Gossip's Honey Milk Tea with Tapioca
It should be easy to remember the first time you spotted bubble tea: an over-sized clear plastic cup topped


Versus: Battle Bubble Tea

Gossip's Honey Milk Tea with Tapioca
It should be easy to remember the first time you spotted bubble tea: an over-sized clear plastic cup topped with a giant neon-colored straw (most likely clutched in the hands of a stylishly-clad Asian teen) filled with a pastel-hued milky substance and hundreds of little black floating balls at the bottom. A "WTF" sort of moment, no doubt. But times have changed. What was once a novelty drink is now a fixture in many Asian restaurants in neighborhoods all over the city.

Legend has it that that bubble tea was developed in Taiwan in the early 1980s when tea stands found themselves competing for the after-school student crowd. While the original teas consisted of a hot mixture of Taiwanese black tea, condensed milk, and honey, owners began adding fruit flavors and tapioca pearls to their drinks for that extra appeal. The tea and flavorings had to be shaken vigorously for a smooth consistency, resulting in the frothy bubbles that gave the drink its name. Bubble tea was a hit, spreading throughout Asia, and eventually taking hold here on the West Coast as an iced beverage.

Bubble tea can be a clutch low blood sugar reviver, a sweet snack with a little more international flair than, say, a Snickers bar. But it's a treat more than anything else: it's impossible to take yourself too seriously as you suck up brown balls through a fat pink straw. This week, Versus slurps honey milk tea and chews on boba balls from two ID strongholds, Gossip Espresso & Tea and Ambrosia Cafe.

Gossip, with its prime corner location, two sides of high windows, and hot pink neon sign, is one of the most visible bubble tea locations in the city. The honey milk tea ($3.25) is bracingly sweet, with a strong and bitter tea finish. The first sip, along with the drink's slightly orange tint, actually calls to mind Thai iced tea, not traditional Chinese black tea. The brown boba balls are soft on the outside, but decidedly hard on the inside. These are tapioca balls that take a fair amount of effort to get through. Gossip fills their cups with quite a bit of ice, making the drink feel refreshingly cold, if a little thin.

Just half a block west lies Ambrosia, an unassuming spot that's fairly easy to miss. What you can't miss, though: the sweetness of Ambrosia's honey milk tea ($3.03), which announces itself loudly and clearly at the very first sip. But further sips reveal much more, like a complex underlying flavor that bears the musky dark bitterness of black tea. Plenty of milk gives the tea a rich and creamy texture that's punctuated by pleasant bits of chewiness. Ambrosia's boba balls are remarkably soft and toothsome all the way through, with a surprisingly mild sweetness that makes you think they must have been boiled slowly in a bath of sugar water.

Verdict: Gossip is fine, but compared to Ambrosia's wonderfully creamy tea and delightfully chewy tapioca balls, the choice is clear. Ambrosia all the way.

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