Bubble tea, now both a cultural and culinary phenomenon, burst onto the scene in Japan seemingly overnight. Originating in Taiwan during the 1980s, the drink can now be found virtually anywhere and everywhere. Those little black pearls — devoid of all nutritional value but oh so delicious — are the topping behind the craze currently sweeping the nation. Interestingly, the majority of popular bubble tea chains that currently exist in Japan were introduced in 2017, showing just how far the bubble tea boom has come in recent years.
Nowadays, it seems like bubble tea is available on every street and splattered on everybody’s Instagram accounts, so it’s only natural to take a look at and count down the most delicious (and completely underrated) stores to try out in Tokyo. Forget bubble tea giants Gong Cha, Chatime, CoCo and Pearl Lady, here are five stores that are seriously worth lining up for (and in most cases, no lining up necessary).
Toki Seven Tea is a gem so undiscovered that its online presence beyond Google Images is almost nonexistent. Nevertheless, Toki Seven proves to be one of the better small tea stores in Tokyo. Toki Seven is committed to serving delicious tea in large sizes that are more than reasonably priced, while also providing a ‘visually enjoyable space’ for customers to sit and sip away. However, with all of these great features comes a catch… Toki Seven’s stores are usually located in narrow alleyways which often go unnoticed by passersby who aren’t looking hard enough. If you do decide to hunt down any of these stores, don’t forget to have Google Maps on hand when you do.
1. TOKI SEVEN TEA AMEYOKO, Ueno, 4−1−8, Taito-ku
2. TOKI SEVEN TEA Sugamo Store, 3-19-13, Sugamo, Toshima-ku
3. TOKI SEVEN TEA KAWAMURA bldg, 23-11 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku
TikTea is an absolute personal favorite and definitely one of the lesser-known bubble tea chains operating within Tokyo, with a reputation for serving plump, sweet pearls that are unlike its competitors. All of TikTea’s stores are relatively quiet and seem to be known only by those local to the area. One store in particular often has no line and no wait time, despite being a short five-minute walk from the University of Tokyo. Being a smaller scale chain doesn’t prevent TikTea from serving just as many, if not more tea flavors than its larger competitors. If you enjoy larger-than-life pearls and flavors galore, this store is an absolute must-visit. Be sure to check its official website listed below for store locations, menu and pricing.
1. TikTea, VI101 Eternal Note, 3-30−13, Kameari, Katsushika-ku
2. TikTea, Atlas bldg 1F, 4-1-6 Hongō, Bunkyo-ku
3. TikTea, 2-1-10 Nakazato, Kita-ku
Perhaps one of the more premium bubble tea chains, it seems as though the people behind Alfred Tea aren’t only known to make incredible bubble tea, they are also known for their sense of design. Alfred Tea store interiors are celebrated for their aesthetically pleasing decor, featuring some of the most Instagram-worthy backdrops for the drink photos you’re going to be taking and trust me, they’re so photogenic that you won’t have a choice. A combination of great design and even greater bubble tea is what lands Alfred Tea onto this list, and with stores located in Tokyo, Osaka and Los Angeles, this tea room is slowly expanding its reach. All of Alfred Tea’s store locations, menu items and pricing are available on its website.
1. ALFRED TEA ROOM (Aoyama), 5−51−8 La Porte 1F 2F, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
2. ALFRED TEA ROOM, Junkyard 2F, 4−26-28 , Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
3. ALFRED TEA ROOM LUMINE EST 1F, 3−38−1, Shinjuku-ku
One of the better-known chains on this list, The Alley has spread to a number of major cities throughout Northeast and Southeast Asia, Oceania and North America in recent years, developing at a fast rate and eclipsing its closest rivals in the process. The Alley has successfully achieved a high level of international interest through the use of attractive advertising and branding. When visiting a store, it’s easy to see the visual appeal. The dark vibe and visuals The Alley boasts are what have allowed the emerging tea giant to surface as one of the top up-and-coming chains to emerge in such a highly competitive market. Whether you’re in Tokyo or travelling abroad, with so many store locations, chances are there’s a store near you.
1. The Alley, 1-7-11 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku
2. The Alley, 1-35-16 Ebisu nishi, Shibuya-ku
3. The Alley, 1-16-6 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
Existing long before the bubble tea craze erupted, Chun Sui Tang was first founded in Taiwan in 1983, and has since amassed 45 stores in Taiwan and has started to branch out overseas. Chun Sui Tang’s bubble teas typically have more of an authentic Taiwanese flavor, something the chain prides itself on. Chun Sui Tang’s use of high-quality ingredients is also signature to the chain: The tea leaves used are additive-free and the syrup is handmade in each store using original-blended materials. But that’s not all… the store’s extensive menu doesn’t exclusively offer bubble tea, select stores also serve genuine Taiwanese noodles. Because of this, some stores offer a dine-in option, so if you decide to stay and enjoy your meal and order bubble tea, it will be served in a glass rather than a plastic to-go. If you want to experience traditional bubble tea without needing to leave Japan, Chun Sui Tang is your go-to.
1. Chun Shui Tang, Claire Miki 4−28−11, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
2. Chun Shui Tang, Axis 209, 20-9, Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku
3. Chun Shui Tang, Ark Hills South Tower 1F, 1-4-5, Roppongi, Minato-ku