Three kittens drunk on milk. That’s how my girlfriends and I looked and felt at the end of our first shared bubble tea tasting this afternoon. I’ve been lazily postponing this meeting for quite a while, knowing that while being rather a novelty in old dear Bologna, there was no scoop in the sudden springing of boba shops around town: the rest of the world is already well aware of what a bubble tea, boba, or pearl milk tea is.
So what is it? Basically, something completely useless from a nutritional point of view (unless you’re experiencing a serious sugar drop) but fun. Especially in medieval, hyper-westener, provincial Bologna, where despite the sudden injection of tourism of the past three years it is still rather unusual to find little crowds of twentysomethings mostly from East and Sutheast Asia gathering around little cute shops while drinking from huge cups of mysterious milky drinks.
Ok, back to what is is, legend wants it the first boba (contraction of “bubble”, I guess?*) to be invented in Taiwan in the eighties, with two different cities, Tainan and Taichung, competing for creating the first ever mix of tea, milk and “bubbles” at the bottom to top it with some unusual flavor and some fun consistency. According to Wikipedia, “the oldest known bubble tea consisted of a mixture of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls (粉圓), condensed milk, and syrup (糖漿) or honey”. And this is what my friend Roberta got today at Ing Boba Tea on Via Nazario Sauro 28. We chose this freshly opened (two months in the market) location, attracted by the warm atmosphere inside and its creamy colours.
My choice was a lovely, truly lovely, but never ending, aka huge, matcha latte with azuki beans, while yoga pal Laura opted for a oolong with pudding, with the latter rather difficult to reduce in pearls like your overage bubble ingredients (tapioca pearls, fruit and grass jellies, agar jelly etc) but still great on the result. So yeah, our first shared tasting of “boba” was a success but I didn’t stop there. I did my research for you and here’s a list of other boba shops you can find around town.
Latthè, on Via Nosadella, was probably the first to open. It doesn’t seem to particularly mind the Taiwanese origin and identity of the drink and remains more West-oriented in flavours (lots of chocos and mokas and -cinos). But it was definitely the original and has been serving lattes the bubble way since 2014.
Flos Bubble Tea, on Via Caduti di Cefalonia, almost in a corner of Via Rizzoli, is the most central of them all. Taking the place of what used to be a sandwich and soup shop, it is small and cute, perhaps slightly darker and much more minimal than the previous two, and it is quite rare to see Italians inside, which I kind of enjoy, little provincial lady I am.
Then there is Trix Tea on Via Milazzo, by the train station. They praise themselves to have the best bubble tea in town but I haven’t tried it yet, so I’m waiting for someone more expert than me (aka anyone) to tell me how it is.
Not exclusively a bubble tea shop, super cute street food bistrot and café Koi, on Via Petroni, also has its inevitable selection of milk teas, as they’re called here. Whenever I pass it, I always stop to look at the beautiful drawing adorning the big blackboard taking one full wall of this little place in the heart of the university area.
Finally, I spotted a bubble tea menu in a very Italian, very traditional café on Via Guerrazzi (just next to my beloved Bar Maurizio): apparently also Caffè dell’Accademia started serving its own selection of bobas. This is the same bar that has a whole window devoted to the late Lucio Dalla, singer songwriter and Bolognese Icon. So we can say that we went full circle: Bologna is definitely embracing boba culture.
Do you have any more addresses to recommend? Anything I missed? Counting on you for the boba mapping. In the meantime, enjoy the bubbles. But not too many: I suspect they are not what a nutritionist would recommend. Also, they’ve been mentioned in a couple of food scandals.
*No I was wrong. At least according to this article, “boba” is just the taiwanese name of tapioca, and from there to rebranding it “bubble” it was just a matter of seconds.