My BBT love

NTU student Mai Zhi Qi is almost never seen without a cup of bubble tea in her hand. The bona fide fan of the milky drink spills on her obsession and shows us how to make bubble tea pearls

by Chrystal Chan / Video by Ei Ei Thei / Photos by Don Tan

How do you identify a bubble tea (BBT) fan? By how many cups they drink a week or by their knowledge of each bubble tea outlet? Perhaps it is witnessing the lengths they go to for a cup. For second-year Nanyang Business School undergrad Mai Zhi Qi, it is all of these and more.

“My friends know I’m a huge bubble tea fan because whenever I hang out with them, I either have a cup in hand or I get them to queue up with me for a cup. Plus, I’m always posting about bubble tea on Instagram and got an almost perfect score in ‘bubble tea bingo’,” she says.

A fan of the drink since 2018, Zhi Qi says she didn’t get hooked right away. Instead, it only dawned on her that she had fallen in love with it when she realised she could “no longer live without it”, and found herself drinking up to two cups per day.

These days, her addiction to the pearly brew is much less pronounced. She gets by with one to four cups a week and will wait for the bubble tea queue to shorten before joining the line… unless her favourite drink is selling out, that is.

1. Which is your favourite bubble tea joint?

I’ve tried tea from around 20 chains. My favourite is a tie between LiHO and PlayMade.


2. If you could only drink two types of bubble tea for the rest of your life, what will they be?

LiHO’s milk green tea with brown sugar pearls and PlayMade’s SG milk tea with sesame pearls. At first, the sesame pearls tasted “weird”. Later, I realised I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Now I only order the sesame pearls.

Fun fact: I always ask for 0% sugar as the pearls are usually sweet enough.

3. How did you feel when you heard the bubble tea shops were closing during the circuit breaker?

I got the shock of my life. I was planning to head out in the afternoon for my usual fix when the terrible news came. I instantly dropped everything and rushed out in my shorts and slippers to try and get my last drink. But I didn’t make it! cry That’s when I decided to attempt making pearls myself.


4. What’s the most you are willing to pay for bubble tea?

I think the most I’ve paid for a cup is $8. It was from Machi Machi, apparently Jay Chou’s favourite BBT brand. I didn’t mind paying for it just once to try it out but I probably won’t drink it on a regular basis. I’d rather stick to my usual order, which is a lot cheaper and comes in a bigger cup too.

5. Have you ever not liked a cup of BBT?

Yes! I don’t like brown sugar milk tea, even with my favourite brown sugar pearls in them. I find the drink too sweet and it comes with a fixed sugar level.


6. What’s your most memorable bubble tea story?

When I was taking part in Mediacorp’s Star Search training, I was bent on buying a cup of bubble tea at the nearest BBT shop. However, most days, the shop would be closed by the time our last class ended. Then one day, the training ended early so I ran as fast as I could to get a cup, but of all days, the shop had closed early. I never was a huge fan of that brand, but I was obsessed with getting a drink there just because it seemed like we were star-crossed lovers. This story has a good ending though – I eventually got my BBT fix, just once!

How to make bubble tea pearls

Zhi Qi was caught off guard when the bubble tea shops were forced to close during the circuit breaker period. Undeterred, the BBT pearl enthusiast took matters into her own hands by making the chewy tapioca balls from scratch. We got her to show us her four-step brown sugar pearls recipe.

Step 1:

Add some black food colouring to one tablespoon of boiling water.

Step 2:

Add three tablespoons of tapioca flour gradually to the coloured hot water and mix.

Step 3:

When a pliable dough is formed, knead pieces from it with your hands to form small round balls.

Step 4:

Bring a cup of water to a boil on a stove. Add the uncooked pearls. After 10 minutes, pour in half a cup of brown sugar and continue cooking for another five minutes or until a thick syrup is formed.

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