One of the best things about being a food blogger is the opportunity to try some of the more weird and wonderful food and drinks on offer, many of which I’d have previously remained unaware! One such example was a recent invitation to sample the wares of Bubblebase, a new outlet in the Queen’s Arcade in Cardiff (in the St David’s link), selling Taiwanese Bubble Tea and fat-free frozen yogurt.
I have to admit to never having come across bubble tea before. Despite there being over 10,000 outlets in Taiwan, it’s relatively rare in Britain. But sure enough, since tweeting about the tasting I went to, I’ve had excited replies from quite a few enthusiasts, who have tried the tea abroad and are thrilled to now be able to buy it in Cardiff.
Bubblebase brings bubble tea to Wales for the first time, and is the brainchild of owner Kishan Varsani, who tried bubble tea on a trip to America and became hooked. His enthusiasm quickly led to his spotting a gap in the market in the UK, so he set out to open Bubblebase. Kishan and his manager and best friend Geraint gave me and several other bloggers a talk on the different teas available and how they are made, and let us try a variety of different options.
Bubble tea is certainly not for the indecisive, as the range of flavours, toppings and combinations available at Bubblebase is mind-boggling – Kishan told us that there are some 800 possible combinations.
Drinkers first choose their base – there are fruity or milky options, then choose a tea for it to be infused with, from a range including Ceylon black, green jasmine, roast Oolong and the delicious sounding toffee black. Then comes the really fun part – choosing your toppings (although they sink to the bottom, but bottomings doesn’t sound too tempting!) The traditional topping is classic tapioca – a natural, starchy grain, which in this case is soaked in water and a little sugar to make it sweet and then dropped into the drinks. Also available are jelly ‘pobbles’ – natural jelly capsules filled with fruit juice or yogurt – and fruit flavoured jellies, some made from coconut (although they don’t taste of coconut but rather of whichever fruit they are flavoured with) and some made from agar. All of the products are natural and suitable for vegetarians, and all bar the milky drinks are suitable for vegans too. The choice doesn’t stop there, however – you can also have your drink hot, cold, or blended with ice to make slush. The possibilities are endless!
We tried a range of different tea and topping combinations. Surprisingly, I found the original milky base (which is already infused with tea so doesn’t need one adding) topped with classic tapioca to probably be my favourite. The tea was sweet without being sickly – a bit like a chai latte – and although the tapioca certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste (I can imagine some people even being put off by its appearance or by memories of school dinners if they are a 70s child like me!) I really enjoyed the texture it gave. The drinks are served with a thick straw which is wide enough to accommodate the tapioca, pobbles and jellies, and it is a bit of a strange sensation to be drinking something and then to find something in your mouth that you need to chew – but I can imagine one of the milky drinks with a tapioca topping being a lovely warm, sustaining drink and snack combined on a cold winter’s day.
We also tried a fruity mango base with mango pobbles. I wasn’t sure about the pobbles – I loved the ‘pop’ sensation in your mouth as they burst and release their juice, but I wasn’t so keen on the texture of the jelly shell that remains on your tongue for a moment before dissolving, and they did remind me a little of bath pearls (again, children of the 70s will be familiar with these). I did enjoy a milky strawberry base with yogurt pobbles, however, and can imagine I’d enjoy some of the other milky options too (banana crème caramel particularly caught my eye!) Other tasters were fruity apple tea with apple jelly (this tasted like Apple Sourz, which I haven’t had for years, but got us talking about the possibility of alcoholic bubble tea with vodka pobbles!) and a hibiscus base with red tea and strawberry jelly. The jelly toppings were reminiscent of the texture of strawberry laces and all had a strong fruity taste.
Kishan also made us one of his ‘specials’ – a Tropical Paradise, which included fruit jams, jelly, fruit tea and basil seeds (which bore more than a passing resemblance to frogspawn!) It looked like a very unusual concoction, and again had that odd combination of liquid and solid going on. Personally I wasn’t too keen on some of the textures involved, but it certainly had a lovely mix of flavours.
Many of the ingredients and teas are imported from Taiwan, so you are certainly getting the authentic experience.
I also loved the technology at Bubble Base. I wanted to take home the automatic cocktail shaking machine (all the drinks are shaken for 20 seconds but it’s done on a fantastic machine, of which I’ve never seen the like before!) and there’s another machine that seals all the drinks – so you can take them home if you can manage to get them that far without being tempted! There’s even a special tea blender which brews your tea really quickly (and doesn’t tear up the bag, which was my immediate thought when I saw Kishan putting it in a blender!) The blender, and to a lesser degree the shakers, are behind the name of the tea, as the blending or shaking produces a thick layer of bubble on top of the tea. I’d thought that the name came from the pobbles or tapioca beads in the drink, which look a bit like bubbles – but I was wrong!
The drinks only come in one size, so the pricing structure is simple at £3.00 each, with premium ingredients attracting a small extra cost. Bubblebase also offers frozen yogurt with a range of healthy and not so healthy toppings, so even if you’re not feeling adventurous enough to try the tea, perhaps you could be tempted by the yogurt. There’s no space to eat or drink ‘in’, but the drinks and yogurt are a nice ‘on the go’ refreshment, either on a lunch break or during a busy day’s shopping. I see the teas as a very sociable thing – with so many different options available, if you go with friends you’re bound to all have something different and want to compare notes on your choices. And of course there’s the novelty factor too – it’s always good to try something new!
I think Bubblebase is an exciting new addition to Cardiff’s food and drink scene, and certainly offers an unusual alternative to the proliferation of coffee chains in the area, with its unique combination of a drink and snack in one. Kishan has clearly put a lot of thought and research into the business and has developed a great brand that is eye catching and fun. Kishan is a true entrepreneur – he’s spotted a gap in the market, and has really thought through his business idea before jumping in with both feet, so I am confident Bubblebase is here to stay. Not all of the drinks and combinations will be to everyone’s taste, but I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked some of them, and I’ll definitely be going back in my lunchbreaks to try some different concoctions! Despite our comprehensive tasting session, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the endless possibilities of bubble tea! With 800 on offer, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Bubblebase has something for everyone.
I attended the Bubblebase tasting as a guest and as such my samples were complimentary. Thank you to Golley Slater Wales and Bubblebase for inviting me.