Bubble tea (also known as boba, or pearl milk tea) was first invented in Taiwan, typically made with black tea, milk, sugar, and a generous helping of tapioca pearls. In Oxford alone, there are 5 bubble tea shops, so we (two Asians from Hong Kong) decided to compare and contrast them to give a definitive review of which bubble tea is the most value for your money. To standardise the taste test, we ordered a regular-size classic bubble tea from each shop, with regular sugar and ice, and had our ratings peer-reviewed by several members in college.
Chatime (6 Gloucester Street – just off George Street)
PRICE: £3.70 (50% off first drink with the Chatime app)
TASTE: Overall, this was a decent bubble tea – the tea had an artificial taste to it, and the bubbles a little on the chewy side, but still tolerable.
AMBIENCE: The shop on George Street was definitely meant for just takeaway – there was almost no seating available, and the place was small and basic.
COMMENTS: people in college accurately summarised it as “white people bubble tea” and “basic bitch bubble tea” – it was perfectly average, which is to be expected given that Chatime is a relatively popular global franchise. Apart from tea, Chatime also serves other drinks like fruit teas, creamy mousse drinks, coolers, and lattes, with 19 different toppings to choose from.
Coba (9 Cornmarket Street – in the Covered Market)
TASTE: This was on the worse end of the spectrum out of the 5 – the tea far too sweet and artificial, and the bubbles extremely hard and chewy with a weird chocolate aftertaste.
AMBIENCE: Similar to a mini cafe/restaurant, the shop was covered in colourful and cute decorations, with Polaroids and post-it notes all over the walls.
COMMENTS: One can also buy instant ramen and various Asian snacks here. Apart from tea, Coba also serves fruit juice, creamy mousse drinks, smoothies, and milkshakes. There are 12 flavours available.
Formosan (128A High Street – opposite the Wheatsheaf)
PRICE: £4.25 (20% off with OUCS or 10% with Oxford Union)
TASTE: This was a high-end bubble tea experience. The tea was flavourful with no aftertaste, and the bubbles were soft and larger than average.
AMBIENCE: The waiting area had very basic bar-style seating, but further in is a small Oriental Tea Room, which makes for a unique workspace. Also, the whole place smells of roasted tea, which adds to an already great atmosphere.
COMMENTS: Also serves peanuts and pistachios, as well as kombucha (fermented, bubbly, alcoholic sweet tea) on tap. Although there is less variety on their menu – only 3 types of tea and 3 toppings – they definitely make up for this in quality.
Fantastea (36 High Street – opposite University College)
PRICE: £3.85 (20% off with OUHKS or Oxford Union)
TASTE: This bubble tea was definitely of good quality: the tea was tasty, and the bubbles were nice and soft.
AMBIENCE: The shop is quite large compared to the others, with a great layout perfect for socialising or working in during the daytime. It was well-lit and clean, and had the most modern design overall.
COMMENTS: Apart from tea, Fantastea’s “cream crown” drinks are very popular, and they also serve various lattes, coolers, and fruit teas with 8 toppings to choose from.
QTea (116 Cowley Road – next to the Cowley G&D’s)
PRICE: £3.69 (cash only)
TASTE: By far the worst bubble tea. It was mainly the bubbles that made us dislike it – it had an awful aftertaste and ruined the taste of the tea itself once you let it sit for a while.
AMBIENCE: There were a few wooden tables and chairs and some basic decor, but otherwise there isn’t much to comment on.
COMMENTS: There are a variety of board games available to play for free. There are 13 flavours, 3 types of tea, and 4 toppings to choose from. QTea also serves fruit tea, or fresh tea without milk.
Highest quality of bubble tea: Formosan. You can’t beat real tea, the bubbles were a delightful experience, and it was probably the healthiest option too.
Best shop: Fantastea. It had the largest store and most well-designed layout – plus, it’s the most accessible given it’s in Central Oxford.
Most variety in menu: Fantastea/Chatime. Chatime has a dizzying selection of toppings, but Fantastea probably has better drinks options.
Best overall: Fantastea. Considering it’s only 6p more expensive than QTea, which was the worst out of the five, and 40p cheaper than Formosan while maintaining a similar quality, it is extremely worth it – especially if you can get a discount.