Boston Tea Party Part 2: Bubbling through Chinatown

A milk tea in Kung Fu Tea in Davis Square is pictured on Sept. 29, 2019. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

Beyond Somerville’s Kung Fu Tea and Allston’s Teamoji, even more Boston-area bubble tea shops sit within a stone’s throw of each other in Chinatown. Among these stores, the newest addition to Chinatown’s bubble tea family is Pin Ming

Pin Ming, located at 5 Beach St, Boston, opened in mid-June. Although it has been just over three months since its opening, the store has already garnered significant attention from the public for its drinks. 

Baristas Hoa Kim and Phi Nguyen of Pin Ming said that the name of the store translates in Chinese to “quality,” something the establishment is truly dedicated to. They said that Pin Ming has a goal of incorporating fresh ingredients to produce a higher quality of bubble tea compared to its competitors. 

“We want to bring healthy and fresh tastes to bubble tea,” Nguyen said.

Pin Ming might be appealing to bubble tea lovers who are trying to cut down on their consumption of artificial sugar, as it serves teas brewed with natural sugar.

“A unique thing here is that we also use fresh fruits from local Boston sources so some of our drinks don’t need sugar. We just use fruits,” Nguyen said.

Kim emphasized Pin Ming’s chia seed series, another notably healthy spin on bubble tea. She noted that chia seeds are remarkably good for your health, packing a significant amount of nutrients along with very few calories. Pin Ming utilizes these unique qualities of chia seeds to create unique drinks like chia lemon grapefruit tea and chia passion fruit tea.

Among the drinks on the menu, the best seller is the dirty boba milk tea. With accents of brown sugar and other secret ingredients, the baristas said dirty boba milk tea is a go-to drink for regulars due to its popular sweet and creamy taste. 

Another popular option on the menu is the Pin Ming taro boba tea. While other bubble tea shops have their own version of taro milk tea, Pin Ming baristas stated that they raise the bar in terms of style and flavor, incorporating real taro into the drink. Baristas coat the interior of the cup with a thin layer of fresh taro puree before adding tapioca pearls and taro milk tea. 

When asked about their personal favorite drinks on the menu, Kim noted how Nguyen makes herself a fresh black grape tea every day. “She never seems to get sick of it,” Kim said.

Kim’s favorite, on the other hand, is the peanut butter banana slush. Comprised of fresh bananas and lots of peanut butter, Kim acknowledges how not everyone can have this drink — yet said that those who do not have peanut allergies always end up liking it after they try it. 

Tufts first-year and Somerville resident Henry Zou is a fervent lover of food and bubble tea. He has spent many years trying all of the various bubble tea stores across the city. 

“I mainly go to four places for bubble tea,” Zou said. “Gong Cha, TeaDo, Royal Tea and TBaar.”

His personal favorite out of all of them? Royal Tea.

“They have really good brown sugar, and really good oolong milk tea which is my favorite. Royal Tea has the best bubbles, with the perfect size, texture and chewiness.”

When asked to compare some of the many bubble tea shops in Chinatown, Zou said that although Gong Cha is not his favorite, “they have really good milk teas and strawberry teas.” 

Zou said that TeaDo, also located in the heart of Chinatown, has a great atmosphere, complete with tables and board games to keep customers busy. In contrast, he said that he sees Gong Cha as offering more of a “grab-and-go” setting.

“Gong Cha is a great place for bubble tea, it just doesn’t have the best setup,” Zou said.

By providing extensive options for add-ons to drinks, some bubble tea chains work to set themselves apart. Gong Cha’s options include white bubbles; unlike black tapioca pearls, white bubbles are made from gelatinous agar jelly, with a texture more closely resembling a firm version of jello than traditional gummy-like tapioca pearls. 

In addition to white bubbles, Gong Cha has recently started to offer strawberry bubbles. Similar to white bubbles, the strawberry bubbles are packed with hints of strawberry flavoring, an add-on that complements  Gong Cha’s strawberry drink series. 

When asked about a notable bubble tea experience he had in the Boston area, Zou shared a unique option at TBaar, located on 1038 Beacon Street, Brookline. 

“In TBaar you can split your bubble tea. Half of your cup is split, so for instance you can have brown sugar milk tea with bubbles on one side and then have lychee tea with lychee jelly on the other side,” Zou said.