THE BITE: Kung Fu Tea is a bubble tea chain that has been spreading, with several locations in Queens, a few around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and locations in four other states. Sheepshead Bay’s own Kung Fu Tea is at 1422 Avenue U, just off East 15th Street.
Bubble tea originated in Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. The “bubble” part of the name is an Anglicized form of “boba” which refers to tapioca pearls in the tea, and is Chinese slang for “large breasts.” Finding this out creeped me out a little. Bubble tea comes with a handful of boba at the bottom of the cup, which are not very large, but slimy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside balls of starch. Also, bubble tea has primarily been fashionable with young people, including kids.
In any case, it’s up for debate which tea house in particular came up with it, but bubble tea was first made with hot tea and tapioca pearls, mixed with milk and sweet syrup. The trend spread through East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s, becoming popular in Western culture as well during the past decade. Menus now include options of fruit flavors added as syrups or blended fresh fruits, powdered or fresh milk, powdered or brewed green, black or white tea, or no tea at all, or coffee, a variety of additional toppings such as red or mung beans, jelly cubes in different flavors and shapes, pudding in the bottom of your cup, not to mention different sizes and flavors of tapioca pearls. Your options will depend on which tea shop you’re at, but basically, the choices have become endless. At Kung Fu Tea you can specify if you want less, little, or no ice, and less, little, or no sugar. Freedom like this can be exhilarating and exhausting.