10 Madison spots specializing in bubble tea
This trendy tea has taken over, and we're giving you all the details on where to find it around town.
It’s sweet, Instagrammable and goes by many other names: boba tea, pearl milk tea, tapioca tea. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan but has become an increasingly popular drink choice worldwide. Trendy? Maybe. Worth a try? Absolutely. Whatever you call them, bubble tea drinks often consist of a few key ingredients, including tea, milk, ice and chewy tapioca balls. Bubble tea is customizable with different toppings, tea types and flavors. It can be served iced, blended or hot and you can swap out the tapioca for popping boba or fruit jellies. Almost every drink could be a bit different. Figure out what combination of flavors you love best at these local bubble tea spots.
Hmong Legacy Market
Ze Yang’s parents opened Hmong Legacy Market back in 2016 and have been providing the Madison area with authentic tastes of Hmong and Asian cuisine ever since. The family-owned business functions mostly as a deli and ethnic grocery store, but regulars know that tea is always on the menu, even if it’s not on display next to the pork buns or hot fried bananas. While bubble tea is mostly enjoyed in the summer, Yang and her family prepare their own tapioca pearls and serve them year-round in flavors like papaya, strawberry, coconut and taro. Honeydew remains the most popular bubble tea. Most cold tea drinks at Hmong Legacy Market diverge from a traditional black tea and instead use a base of green tea, which Yang says is ordered from a wholesale Asian food and spice vendor in Chicago. Located in south Madison on Fish Hatchery Road, Hmong Legacy Market is easy to miss because it blends in with the surrounding area, but seek it out to satisfy your next grab-and-go lunch or boba craving. 2119 Fish Hatchery Road, facebook.com/hmonglegacymarket, 416-5400
Icki Sticki started with shaved ice and a dream for Jessica Jackson, whose business now serves ice cream, coffee, espresso drinks, Belgian waffles, bubble tea and other sweets at two area locations. After an employee suggested adding boba to the menu, Jackson and her team did some research, experiments and taste testing, and they now offer bubble tea options. Tea and the many available syrups at Icki Sticki are house made, and drinks can be customized to taste. Choose from a variety of milks, five types of boba and two types of jellies. If you’re looking for a recommendation for a first-time visit, try the popular green tea and milk combo with coconut syrup and mango bursting boba. 103 S. Main St., Verona, 301-6346; 1225 Springdale St., Mount Horeb, 640-7470, ickisticki.com
Jade Mountain Café
If you’re looking to get a taste of Taiwan, pencil Jade Mountain Café into your bubble tea itinerary. Nestled in a quaint brick building bordering East Johnson Street, Jade Mountain serves a full menu of tea, coffee drinks and small plates such as pot stickers, steamed buns and Taiwanese-style thick-cut toast. Owned by YuChen Liu and Kevin Chen, the shop opened its doors to customers in 2011 and has satisfied Madison boba-lovers with the same drinks enjoyed in Taiwan. Tea drinks at Jade Mountain can be sorted into three main categories: fruit tea, milk tea and tea smoothies. The warmer months usually see an increase in demand for tea smoothies. Popular choices include flavors like taro, matcha, passion fruit, mango and black milk tea with, of course, the optional addition of bubbles or jellies. All of the tea is imported (though not necessarily originated) from Taiwan. Chen describes Jade Mountain’s products as authentic and often nostalgic for customers who appreciate tea as much as he and Liu do. 2611 E. Johnson St., jademountainteas.com, 316-2789
Le C’s Patisserie & Tea House
Le C’s Patisserie & Tea House joined the culinary scene on State Street last August and specializes in pastries of all sorts — think Asian breads and cakes. But another aspect of the business is the widely praised tea selection. No matter the order, Le C’s customers can expect sweet treats that taste just as good as they look — and they look stunning. The key to an excellent product, says co-owner Quinny Chen, is quality ingredients. Chen and her team use high-quality bagged teas in their boba drinks. While brown sugar bubble tea tends to be the most popular drink order, the fruit teas — with fresh fruits like blueberries, lemons and grapefruits — are warm-weather favorites. Customers can also add tapioca pearls, popping boba, jellies or cheese tops (a foam created with cream cheese and milk) to their drink of choice. 411 State St., lecsmadison.com, 467-8375
Pure Love Bubble Tea
