence, it seemed that a lot of the quick snack food items come with a trio of vegetable-based sides.  These would be slotted neatly into the separated compartments built into the container.  On this day, it was a very bitter tasting, gai-lan (Chinese broccoli), a spicy miso-flavored eggplant mixture, and lastly a strange cabbage kimchi and bean sprout pairing.   Suffice it to say, none of these were any good in my humble opinion.

As you can see, my main target for my lunch was the fried chicken “nuggets”.  Flavored Taiwanese-style, they had that fragrant scent that I enjoy with this kind of deep fried chicken.  The chunks of meat were crispy on the exterior but still very juicy inside.  I won’t go as far to say I like them over the chicken karaage at Suga located upstairs, but not bad for the low price.

I’ll take Well Tea for what it is, another good, quick and easy place to grab a cheap meal when I’m in a hurry or just passing by.  Certainly more interesting than the neighboring McDonald’s, but for your average Canadian student, I imagine the golden arches will still have them lined out the door…

Well Tea (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon

Pearl Fever Tea House – Vancouver, BC

Pearl Fever Tea House
2182 Western Parkway
Vancouver, B.C.
(604) 221 9882

Pearl Fever Tea House on Urbanspoon

Its noted that the owners of Pearl Fever took their inspiration from the valuable gemstone that most people associate with their namesake. But it would also seem worthwhile to mention that their feverish desire to promote the world of Asian drinks has spread to their business goals as well, with the opening of their latest bubble tea shop on the campus of UBC three years ago (following their flagship store in Coquitlam and their second in Surrey).

As most people know, the origin of bubble tea is generally accepted to be the island of Taiwan in East Asia, and drinks are based on a chilled or hot blend of tea, juice, milk, and other liquids with various flavorings. With the most popular of these add-ons being the round droplets of gummy tapioca balls, hence the association of pearls. With a chewy bite, that when bad can be disgustingly chalky, I find that they have a strong polarizing effect, people either hate them or love them.  I’m one of the latter.

The pair of cups you see above are a Green Milk Tea with pearls, and a Lychee Green Tea with pearls.  The creamier milk variety does make for a thicker consistency obviously, whereas the straight tea goes down a lot quicker through the wide straw and I find I drink that much faster as a result.  The tapioca balls here are of a good consistency, not too tough and not overly cooked so they fall apart like powder upon biting into them.  The liquids themselves were smooth, uncomplicated and without surprises, pleasant in flavor and satisfying overall.

Some of our readers may recall a discussion that arose for a previous post on bubble tea in Vancouver, and the general “technology” that you find in these shops. I found it interesting that Pearl Fever had their very own, store branded seals that were affixed to each cup. I kind of like this subtle touch to mark their territory amid all the usual generic cups of bubble tea you see in the marketplace.

Incidentally, my night ended on a disappointing low.  I made the mistake of putting my guard down and picked up a burger at the next door Vera’s Burger Shack.  As I was eating it, I thought it wasn’t as dried out and overcooked as my previous experience, and was surprised that it was better.  Maybe that should have been my hint.  I am sure I had some bad raw sections as just four hours later in the middle of the night, I woke up with a tremendous pain in my stomach.  Suffice it to say, I was up for the next hour trying to regain control of my body.  Never again I say, never again…

Other bubble tea reviews from Vancouver:
Oasis Bubble Tea and Cuisine

Pearl Fever Tea House on Urbanspoon

Oasis Bubble Tea and Cuisine – Vancouver, BC

Oasis Bubble Tea and Cuisine
2076 West 41st Avenue
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 606 0688

Oasis Bubble Tea & Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Scanning the drink board menu at most bubble tea places is an overwhelming experience, what with all of the flavors that are listed, including many that are not common ingredients that one usually sees elsewhere in an eating establishment and I am not talking just about bubble teas (e.g. black grass jelly, anyone?).

From the black tea-based originals, milk-based variations, and fresh fruit slush types, the choices can leave you pondering what to do. Order something you’ve had before and know you enjoy? Or take a chance with a new flavor or blend-style that might cause you to want to ditch it after one single sip? Oasis goes a step further and throws another wrench into the works with their inclusion of ice cream blended bubble teas on the menu – which for me was a new range to see in a bubble tea shop (I later saw their sandwich board outside that boldly proclaimed they have “the best ice cream bubble tea in town”).

