Holy tapioca! Here's a real gem of drink

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Holy tapioca! Here's a real gem of drink

Tired of Starbucks?

Well, drop the coffee shop habit and forget the frappaccino -- tapioca has arrived in Seoul this summer, rescuing those fed up with the tired, take-out latte scene.

Known as "bubble tea" in Seoul, the cool milk tea with tapioca pearls inside has gone by many names in various places -- pearl tea, boba tea, pearl shake and sago. Whatever you call it, tapioca originated in Taiwan 15 years ago, then migrated to the peninsula a couple of years ago.

On a sunny afternoon in Apgujeong-dong, young people queued up for the drink after lunch. "I love it," said Kim Sang-mi, a 27-year-old office worker. After a quick lunch, Ms. Kim was enjoying her cup of iced milk tapioca pearl tea at a table outside of a small store, Taico, across the street from the Galleria Department Store. "I used to drink it when I was studying in San Francisco five years ago with my Taiwanese friends. After I came back to Seoul, I couldn't find it for years, and I really craved it." Now her wish has come true. "These days, I get one almost every day," she said.

For Westerners, the word tapioca is mostly associated with pudding. In Korea, the drink is a mixture of tea, milk, sugar and some black tapioca balls. Served in a clear, take-out plastic cup, the chewy black tapioca pearls are sucked up with little effort using an extra wide straw. It's a drink and a snack.

Vendors in Seoul are also offering more inventive varieties -- fruit juices with tapioca pearls are also big hits. Taico offers kiwi, strawberry, banana, peach, mango, coconut and blueberry flavors. For those who just cannot give up coffee, mocha flavor may be the best bet. For a more Asian flavor, many choose iced Jasmine tea with tapioca pearls. One drink is about 4,500 won ($3.30).

"Our store opened a couple of months ago," said Shin Sang-mi, 23. "We sell more than 100 tapioca drinks every day." According to Ms. Shin, bubble tea attracts a diverse array of patrons. "Mostly, youngsters and office workers come for the drink," she said, "but we have regular customers who are children and grandmothers and grandfathers."

In the same block where Taico is located, at least five other bubble tea shops are now doing business. Lines are never short, especially during the lunchtime and evening. "It's like chewing fun," Ms. Kim said, sucking up the last tapioca pearl in her cup. "And it can be dangerously addictive."

by Ser Myo-ja

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