Indulging excessively in bubble tea (something that is arguably unhealthy, and inessential to survival) is a guilt-inducing, yet incredibly satisfying process – but of course I can justify that the sacrifice (both in terms of health and finance) was worth it for the purpose of writing this review piece. 

What even is bubble tea?

Having grown up in China and Singapore, I have encountered a diverse range of what could be broadly considered to be “bubble tea”. In my experience, mainland Chinese bubble tea brands tend to be more maximalist and over-the-top; the ingredients and specialties also vary geographically within China, with each province possessing a signature brand: Hunan’s Cha Yan Yue Se (with its signature milk foam), Yunan’s Chagee (with a floral twist), Shenzhen’s Nayuki (catered to young, working women). Drinks are served like desserts, with a creative range of toppings that include but are not limited to tapioca and yam paste, flavoured mochi, cheese cream, ice-cream floats, green bean shaved ice and all sorts of seasonal fruits. This summer I had a memorable watermelon juice-infused jasmine tea at Chabaidao in Beijing, whereas last winter in Anhui my go-to order was the matcha cheese cream mochi bubble tea at the local provincial brand Comewonka. 

The main bubble tea chains in Singapore, however, are more focused on preserving the inherent taste of the tea and milk. Brands exported from Taiwan are popular – such as Chicha with their impressive array of tea leaves on display, or The Alley, Gongcha and Koi. The defining feature of these kinds of bubble tea is that I could always distinctly taste the organic flavour of tea amongst the ingredients – I know that there is actual tea in my order from the sleepless nights suffered as a result of underestimating the caffeine content of Gongcha’s earl grey milk tea, or Chicha’s oolong. 

Oxford, famously known as a “barren desert” for quality Asian food of all kinds, is certainly lacking in bubble tea diversity – though it is interesting to observe how bubble tea has become adapted to English taste buds. 


Strategically situated on High Street, Bubbleology is probably one of the first bubble tea shops that deprived, homesick Freshers would crawl into when craving their bubble tea fix. I was initially quite prejudiced against Bubbleology – their advertising and menu seemed too unauthentic. However, I have learnt to appreciate this place over the years – perhaps because my expectations were lower to begin with, their jasmine milk tea has never disappointed. Their impressive and innovative variety of colourful drinks, seasonal specials and cream toppings (including ones that are not tea-based) means that there is something for everyone. 

Though I would say their packaging could be sturdier – I once asked someone to bring back a cup from Bubbleology in the midst of an essay crisis, but tragically the entire cup was lost after a cyclist knocked into it while she was walking back. 

Formosan Bar 

Hidden in the back alley, Formosan Bar (as made obvious through the name) brands itself as authentic Taiwanese bubble tea to distinguish itself from fellow High Street competitors. Their interior decoration matches the branding – with an oriental aesthetic that includes a small tea room. I had higher expectations for Formosan, but I think there is nothing too special about their tea – having tried their Oolong milk tea twice in first year, something matcha-related in second year, and lemon juice jasmine tea (akin to the “duck poop tea” popular in China), my opinion is that the inherent tea-ness of their bubble tea is not on the same level as ones you would get in any good cafe in Eastern Asia. The positive reviews of the shop on Google seem to be oriented toward ambiance and customer service, which is certainly to the credit of the owners and workers there. 

Coba Bubble Tea (Covered Market)

Moving across the street into Covered Market, we come across Coba, a bubble tea shop that I have a love-hate relationship with. I do often feel like whatever I order there is suffused with sugar (where even is the taste of the tea!) I once tested the theory by ordering jasmine milk tea with no sugar, and the entire drink tastes like diluted iced water. On the other hand, the vibes of the cafe itself is impeccable (definitely one of the best in Oxford). They have a wide array of entertainment that would revive jaded university students, from chess, to Jenga, to customisable sticky notes. The choice of music also deserves a special shout-out; classic karaoke hits by Eason Chan and Faye Wong are good cures for homesickness.


Mooboo advertises itself as having “the best bubble tea in Britain”. Admittedly, I did have a phase where I would consistently purchase Mooboo’s savoury cheese green tea as the quality of the cheese foam is probably the most similar to ones back home (such as R&B tea). However, I would say that Mooboo has a similar issue as Coba and Chatimes – the flavour of the actual tea tends to be on the blander side, and is often overpowered by the overwhelming sugar content. The default sugar level for Mooboo’s chocolate milk tea, personally speaking, is too intensely sweet – the drink, for me, tasted neither of chocolate nor of milk tea, but generally of sugar. 


As another British bubble tea chain, Chatimes is perhaps similar to Mooboo in the sense that sugar is used to disguise the inherent blandness of the tea. I would still probably pick Mooboo’s cheese tea over Chatimes due to a personal preference of saltier cheese foam over sweeter, whipped cream topping. However, having recently tried their brown rice milk tea, I would say the slightly milder taste works greatly in its favour; the hint of roasted tea is nicely combined with that of milk.


I like Yifang (though its opening time at 12pm is incompatible with my daily 10am class) – partially because it is one of the few bubble tea places here that offers 30% sugar level. It is crucial, in my opinion, to have something between no sugar and half sugar, as someone who likes her bubble tea to be not entirely sugar-free but also not too sweet. The selection of toppings perhaps more closely resemble Taiwanese-style bubble tea brands in Singapore, with classics like grass jelly and taro balls (and not a fancy range of fruity popping pearls like Bubbleology). I would say overall Yifang offers a reliable and familiar taste – their tea is also potent enough for me. A special favourite of mine is also their sweet red bean milk tea, which would warm the cockles of your heart on a bleak winter day.

Bubble CiTea

I think Bubble CiTea is underrated! Tucked away at the far end of Westgate, I always feel like I am entering another dimension when trekking all the way inside. Despite the relatively fewer number of google reviews the shop has, it definitely sells bubble tea with the most potent tea flavour in all the bubble tea places I have sampled so far in Oxford. There is actual jasmine tea in their jasmine milk tea – I can say this confidently from the extensive caffeinated rush I get from drinking it. Their taro milk tea is definitely worth a try, not just for the pretty purple colour, but also the subtle taro bits present in the drink. I would recommend this place to anyone who drinks bubble tea and prioritises the taste of the tea, rather than other components.

There are definitely good places I’m missing out on – perhaps one day I will find the motivation to make the hike into Cowley for Incha (which is apparently the most mainland Chinese-style bubble tea in Oxford) or be curious enough to sample Fantasea. I will make that review another day.