After hearing about the upcoming opening of British tea company Bubbleology at Buckhead’s Lenox Square, the news sparked my interest in bubble tea. I tried it years ago in college but hadn’t taken a sip since. I was inspired by the big British chain’s entrance into the American market (Georgia and Florida being the U.S. guinea pigs), and decided to check out Atlanta’s bubble tea scene.
But before we head out to our fave tea spots, let’s define and examine what bubble tea actually is. The beverage originated in Taiwan and gained a huge following in Asia, Africa and throughout the world as its popularity headed west. “Bubbles,” “boba,” “pearls” are all pretty much synonymous terms for the round tapioca balls sitting at the bottom of a hot or cold glass of fruit or milk tea. Bubble tea comes with an extra wide straw to suck up these chewy pearls — so be ready for a party in your mouth while enjoying your tasty tea. You can get other toppings, as well, mentioned below, but for the sake of consistency, I only selected traditional tapioca balls in different flavored milk teas. Plus, just remember that you can usually adjust the sweetness and ice of your choice, as well — just tell the barista before he or she starts brewing your order.
Dump that boring cappuccino and skip the Southern sweet tea — it’s time to take a walk on the wild side of beverages.
Atlanta Bubble Tea
798 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta • (404) 835-2009
If you’ve never tried bubble tea before and don’t know much about ordering a glass, I suggest hitting up Honey Bubble. The super chic tea spot has an amazing staff that takes the time to explain flavors, good pairings and they’ll even give you a small sample to make sure you’ll enjoy what you order.
I went with the most popular drink on the menu — Honey Bubble’s Signature Royal Milk Tea, with tapioca pearls. The drink, $4 for a medium, was seriously delicious and I totally get why it’s the bestseller. Other milk tea flavors, like salted caramel, coconut palm and papaya, did sound tempting, but I didn’t want to go too far out of my comfort zone. Besides the milk tea, Honey Bubble sells clear bubble tea, premium loose leaf teas and ayuverdic teas (those blends used as a form of alternative medicine to help with increasing energy, bettering metabolism and cleansing the body).
I enjoyed every moment of my time at Honey Bubble — reading about the history of bubble tea (a factual mural that covers the wall where you wait to order), speaking with the barista about what I might enjoy, tasting some samples (aloe vera toppings are NOT my thing), stabbing my gigantic straw through the sealed plastic top and drinking my first sip of this cool treat.
1000 Northside Drive NW, Atlanta • (404) 464-5024
The dimly lit Bubble Cafe has a cool, club-like atmosphere that seems more like a bar than a tea house. But when I skimmed the extensive menu, I was happy to see all the different traditional and not-so-traditional options available. And like Honey Bubble, the staff was super helpful about recommending some good choices. As mentioned earlier, for the sake of consistency, I stuck with the milk tea varieties (a sweeter, slightly heavier version of the clear teas).
I went with the Jasmine Matcha, complete with honey bubbles, and was pleasantly surprised. This tangy concoction that cost $3.49 for a medium ($4.49 for a large) was pretty to look at and even better to drink. Other milk tea flavors include pumpkin pie, Thai, almond and more. And if standard boba are too passe, try other toppings like green apple jelly and lychee jelly. I’m definitely coming back to try the fruit tea slush, made with either black or green tea in flavors like mango and kiwi strawberry. And if those tapioca balls aren’t making a dent in your appetite, Bubble Cafe also sells packaged snacks (some authentically Asian), as well as baked goods.
2072 Defoors Ferry Road NW, Atlanta • (404) 609-5533
Many of the bubble tea spots I’ve mentioned are similar to the American coffeehouse — options of hot or cold teas, desserts and small snacks. Some even serve coffee, as well. However, Ssam Burger reminds us of what it might be like walking the streets of Taiwan, having the accessibility to bubble tea around every corner. That’s because this full-on restaurant focuses on food — they just happen to serve bubble tea on the side, to pair nicely with the fare. Ssam Burger zeroes in specifically on, you guessed it, burgers, with tasty specialties like the Seoul (Korean BBQ and house sauce) and the Crazy Ninja (fried chicken Katsu, tomato wasabi slaw and spicy Katsu sauce).
Though I really would’ve loved taking a burger break, I focused on the task at hand and ordered the Thai milk bubble tea. Again, I vowed to try a different type of milk tea at each spot I hit, so I let the staff recommend their top picks. The Thai selection is a bit sweeter than my taste buds prefer, but it’s the perfect drink for those who like their beverages closer to a dessert. Other flavors that caught my attention were honeydew and red velvet, with interesting toppings like coffee jelly and mango popping pearls.
Ssam Burger is in an unassuming strip mall off the corner of Collier and Defoors Ferry roads, so you just have to keep an eye open if you’re going to stop by for a burger and bubble tea.
