Bubble Tea (or ‘Boba’), named because of the tapioca pearls or ‘bubbles’ in them, has become a staple of the beverage scene in Australia. It’s hard to wander around Melbourne or Sydney without seeing a bubble tea joint: whether one of the major chains or a smaller operation. Indeed, for many, they are a bit like the milkshakes of the 50s.
Most have a menu with many different types and flavours: milk teas, slushy drinks, fruity teas, teas with yoghurt, cheese foam, Oreo crumbs, brewed, hot, cold – you name it, all with a dazzling array of ‘toppings’ (which usually sit on the bottom). To help people navigate this array of options, I’ve decided to compare the main bubble tea chains in Melbourne. I’ll be comparing the same product: standard milk tea with pearls with 50% sugar, to give a fair comparison. Each chain may stand out in other ways, and seldom is the standard milk bubble or pearl tea the best IMO, but I thought this would be the most fair way to compare them. So without further ado, here is the comparison.
One of the older chains (I’ve been told it basically was the only chain in town before Chatime and Gong Cha), Bubble Cup is distinguished by its range of fruit-flavoured and ice-blended teas. Strangely, the menu varies with each franchise, and in my opinion so does the quality. I went to my local Bubble Cup kiosk at Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, and ordered the closest thing to a standard: the ‘red pearl milk tea’.
I found it had an appealing reddish chestnut colour. It was a bit watery and thin, with a slightly nutty flavour, though the tea flavour didn’t stand out. The pearls were okay, not rubbery with a decent amount of bite. Best from Bubble Cup is the Lychee Oolong from the QV store.
Teaser is a relatively new chain that has expanded rapidly. Best known for their ‘Dirteas’: milk or tea with cream cheese foam, crushed Oreo ‘soil’, pearls and brown sugar. As per the comparison I got the standard pearl milk tea from the newly-opened Moonee Ponds franchise. Unfortunately, it was one of the more disappointing offerings. It was watery, thin and not very sweet. The tea flavour was weak and there was the distinct taste and aftertaste of creamer. Would definitely go for the ‘Dirtea’ instead if you ever go.
The ubiquitous Chatime (pronounced cha-time) is no doubt the Macca’s of bubble teas in Australia now. Through marketing and advertising they’ve managed to become very popular. However, I think they are one of the worst value for money chains now. Several people I’ve spoken to have lamented their quality has dropped too. I got the premium milk tea from Moonee Ponds. It was pale and not especially appealing, and the pearls were too chewy with no ‘bite.’ Felt like chewing tiny rubber balls. Weak tea flavour as well.
The clear competitor to Chatime, Gong Cha offers an even greater range. They have stores and kiosks all over Melbourne. The standard milk tea from the Footscray location is decent, and has a clean, neutral taste with a fragrant aroma with less of a prominent creamer taste (if you don’t get fresh or other milks). The pearls tend to be softer than Chatime or Teaser, which is good or bad depending on preference. I don’t mind softish pearls myself. I do also like the carboard cup holder if the drink is too cold. Personally the Oolong or fruit teas are my favourite here though.
A relative newcomer to Melbourne (compared to the others at least), Gotcha is nonetheless very popular, partly because of its ‘classier’ aesthetic and appealing pastel interiors. No surprise then it often features decorative cups, such as the Hello Kitty one pictured. The standard pearl milk tea (again Footscray) is decent, a little ‘muddy’ and malty, but also with the strongest and best tea flavour (they say they grow their own tea). It is a little thin and watery and at 50% is a fair bit less sweet than other places 50%. The black sugar pearls were chewy, pleasantly sweet but not too rubbery or plasticky.
Sharetea was started way back in 1992 in Taiwan, but arrived in Melbourne around seven years ago. The chain’s strongest items are its black sugar and Okinawa milk teas. The regular milk tea has a fairly recognisable tea flavour and a darker colour with a sort of coffee-like, nutty taste. It is however thin and watery and not very sweet. The pearls are smaller and quite chewy. The creamer tastes more natural without a powdery aftertaste.
Arriving around the same time as Sharetea, Coco is another global player. Recognisable by its orange storefronts, interiors, branding, and packaging. I find Coco teas are among the most thick and creamy, with a pleasing malty flavour. I found the 50% option quite sweet, though have had other flavours (e.g. the roasted milk tea) that are less so. The pearls are chewy and quite soft. Aside from the roasted tea, the mango, pomelo and coconut milk with sago is really good.
Here’s our list of Melbourne bubble tea ranked! What’s your favourite?