As you may have guessed from the title, I love bubble tea. I used to have it on a near-daily basis when I interned near a Koi Thé outlet. My metabolism doesn't allow that nowadays, but I still make it a point to try different bubble tea chains in my quest to find good bubble tea. Which, as I've learned the hard way, is limited mainly to Taiwanese chains (though I would happily patronize a Japanese chain if I knew of a decent one). There's at least 5 different brands/restaurants scattered around the station, which made it a convenient location.
I drank plain milk tea as much as possible, if it was available, because I believe that good bubble tea should be able to stand on its own without extraneous flavours. However, it's possible that the chains are famous for particular flavours that I don't know about, since it was my first time trying many of them. If sugar level is customizable, I pick 50%. I like milk teas that are smooth and don't have overly strong flavours, like being too milky. Most of the bubble teas here cost around 500Y.
- Gong Cha
If you're familiar with the bubble tea situation in Tokyo, you've probably heard of the insane queues that Gong Cha attracts (up to 90 minutes). It's personally my favorite chain in Tokyo. Globally, it's probably one of the more famous Taiwanese chains. I drank it a lot back home, so it's also the one I'm most familiar with. I usually drink their green milk tea, since they don't have a default milk tea. They have a few seats outside the store.
Good: Milk tea has a strong flavour. Tapioca has good texture. Good portion size. Other flavours are also good, like milk foam.
Bad: Potentially very long queues.
2. CoCo 都可
Another big Taiwanese chain. Their Tokyo outlets are scattered mainly around Shinjuku and Shibuya. No seats.
Good: The Shinjuku Alta branch comparatively doesn't have as much foot traffic, since it's in the basement of a mall, so the queues aren't too crazy (I queued for about 10mins on a weekend afternoon). Milk tea flavour is good. Good portion size.
Bad: Tapioca is hard and chewy.
Not strictly a Taiwanese chain in that it originated from Japan, but they do sell Taiwanese desserts in addition to bubble tea. This one is actually a proper cafe, so you can relax and enjoy your bubble tea (though the seating is not that comfortable, since much of it is high stools). They even serve free and high-quality oolong tea.
Good: Seating space. Tapioca has good texture. Queue time for bubble tea isn't too bad, based on a weekend evening (around 10mins).
Bad: Milk tea was a little too milky for my liking. Potentially long waiting time for seating.
Based on the Google Maps images, I was expected Taiwanese food and seating, but the one at Lumine Est is in fact takeaway only (with 2-3 seats inside the outlet). They have outlets scattered around central Tokyo.
Good: Milk tea flavour is good. Tapioca has good texture. Queue time for bubble tea isn't too bad, based on a weekend evening (around 10mins). The person taking orders spoke English. Good location (next to a JR entrance).
Bad: Small portion size. Menu is more limited compared to other chains (but then again, it's not like I've tried the non-milk tea options anyway).
5. The Alley Lujiaoxiang
I always see long queues here when I pass through Shinjuku Station. I have a few coworkers who swear by this chain. I tried their Royal No. 9 tea. A colleague ordered it to our office, so I haven't been to the Shinjuku branch itself. No seats.
Good: Tapioca has good texture. Good location (next to the Toei subway entrance).
Bad: Milk tea flavour was weaker than normal. Based on the reviews, expect 20-30min queues. Portion is slightly smaller than what you would get at CoCo.
6. Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea
This one has fewer outlets than the other big chains. When I went on a weekday afternoon, there were mostly schoolgirls in the queue. There are 5-6 seats inside the outlet.
Good: Milk tea flavour is good. Tapioca has good texture.
Bad: Expect long queues (20mins).
If time was no object, I would pick Gong Cha every time. If I needed to grab something quickly, I would pick 春水堂. 台湾甜商店 is the only actual cafe, so it's a good option if you want to go with a group.