Bubble tea shops are taking over downtown Toronto. Here’s what to order at each of them

Bubble tea shops are taking over downtown Toronto. Here’s what to order at each of them

Since Green Grotto opened at Yonge and Sheppard in 1993, the city’s thirst for bubble tea—that sweet, tea-based drink studded with tapioca balls, or boba—has really popped. Today, bubble tea shops are proliferating in the downtown core. Here’s a handy-dandy guide to help you navigate your options.

Presotea

Eaton Centre, 220 Yonge St., 416-599-1618, presotea.ca, @presoteaCanada
Founded in 2006 by a fifth-generation Taiwanese tea processing company, Presso Tea uses brewed-to-order tea Ali Shan oolong and genmaicha teas made with an espresso-type machine.
GTA locations: 30
Signature drink: Panda milk tea with white and black tapioca. $3.49.

Real Fruit Bubble Tea

10 Dundas St. E., realfruitbubbletea.com, @officialrealfruitbubbletea
Real Fruit opened its first location in Pacific Mall in 2002, making slushies and smoothies with fresh fruit and supplements like whey protein.
GTA locations: 35
Signature drink: Mango Diamond Slush, a dairy-free ice slush mixed with fresh chunks of mango. $5.99.

CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice

372 Yonge St., 416-348-0888, en.coco-tea.com, @cocoteaontario
Established in Taiwan in 1997, there are now more than 3,000 outlets, making it the largest bubble tea chain in the world.
GTA locations: 8
Signature drink: The Three Guys tops regular milk tea with tapioca, pudding and grass jelly. $5.50.

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Chatime

439 Yonge St., 416-260-2830, chatime.com
First hitting the GTA in 2011, ChaTime introduced customizable tea-based drinks to Canada. Their ongoing, limited-time releases have included shimmering bubble teas made with edible gold dust, multi-layered teas and a recent collaboration with Red Bull.
GTA locations: 18
Signature drink: Grass jelly roasted milk tea made with Ichiban roasted tea. $4.80.

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Royaltea

531A Yonge St., 416-929-4404, @royaltea_canada
A relatively small chain from China, it’s recognized all over Instagram for the lightbulb-shaped bottles some of the drinks come in.
GTA locations: 3
Signature drink: Rose, osmanthus flower or peach oolong tea topped with a mousse made of cheese, milk and fresh cream (there’s also a version made with fresh durian). $5.30.

Sharetea

576 Yonge St., 1992sharetea.com/index.php, @shareteaglobal
Established in Taiwan, in 1992, Sharetea now has 500 stores in 15 countries. Most of the ingredients Sharetea uses are imported from Taiwan.
GTA locations: 8
Signature drink: QQ Happy Family milk Tea (black milk tea with a mix of tapioca, red bean, pudding, herb jelly and lychee jelly) and the classic pearl milk tea made with powdered milk, brewed black tea and tapioca. $5 each.

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The Alley

5 St. Joseph St., 416-922-2441, the-alley.ca, @thealley.downtown
This Taiwan-based tea shop makes drinks using different tea bases, not syrups. They’re best known for their caramelized Deerioca, tapioca that’s been slow-cooked in brown sugar until chewy, then served warm in whole milk or soy milk.
GTA locations: 8
Signature drink: Deerioca Fever (milk or soy milk); Deerioca Matcha (milk); and best-selling Royal No. 9, a black Assam tea made with milk powder and a hint of blueberry ($6 each). There’s also the super-Instagrammable Northern Lights or Morning Dawn, multicoloured layered drinks from their Aurora series. $8.

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Gong Cha

575 Yonge St., 647-347-6688, gong-cha.ca
With more than 200 stores worldwide, the franchise opened its first GTA location in Markham in 2014. It’s best known for its milk foam tea; with its savoury cream topper, it resembles a tea cappuccino.
GTA locations: 8
Signature drink: Winter melon milk foam. $4.70.

Happy Lemon

611 Yonge St., happy-lemon.com, @happylemoncanada
Founded in 1992 in Taipei, the brand recognized by its winking Lemon Boy logo currently has 800 stores worldwide. The tea drinks here are completely lemon-focused. There’s also a mojito series, lemon slush and whipped-cheese-with-milk-tea drinks that are sprinkled with Taiwanese rock salt.
GTA locations: 5
Signature drink: Their fresh lemon drinks that incorporate a whole blended lemon with green or black tea and topped with tapioca, lychee jelly or aloe. $5.80.

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BubbleTease

111 Dundas St. W., 905-940-2660, bubbletease.com
BubbleTease first introduced the city to bubble tea slush in 2002. For the health conscious, the brand is currently transitioning to all-natural flavours (and they promise freshly cooked tapioca cooked every hour).
GTA locations: 5
Signature drink: Organic golden assam tea with tapioca. $5.

Bubble Republic Tea House on Bay

637 Bay St., 647-748-9188, bubblerepublic.ca
This tea shop that first opened in Mississauga in 2009 also offers a full food menu.
GTA locations: 3
Signature drink: Panna cotta black milk tea. $5.49.

Labothéry

717 Bay St., Unit D, 647-358-5098, labothery.com
At this brand-new tea shop, customers design their own drinks using ingredients that come packaged in whimsical (and/or creepy) test tubes, syringes and petri dishes (which are turned over to the barista who prepares the order).
GTA locations: 1
Signature drink: Since there’s no menu, the only signature drinks are the ones customers create and share over social media under the shop’s #craftyoursignaturetea hashtag. $6.50 and up.

Green Grotto

832 Bay St., 647-341-8898, greengrotto.ca
When Green Grotto opened it’s first location at Yonge and Sheppard in 1993, it was Canada’s only bubble tea house. Besides drinks, it also serves Taiwanese snacks like salt-and-pepper chicken or cold grass jelly bowls.
GTA locations: 9
Signature drink: Hokkaido milk tea and matcha Hokkaido milk tea, which are both a bit richer and creamier than your standard milk tea. $6.19.

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Tsaocaa

915 Bay St., 416-922-3008, @tsaocaa_toronto
This China-based tea shop makes drinks with fresh brewed tea, and guarantees each order is ready in less than a minute.
GTA locations: 1
Signature drink: Golden oolong tea topped with matcha cheese cream foam. $5.59.