Bubble tea expands its market in Thiruvananthapuram

The Kerala capital has many cafes selling the Taiwanese drink with tapioca pearls

Updated - March 17, 2022 04:05 pm IST

Published - March 17, 2022 02:59 pm IST

Bubble tea varieties at Cafe Boba Queen

Bubble tea varieties at Cafe Boba Queen | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It was the oversized straw in the drink that piqued my interest and then those chewy, small spheres that came shooting through it into the mouth. That was my first tryst with bubble tea in Thiruvananthapuram. During the pre-pandemic era, the Kerala capital had only a few cafes that sold the drink. But post the second lockdown, more have opened in the city expanding the city’s bubble tea fanbase.

Bubble tea at BAO-TAO in Thiruvananthapuram

Bubble tea at BAO-TAO in Thiruvananthapuram | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is Cafe Boba Queen near Vellayambalam junction, Bumble Bee, the food truck at Althara Junction and its sister concern, Cafe Club De, near Nanthancode and BAO-TAO at Kowdiar.

The highlight of bubble tea, originally from Taiwan, is the tapioca pearls/balls or boba. These small spheres made from tapioca starch are the bottom layer in the drink. While the classic bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea or boba tea worldwide, has black tea, milk/condensed milk and the bobas, now there are umpteen tweaked variations with no tea, wherein the bobas are put in smoothies, slushies and fruit-based or aerated drinks.

Cafe Boba Queen’s menu, for example, has snow bubble that are milk-based drinks with the bobas in them. The flavours include mango, kesar, rose milk, fig and honey, and butterscotch... “The fizzy mint bubble varieties are fruit-flavoured aerated drinks with bobas, while there are also yogurt-based drinks in fruity flavours. We also have ‘exotica’ made with imported fruit-based syrups. Instead of tapioca pearls, they have ‘popping bobas’, which are fruity juice gels that burst in your mouth,” says Aswathy L Mohan, who runs the place with her friend, Ganesh S. The exotica varieties include watermelon, mango, guava, pineapple, orange, lychee and green apple.

The latest addition to their menu is spicy poppie twists, which are sweet-and-spicy drinks with bobas in them. The flavours include passion fruit chilli, lemon sweet and salt, mango green chilli, pineapple chaat and guava chilli. “Among our tea varieties are macha made with the Taiwanese green tea, classic bubble tea that has the Indian tea flavour and different varieties of ‘fruit tea’, which have tea flavour and fruit syrups,” adds Ganesh.

Bubble tea varieties at Cafe Boba Queen in Thiruvananthapuram

Bubble tea varieties at Cafe Boba Queen in Thiruvananthapuram | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Experimenting with flavours

Not all people prefer the signature bubble tea with the tea base and that is why new flavours keep getting introduced, says Nandu Prasad, owner of BAO-TAO. “We have over 60 varieties on the menu and more will be added. The drink has universal appeal and we keep updating the flavours as and when the trend changes. Tiramisu, caramel popcorn and sweet potato are some of the new flavours that have hit the market,” he says.

Bumble Bee food truck at Althara Junction in Thiruvananthapuram serves bubble tea

Bumble Bee food truck at Althara Junction in Thiruvananthapuram serves bubble tea | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He adds that although the classic iced bubble tea is made using a shaker they prefer to use the blender since customers prefer it that way so that the drink has a smoothie-like consistency. BAO-TAO’s menu has bobas in milkshakes and popping bobas in fruit tea and slush. The boba-milkshake-cheese foam variety is a specialty and comes in flavours such as mango, passion fruit, raspberry, banoffee (banana, caramel, chocolate) and Oreo.

At Bumble Bee and Café Club De run by Kiran Kulathinkara, most of the drinks are coffee-based. Among the dozen flavours available are chocolate, guava, mango, strawberry, passionfruit, butterscotch and tender coconut. “Besides fruit syrups/pulps, we use powders also in the drink, as in the case of taro (a type of yam),” he says.

Popped up during the lockdown

Interestingly, all these ventures were launched during and around the second lockdown in 2021. “I used to run two tuition centres that had to be closed down due to the pandemic. I decided to invest in something new and that’s when the idea of bubble tea popped up. It is like a one-time meal and I have had it during my travels outside Kerala,” says Kiran, who launched the Bumble Bee food truck in March 2021.

Aswathy L Mohan and Ganesh S who run Cafe Boba Queen

Aswathy L Mohan and Ganesh S who run Cafe Boba Queen | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For Aswathy, who has been running a successful baking venture (Dancing Oven by Ash), bubble tea came up as an option when she thought of branching out to a new venture. “With so many bakers out there I wanted to do something else as well. That was when my sister who is in Australia mentioned bubble tea and I wanted to give it a try. Ganesh, my batchmate from engineering college, was game for it and we went to Bengaluru to train, “ says Aswathy.

Chew the drink
Bobas or tapioca spheres are usually black in colour as they have brown sugar or caramel colouring added to them. If overcooked, they become mushy and if undercooked, they turn hard. Once they are cooked, run them under cold water to remove the excess starch. Keep it in brown sugar syrup to sweeten it.

They started as a cloud kitchen in March last year. “We had our apprehensions about its success and so we have delivered the drink personally on many occasions. There were days when we got not more than 10 orders. But gradually people started warming up to it and we started getting more orders, thanks to our friends and social media. It was our customers who inspired us to open this shop in December,” she adds.

Nandu Prasad K who runs BAO-TAO in Thiruvananthapuram

Nandu Prasad K who runs BAO-TAO in Thiruvananthapuram | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

For Nandu, BAO-TAO is more like an extension of his experience in running a construction and interior designing firm. “We have done the interiors of some food joints and food-related enterprises in Thiruvananthapuram and Bengaluru. Work-related travel had exposed me to different types of cuisine and eventually, I decided to step into the food industry with a novel product. That turned out to be bubble tea. With nothing much to do during the lockdown, I learnt more about it online. I started it as a takeaway venture in June as I had already imported big quantity of ingredients and couldn’t keep it for long,” says Nandu.

Kiran Kulathinkara with chef Suresh Pillai at the inauguration of Bumble Bee

Kiran Kulathinkara with chef Suresh Pillai at the inauguration of Bumble Bee | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Tapioca balls are imported from Taiwan. Indian companies are also manufacturing it. “We have found that imported bobas are better than the Indian ones. It applies to the syrups as well. The quality of the bobas and syrups determine the taste of the tea,” Nandu adds.

The drink comes in 300 ml, 350 ml and 500 ml bottles/cups and are priced from ₹90 onwards.

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