5090 Buford Hwy. NE, Doraville • (770) 455-6688
As my search for the tastiest of Atlanta’s bubble tea continued, the obvious spot to further my quest was Buford Highway. This stretch of road is home to some of the most diverse communities in the city — just drive through the BuHi neighborhood, and you’ll see whole shopping centers dedicated to tastes and styles of ethnic groups; where anyone who is looking for authentic ties to Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, China, Taiwan or Central America can feel momentarily like they’re across the world. This area of town became home to many immigrants and second and third generations who now share their customs and traditional foods with the rest of Atlanta. I’ll say it this way — you will never go hungry or want for anything while strolling through gloriously diverse BuHi.
First on my BuHi bubble tea stops was Quickly, one of the biggest bubble tea franchises in the world. Quickly started in Asia and rapidly grew in popularity in Europe, Africa and now in the United States, with lots of franchises, specifically in northern California. The Quickly I visited isn’t full of heavy design or high-tech electronics — it just has an extensive menu from a brand that’s very well known around the world.
I got a small Tapioca milk tea with boba ($2.75), which is tapioca-flavored tea on top of tapioca balls. I enjoyed the drink, but I prefer a stronger, slightly less sweet flavor somewhere in the green tea family. The other milk tea flavors sounded enticing — coffee, pudding, sweet taro — as well as the toppings (I hadn’t seen grass jelly or egg pudding before). Besides all the bubble tea, Quickly has other great “drinks,” like snow bubble (think thin milkshake or a milk tea without the tea), slushies and smoothies.
Plus, you can order tasty snacks with your beverage, like Taiwan fish balls or octopus balls ($3.25 for five). Quickly is where you go to grab your drink and a small snack and be on your way — nothing too showy about the shop, just a great place to stop and wet your whistle.
5280 Buford Hwy., Doraville • (770) 455-8585
If you leave Quickly and walk about 10 minutes down Buford Highway, you’ll make it to Kung Fu Tea, another bubble tea chain, headquartered in New York. This tea shop is slick, modern and definitely a hangout with BuHi residents and customers looking for a refreshing drink. The staff was super helpful when recommending the popular drinks, and I had to go with the overwhelming favorite: Golden Oolong milk tea with bubbles (medium/$3.25, large/$4). I’m not sure if I’m the only one who gets an overwhelming satisfaction from stabbing my larger-than-life straw through the plastic seal, but once I do that and then get to drink the milky tea, I’m a happy girl. I really enjoyed the Golden Oolong tea, as it was a relaxed, neutral flavor, and chewing the bubbles is always an added bonus.
Kung Fu Tea might not have much when it comes to snacks, but their drink menu is quite extensive. Besides other milk tea flavors, like almond and winter melon, as well as fruit teas that include passion fruit green tea and sunshine pineapple, customers can try a KF Wow Milk (homemade bubble tea and lactose-free milk) or a KF Slush in flavors like mung bean, Ovaltine and strawberry milk.
5150 Buford Hwy., Doraville • (470) 545-2585
Two other locations in Midtown and Duluth
In between Kung Fu Tea and Quickly, you’ll spot the telltale purple and pink swirls of Sweet Hut Bakery. This local bakery/coffee and tea spot has two other locations, but since I love discovering new places along the BuHi corridor, I’ll always default to the Doraville spot.
Warning: If you are on a diet or can’t eat sugar/carbs/fat, bring a snack with you or just maintain tunnel vision because Sweet Hut Bakery’s name says it all — this is like the Disney World of delicious baked goods. Besides standard fare like doughnuts, tarts and fruity danishes, you can choose from more exotic baked goods like red bean pastry (a ball of crust filled with sweet red bean paste) or Madam Pie (a Cantonese pastry filled with candied wintermelon, almond paste, sesame seeds and five spice). On the savory side, try the Black Pig (black-hued bread flavored with squid ink and filled with bacon, garlic butter and cheese) or Seaweed & Bacon Roll (bacon, lettuce and dough wrapped in a sheet of seaweed). And all these snacks are super affordable … which is good (but bad if you’re trying to maintain some type of waistline).
But I digress — the snacks were a bonus, but I came for the bubble tea. I ordered a regular Jasmine Green tea with boba ($3.25) and LOVED it. This was probably my favorite drink of this article and I believe will be my bubble tea of choice in future orders. In addition to the many bubble tea flavors and the other traditional Asian beverages, Sweet Hut Bakery’s menu also featured energetic boosts (like chia hibiscus lemon tea) and frappes (in flavors like caramel de leche and mint chip).
There are lots of other great places to get a good bubble tea (Buford Highway alone has lots of options) in Atlanta. Just keep your eyes, and mind, open to this sweet alternative to the standard coffee drinks we see all over the place. Bubble tea will make your taste buds float on air and thank you for the delicious treat!