Enjoy a bite to eat while perusing the aisles at Global Market & Food Hall, which opened in northeast Madison last August. It’s a two-in-one space with a market full of fresh produce, seafood and snacks, along with a food hall serving dishes from spicy noodles to sweet pastries — and, of course, bubble tea. Pure Love Bubble Tea, next to Sweet Hut in the food hall, offers a range of traditional drinks. Shane Dong, the manager at Pure Love Bubble Tea, sources teas from all over the world — green teas from Taiwan, some black teas from England and a variety of special teas from China. Popular orders usually involve the “original” bubble tea — black tea, whole milk, brown sugar and tapioca pearls. However, this recipe is not definitive and varies by culture and location; Dong says that Hong Kong-style bubble tea, which substitutes cane sugar for brown sugar, is also a popular order at the shop. The menu at Pure Love Bubble Tea changes seasonally, but customers can expect to find the original bubble tea drink all year long. 2161 Zeier Road, globalmarketfoodhall.com, 286-1383
Taiwan Little Eats
With connections in Taiwan, Christine Welch and her husband, Min-hsiung Lin, have their focus set on selling a traditional product and creating a cultural hub at their State Street location. The pair co-own Taiwan Little Eats with Welch’s mother and a close friend, Kai-hsiang Chen, who works as a chef. Lin is Taiwanese and grew up working at traditional tea shops in Taiwan while Welch, who worked at Starbucks, brings management expertise to the cafe. In addition to a variety of customary Taiwanese snacks, tea lovers can order four different types of tea: jasmine green, pouchong, black tea and true-roasted oolong tea. While customers can add boba to any drink, Welch says that the original brown sugar Taiwanese-style milk tea is one of the most popular products. All of the tea leaves, boba and milk powder used at Taiwan Little Eats are imported directly from Nantou County in Taiwan, along with some equipment and cups, so even before that first sip, the drinks from Taiwan Little Eats are the real deal. 320 State St., taiwanlittleeats.com, 251-8529
Yeng Yang, who founded Yummee in 2018, knows a thing or two about sweet treats. The storefront on University Avenue, which opened in September, is best known for its ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie, a 6-ounce, melt-in-your-mouth treat loaded with a quarter cup of chocolate chips. While the focus at Yummee remains on bakery items, such as Yummee Buns and hot and spicy cheese bread, Yang and his team serve bubble tea to Madison’s boba drinkers as well. Choose from black, green or butterfly pea flower tea (which changes color when you mix it) and a variety of add-ons and extras, like jellies, boba pearls, popping boba and the bakery’s newest addition, “cloud” — a whipped sea salt cream cheese. The Madison bubble tea scene is a competitive one, but Yummee stands out with cookies and sweets complementing its high-quality teas. 5510 University Ave., yummeetreats.com, 819-8060
Chain Reaction: While Madison boasts many locally owned spots serving up tasty bubble tea, a few national and regional purveyors of the drink also call Madison home.
The first Bambū opened in 2008 in San Jose, California, with the intention of providing customers with Ché (a Vietnamese dessert drink), boba and juices that were unlike others offered in the Bay Area. Today, you can find a Bambū shop in 22 states and Canada, and in Madison on North Midvale Boulevard. Order from an extensive list of signature recipes or create your own by choosing your tea drink base — milk, fruit or blended — and adding an abundance of fresh flavors and toppings. Try the taro milk tea with boba for something sweet and slightly creamy, with the added Instagrammable quality being the beverage’s pastel purple hue. 550 N. Midvale Blvd., drinkbambu.com, 467-6626
Sencha Tea Bar
Starting as a chain in Minnesota, Sencha Tea Bar made its way to Madison and is a great introduction for bubble tea novices. Similar to most bubble tea vendors in the area, Sencha offers a variety of freshly brewed teas from international growers.Order plain or mixed with fruit concentrates, tapioca pearls and other add-ins. You’ll probably glimpse a lot of Badgers gear in the ordering line — the storefront on State Street is a popular spot for University of Wisconsin–Madison students to catch a caffeine break between classes. Be sure to check out the company website for tea blogs and other learning materials if this is your first bubble tea venture. 430 State St., senchateabar.com, 819-8012
Kung Fu Tea
The Kung Fu Tea franchise has evolved into one of the most recognized bubble tea companies in the U.S. and beyond, with more than 250 locations in America and more in Taiwan, Cambodia, Australia, Canada and Japan. The company prides itself on producing exceptional beverages based on a process derived from the core principles of kung fu — patience and discipline. The Kung Fu Tea menu is extensive, with classic and seasonal favorites alike. Every order is customizable with various flavors, toppings, sugar levels and ice levels, and the tea is freshly brewed every three hours. 449 State St., kungfutea.com, 819-8809
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