I figured I’d take the plunge. As you may recall from my previous posts, when it comes to ice cream as a dessert, it doesn’t take much to twist my arm. At $4.25 for the base drink and an extra fifty cents for the added pearls, it came in a good sized cup complete with that ubiquitous plastic seal on top. If anyone can tell me how they put these on (is there a special sealing device they use?), I’d be happy to know.

Turns out, the ice cream bubble tea is as creamy as a milkshake, so no big surprises on the texture and temperature front. The green tea flavor was a perfect sweetness, I was afraid that is would be overwhelmingly sugary, knowing that sweetness is added to bubble teas on top of what comes out naturally from the usual ingredients (such as fruit). I was torn on the inclusion of the pearls with my drink.

Mixed in with the thicker-than-usual liquid that was the ice cream blend, I felt they got lost in the shuffle and were completely enveloped into the mix rather than standing out on their own as they are in a straight tea bubble tea. As a result, I am not sure if it was the preparation of the pearls, but they did seem to be a touch on the soft side, but thankfully with none of that chalkiness that sometimes does happen with them that I really dislike.

If you can put up with the tacky Polynesian-themed interior decor, which also stretches outside with some fake palm trees attached to the outer wall and that hover next to a circular glass cutout that serves as the main window into the restaurant (as well as some photographs of food items encased in two vertical frames just outside the front door), Oasis can almost be just that and live up to their name, on a non-busy day. With four booths lined along one wall, and some tables and chairs in the other section, if you can get a seat, it felt much less cramped than say a coffee cafe would, enabling you to sit and chat for a longer period of time comfortably.

I didn’t get much of a look at the food available, other than say some Vietnamese subs on a hanging menu board (but no doubt, better ones can be had in a place like Calgary when it comes to this as they do it well there). The skimpy menu that was on the table at the order desk also had some Taiwanese cafe dishes like beef with noodles soup, and curry with rice dishes, so I am guessing that’s why the “Vietnamese” in the restaurant name had been replaced with a blank void in the place’s signage outside.   I think I’d just stick to the bubble tea and get your food elsewhere as that is what my “Spidey Sense” was telling me …

Oasis Bubble Tea & Cuisine on Urbanspoon

The (B-Tsai) Dessert House – Calgary, AB

The Dessert House (B-Tsai)
101-111 2 Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 0B2
(403) 263-7789

Bubble Tea, everyone’s favorite summertime drink, originated in Taiwan. The OG version was a basic black tea, condensed milk, honey, and tapioca balls. While many people swear by the original version only, there are now an infinite number of variations other than milk tea, including fruit tea, fruit milk, fruit juice, and fruit slush. For me, the key to any good bubble tea lies in good bubbles. They must’ve been boiled long enough to get rid of any chalky texture. And not been sitting too long to be “too soft”. The Taiwanese have a term for this correct texture – “qiu qiu”.

Don’t get me wrong. The flavour obviously matters as well, but it’s secondary. The freshness of the fruit matters the most (after texture), but in most slushes and juices, the sweetness is often adjusted by the inclusion of simple syrup, making it a bit less important. With powder drinks, it matters less, as it’s all a matter of shop preference for how much powder is included.

In Calgary, my favorite place for bubble tea is The Dessert House (B-Tsai Desserts). Due to high volume and years of experience, they have the most consistent bubbles, and freshest fruit juice. They recently moved locations from their smaller, cramped location, to a cavernous location across the street. Their hours have stayed the same, but the prices have gone up. Definitely the most expensive bubble tea i’ve ever had, but as an occasional treat, it’s worth it. The best of the fresh fruit is the seasonal fruit specials. For example, currently it’s all berries – blueberry, raspberry, blackberry. You can mix flavours for 50 cents more.

To be honest, i’d take Dragonball in Vancouver any day, especially at the price. The prices themselves are a bit ridiculous – while i understand inflation, $8 for a large seasonal fresh fruit with bubbles is a bit extreme. The Dessert House does have other items – a lot of Hong Kong style snacks (think tapas style), ices, and jellies. But for me, they are all about the Bubble Tea, if you can afford it. Order the seasonal fruit. And take a seat, as it’s so busy, it’ll take a while. But to get your vitamins in a tasty form, it is well worth it.

The Dessert House (B-Tsai) on Urbanspoon