Dunkin’, Baskin-Robbins, and Sonic recently announced they’re offering new drinks based on bubble tea.
But bubble tea, or boba, is hardly a new phenomenon. The drink traces its roots to Taiwan in the 1980s, before taking the United States by storm more than a decade ago with its range of textures. In Michigan, Ann Arbor just can’t get enough of bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea, bubble milk tea, or boba juice) with shops opening and closing with regularity. Metro Detroit likes to get its fix, too, with long lines in Ferndale, and new stores in Plymouth and Dearborn in the last year.
There are dozens of variations of the drink, but at its core is a blend of tea, milk, and the trademark “bubbles” or small, chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. Favorite teas include honeydew, matcha, and bubble milk black or green tea with tapioca.
How popular is the drink? When Singaporean bubble tea shops were ordered to close temporarily to contain the spread of COVID, crowds rushed to get their last sips in and bid their favorite tea a temporary goodbye.
In the States, the bubble tea industry is forecast to grow by almost $2 billion, to $4.3 billion, by 2027.
Below is a list of places in metro Detroit you can find bubble tea.
Tou & Mai
The selections at this Cass Corridor shop are plentiful but lean toward the traditional. Toppings, which include tapioca pearls and coffee jellies, are all gluten-free and — except for the flan custard topping — vegan.
Tou & Mai also offers signature drinks, lattes, ice cream, macarons, and a small selection of imported Asian snacks, candies, and gifts.
4240 Cass Ave. Ste. 102, Detroit; no phone; website
Bubble Tea Parlour
The first bubble tea destination on the east side, the Bubble Tea Parlour has a ton of flavors to wet your whistle, served as smoothies, slushies, or over ice. They also have quite the selection of popping pearls: Think rainbow, passionfruit, or kiwi. If you want food to pair with your drink, there’s the Filipino waffledog, which is coated with waffle batter and cooked on a waffle machine; or an eggpod waffle, topped with powdered or cinnamon sugar, or chocolate.
A family-friendly place, there are often kids playing foosball, chess, or other board games here.
21012 Mack Ave. Grosse Pointe Woods; 313-926-6968; website
Z’s Bubble Tea
The Ashkar family opened their second bubble tea shop in April, taking up space inside State of Comics in Plymouth. (Their first Z’s Bubble Tea shop is in Dearborn Heights.)
To add to the fun, this shop crafts every drink made-to-order, with gluten-free and vegan options. In Plymouth, customers often request the taro coconut blended with tapioca, which also goes great in ice cream. There’s also a Red Bull boba here.
575 Forest Ave., Plymouth; 734-359-3375; website; 22000 Ford Rd. Ste. A, Dearborn Heights; 313-908-4835
Goldfish Tea Cafe
More than 40 loose-leaf teas are on the menu at this contemporary Chinese teahouse, but the sweet bubble teas are what most customers show up for. Besides carrying the traditional milk tea, Goldfish has smoothies and dairy-free options. Flavors range from hazelnut and honeydew to lavender and lime, with a head-swimming variety of popping pearls to customize to your taste.
The cafe frequently hosts live music and open-mic nights, a perfect ambiance for a sip and a sandwich.
117 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-541-5252; website
Kung Fu Tea
A New York-based chain, Kung Fu Tea is like the Starbucks of bubble tea, with a growing number of locations around the world. Devoted bubble tea drinkers will be pleased with the milk tea, and can add garnishes like crushed Oreo bits and pudding, or coffee. There are more than 3,000 drink possibilities. The signature drink, the Kung Fu milk tea, blends in Earl Grey and cane sugar. The winter melon is a palate- and crowd-pleaser.
There’s also a kid’s menu, caffeine-free lemonade and frozen slushies, and Kung Fu masks for sale, if you forgot yours.
2105 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-999-5928; website
Founded in the U.K., Bubbleology opened in Clinton Township in 2019 and launched a second location in Dearborn last fall.
Its claim to fame are its beautiful waffle cones, stuffed with creamy gelato, fresh fruit, or toppings, and sauces like caramel or raspberry.
The Mall at Partridge Creek, Ste. 141, 17420 Hall Rd.; Clinton Township; 2259 Michigan Ave, Dearborn; website
Bambu’s got about 30 bubble teas, Vietnamese coffee, smoothies, and juices, but the franchise’s forte is che, a Vietnamese sweet drink packed with beans, jellies, water chestnuts, and Southeast Asian fruits such as longan, jackfruit, and mango.
The helpful menus lead you to the perfect refresher, be it the Fruit Addict (lychee, longan, red tapioca, jackfruit, palm seed, agar agar jelly, pandan jelly, coconut, and coconut milk) or the Bambu Favorite (red tapioca, grass jelly, pandan jelly, and coconut milk). Of course, you could always create your own.
45152 Ford Rd., Canton; 734-328-1898; website; 30804 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-531-8989; website; 24676 Ford Rd., Ste B, Dearborn Heights; 313-982-7101; website
Kuma’s milk teas are made with whole milk or non-dairy creamer and served in a glass jar, as are its refreshing iced teas made with real fruit. You can taste the quality here. Take 10 percent off your next drink when you return the jar. You’ll receive a new one and Kuma will take the old one to wash and sanitize.
Sip your drink with some spicy tots slathered in Sriracha mayo and topped with a seaweed-sesame seasoning.
3594 15 Mile Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-883-9581; website
Detroit Bubble Tea
Even though it has a dizzying array of options, the always-popular Detroit Bubble Tea is a good place to go if you don’t know where or how to start. The signs guide you through choosing a size, flavor, drink type, and add-ins.
To get into the season, check out summer flavors like hibiscus, rose, or sour gummy worm.
22821 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-239-1131; website
Elias Majid started selling Eli Tea at Detroit-area farmers markets and local cafes in 2013. Two years later, he opened Eli Tea Bar in Birmingham, with a roster of 80 teas and tisanes. He’s since grown the cafe to include more than 100 varieties of tea from around the world.
108 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-825-8064; website
• A Guide to Ann Arbor’s Best Bubble Tea Shops [ED]
• All Drinks Coverage [E]