For those who haven’t yet tried it, bubble tea is a sweet and cool blend of fruit-flavoured tea and chewy balls of tapioca. It originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s when the owner of a small tea stand near an elementary school added fruit flavouring to her cold drinks. The mix had to be shaken, which created bubbles in the beverage. A few years later, round tapioca pearls were added, and the concoction was renamed “bubble tea.”
Bubble tea quickly made its way to North America. Bubble-tea houses became cultural hubs where young people could hang out and socialize. At Edmonton’s Miss Saigon, owner Sonny Ng wants to build on this tradition of innovation and community.
While it has humble origins in the street food stalls of Taiwan, assembling bubble tea has become something of an art form. It is even offered in Michelin restaurants. And Ng wants Edmontonians to have an elevated bubble tea experience. Miss Saigon’s bubble tea menu includes milk tea, fresh fruit, and slush options, and customers can decide how much ice or sugar they want in their drink. Once the flavours are selected, the tapioca bubbles (also known as boba) are added — the pearls are similar to gummy bears, sweet and chewy — and the concoction is mixed together.
But mixing the drink is not the end of the experience. “Bubble tea is popular among young people because it is a cultural thing,” says Ng. Groups gather for a drink the way one might meet friends or family at a coffee shop or ice cream parlour (And Miss Saigon is open until 4 a.m. on weekends, making it the perfect place for dates and nights out).
For Ng, adding a Taiwanese treat to a Vietnamese menu is all about expanding the culinary community. Of course, Miss Saigon also serves its bubble tea in a reusable, bulb-shaped bottle that actually lights up. “Guests can take it home as a souvenir,” Ng says, “and we don’t charge extra! We take it to the next level.” Miss Saigon also sells fruit smoothies and juice alongside its bubble tea bar, all served in light-up glasses. Which makes meeting up with friends both a fun time and an Instagram moment.
At Miss Saigon, the Taiwanese treat known as bubble tea has evolved into a fun, friendly experience.