I'll never forget that first sip.
It was a pot of milky, sweet black sesame tea and I was sharing it with my small New York crew at St. Alps Teahouse, on Mott St., in Chinatown.
As the first cluster of inky, gelatinous balls hit my mouth, I recoiled from the tiny table. It was such an unexpected sensation- something chewy in a drink- and I couldn't quite wrap my head or palate around it.
But the very next day, at work in midtown, I was seized with an irrepressible urge around noon. I surreptitiously gathered my bag and coat and hopped on the train to Canal St., raced the several blocks east to the shop, ordered a cup of mango green bubble tea and then hustled right back to the subway. It took over an hour and a half, but as I gulped down bubble after bubble, I was strangely soothed. And addicted. Almond and coconut milk tea, taro, passionfruit; with the exception of plum (strangely reminiscent of a McRib), I loved every flavor I tried.
Now, bubble tea is all over the city (and St. Alps is under new management), so I don't often trek to Chinatown. But when I do make the special trip, it's always worth it. My new go-to is Ten Ren Tea Time (79 Mott St.), a claustrophobic cafe adjoining the venerable Chinese tea company shop. The flavors seem fresher, the balls chewier, and it's the only spot I've found that offers a matcha-based bubble tea, which has a lovely balance of strong, vegetal green tea and syrupy sweetened condensed milk.
On my most recent visit, I even tried a new flavor- jasmine- and was pleased to find my old love for bubble tea still aflame.
If only I could make it last more than two minutes.