Love Bubble Tea? Well, So Does Japan, and They've Gone a Little Crazy

Tokyo Food Sweets 2019.08.30
Bubble tea, boba, tea with tapioca pearls, whatever you want to call it, the drink has been popular all over Asia and overseas for decades now. Somehow, though, bubble tea has only started to gain a following in Japan in the past few years. But now that it's arrived, these tapioca bubbles are making a big splash, and not just into cups of milk tea.
Making a Quick 7/11 Run? Grab a Bag of Tapioca
You know a trend has gotten big in Japan when it becomes a new limited-edition snack flavor.

For when finding a good boba spot and then (sigh) actually drinking liquid becomes too much work, you can just grab a bag of these tapioca pearls covered in milk tea-flavored chocolate.
Not Grilled Cheese, But Grilled Bubble Tea
Nineteen Tea has more than 30 locations across Korea, but only recently did its first Tokyo shop pop up. And what will you find if you walk into that Tokyo shop? "Tapioca Toast", a hot pressed sandwich filled with tapioca pearls and "milk tea jam."
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    Of course, no one would stand for just one flavor option when it comes to Tapioca Toast. As well as no. 17, the basic milk tea flavor sandwich, you can also get no. 18 chocolate tapioca toast, and no. 19 coconut jam tapioca toast.
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    19TEA
    32-6 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo
    11:00 am - 11:00 pm
     
If Bubble Tea Were a Hot Dog, It Would Be This Pastry
At Aazai no Yatai, a restaurant dedicated to Taiwanese cuisine, you'll find the intriguing Bubble Tea Fried Bread. It's gained a fair amount of popularity after being featured on Japanese TV, and we must admit, it looks tempting.
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    The bread is steamed and then deep-fried, before being cut open and filled with whipped cream and tapioca pearls tasting of brown sugar.
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    Then, of course, it's topped with a heart-shaped pink marshmallow.


    Aazai no Yatai
    1-20-5 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo
Chilled Milk Bubble Tea... Ramen
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    That's right, you saw the words written in the title. This limited edition ramen is for real. This summer, Menya Musashi, a Tokyo ramen spot, started offering a limited 15 bowls of the chilled tapioca tsukemen each day during June. The dish did so well, they had to extend the promotion.
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    Of course the bowl of broth? milk tea? bubble tea soup? which is normally just for dipping noodles also came with a straw, for that satisfying traditional bubble tea experience.
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    Use a spoon and you'll get a whole mouthful of pearls, though. They go perfect with noodles??

    According to reviews, it's actually a pretty good dish of tsukemen! The soup is made with milk, soy milk, and earl grey tea (!), lending it a light tea flavor while still leaving it with lots of savory umami.

    Menya Musashi Gorindo
    5-29-1 Shiba, Minato City, Tokyo
    (Mon ~ Sat) 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
The Bizzare Trend of Tapioca Cup Noodles
Once upon a time on the Japanese internet, a man decided to try to make his own rendition of the fabled "bubble tea ramen." Unfortunately, this man was no magical ramen expert or restaurant owner, and so he decided to set his sights a little lower. Let us tell you the brief story of Japanese netizen Nojuma, and his adventures in ramen creation.
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    Since tapioca is a recent trend in Japan, the idea that you might just be able to pick some up seems unlikely to your average resident of the country. Nojuma, however, said that he started seeing it everywhere when he started looking. Normal supermarket, international import stores, the internet... tapioca pearls are not actually that rare.
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    Tapioca takes a little too long to cook for it to just be thrown into a styrofoam cup for a minute, so he started by boiling the pearls in a pot.
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    But then, the moment of truth! Our friend Nojuma prepared his cup noodles with added tapioca, mixed it up with an appropriately sized bubble tea straw, and gave it a taste...

    Sounds like it was fine? Nojuma comments that the tapioca was a fun little accent, and that it made him want to carry the cup (with straw) around his neighborhood and take pictures for instagram. I guess tapioca on its own isn't particularly flavorful though!
Flowing Water Brings Flowing Bubble Tea?
Well, there's no tea involved here, although... there could be?

If the video below leaves you feeling a little lost (what is that machine and what is going on?), you first have to learn a little about traditional Japanese culinary culture. During the summer, noodles called somen are a popular dish, as they're eaten chilled with a dipping sauce. To keep the noodles cool, and keep them from sticking together, "nagashi somen" (流しそうめん, "flowing somen") is a fun serving style where the noodles are kept moving through running cold water. That can be along traditional bamboo pipes, or a compact modern machine like the one you see here.

For whatever reason, doing the same thing with loose tapioca pearls apparently seems like a good idea in Japan.
Welcome to Japan, the game has begun. Compete against your friends and family as you try to capture a single pearl: this is war!

Considering how much difficulty this poor twitter user is having, we don't actually recommend you try this at home.

But do consider searching for some of Japan's most unique bubble tea creations when you visit next! You never know what you'll find here.
Basic Info
NameBubble Tea Shops Around Japan
Columnist
Miya Chong

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