It doesn't look like the most appetizing drink in the world, with its large dark spheres resting ominously at the bottom of a transparent cup. The straw used to drink bubble tea needs to be extra-wide to accommodate those balls which, when they reach your mouth, have the unsettling consistency of gummi bears. But, for some, that's the appeal.
"It's kind of like drinking and eating at the same time," says Nicole Marotta, a 21-year-old sociology major from Brooklyn, who forsakes the other culinary offerings at Jasmine - a restaurant in Stony Brook University's Charles B. Wang Center - and makes a beeline for the bubble tea booth.
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Bubble tea is a drink with Taiwanese roots that mixes milk and/or fruit flavors such as honeydew with tea and tapioca pearls - flavorless small balls of starch derived from the root of a cassava plant that are boiled like pasta. It can be served hot or cold, which makes the drink "refreshing in the winter as well as the summer," says Sandy Murzin, a food educator and adjunct instructor at New York University. The tea is named after the foam on top created when the drink is mixed - shaken or stirred.
Novice drinkers beware: the pearls shoot into your mouth as you suck up the tea. "The first time someone tastes it, they're like 'Whoops!' " says Murzin. "It's fun."
Bubble tea connoisseurs seem to revel in the novelty.
"It makes you feel like you're not getting a normal drink," says Caroline Carr, 15, of Manhasset, while awaiting a taro bubble tea at Kiss'o Japanese Cuisine in New Hyde Park. "It gives you a better understanding of different cultures and it's very cool."
Susan Morgenlander, a nursing student from Oceanside, agreed. "It feels special," says Morgenlander, 18, looking at her lychee-flavored drink. "I wish they would open more bubble tea stores on Long Island!"
WHERE TO FIND IT:
Info: 12 N. Franklin St., Hempstead, 516-481-9876; $3.50
The Asian supermarket's food court offers bubble tea alongside pastries, Peking duck and lo mein. Flavors include longan - a succulent, sweet fruit with the texture of a firm, yet chewy melon that added contrast to the gelatinous pearls. Pear coconut marries coconut milk and pear with grainy green pearls and larger soft ones.
Info: 1532 Union Tpke., New Hyde Park, 516-355-0587; $3.50
With about 10 bubble tea flavors, Kiss'o makes teas to order in cocktail shakers at its bar. Most are made of hot water and a powder mixture or fruit syrups, says manager Julie Chang. Black tea is available by request.
Pomegranate bubble tea is tart but not overly sweet. There's also a fruity tasting papaya.
Info: 10 Grace Ave., Great Neck, 516-708-9880; $3.80-$4.55 with pearls ($3.25-$4 without)
Owner Dan Hom serves more than 15 varieties of bubble tea and offers tapioca pearls, jellies and pop pearls with flavors that gush out when bitten. Patrons choose black or green tea brewed with fresh loose tea leaves. This cafe uses fruit puree, which includes actual bits of fruit, instead of just fruit syrup. Among the flavors: A crisp kiwi and zingy kumquat served with lime.
This Chinese restaurant serves mango, coconut, almond and other bubble tea flavors.
Serves strawberry, passion fruit, blueberry and other flavors.
Info: 180 Rte. 25A, East Setauket, 631-751-2299; $3.50
This Japanese sushi restaurant serves chocolate, taro, red bean and other tea flavors.
Info: 14 Northern Blvd., Great Neck; 516-498-1888; $2 for carryout; unlimited tea included for dine-in buffet patrons.
The buffet serves hot bubble milk tea and hot sweet potato tea, and cold teas such as red bean with coconut and pink tapioca with jelly.