Back when we were still in high school, there was this huge craze over bubble tea. I was one of those that could never understand what was the big deal about it, and I never tried, not until 2007 in Melbourne with Zhen Han did I finally start drinking bubble tea.
But it seems like bubble tea is making a resurgence! Thanks to better variety and quality of product (not to mention steeper prices), the bubble tea craze is definitely back in town. This post is going to be dedicated to the 2 latest bubble tea outlets to hit the market - Gong Cha and Chatime. Which one do we think is better?
Of the 2, Gong Cha is definitely the less known one. In fact I didn't even know it existed until I went for my regular haircut at Jantzen at The Gardens, and passed this shop on the way there. Wendy and I were immediately intrigued. Firstly because of it's charming exterior decor, and secondly because of it's location.
We were intrigued by the location because frankly we didn't think it was very good. Hidden round the corner at the Isetan end of Gardens, I know for sure this outlet won't get as many people walking by. I wouldn't know it was there unless I either walked past that area of the mall, or if someone had told me where to go. I'm waiting to see if their popularity will be enough to maintain their sales to meet costs over the next several months. Right now it does seem to be doing well though, since by 12 p.m. there was a sizable crowd gathered outside already.
For our taste test, Wendy went for the Gong Cha Special Milk Green Tea, 70% sugar, regular ice, add pearl for RM 1 - RM 6.90 altogether. Yes I know it sounds damn technical, and it really is because customers actually get a choice between the different percentages of sugar and ice to put into your tea. For example, if you want less ice you can ask for 50%, or if you want MORE ice (I don't know who would want more lah..) then you can even ask for 150% ice. Doesn't it feel like they've got bubble tea down to a science?
Surprisingly the tea was pretty sweet even though it was only 70% sugar. Definitely the most unique thing about this drink was the Foam Milk that formed an interesting combination with green tea. They have two different types of milk, this one and the usual powdered creamer; this one is their specialty. The foam was sweet and frothy, and it actually tasted like santan towards the end. We didn't really know what was the best thing to do with the foam, so we ended up drinking the tea with bits of foam. In the end after the tea was all gone we were left with a big serving of foam, which was nice on its own, but really sweet and filling after awhile. Maybe next time we should mix the foam with the tea.
Wendy had heard of Gong Cha before, and had been told the 'pearls' here were better than Chatime. Unfortunately we didn't think so. The pearls felt tougher, although the green tea was rather refreshing.
For me, I went with the Milk Tea with Herbal Jelly with 70% sugar and regular ice at RM 5.90. It was refreshing and nice, but overall we felt the tea was not as fragrant as Chatime. Neither was the 70% sugar as sweet as the green tea. I would have preferred having normal 100% sugar. However the jelly was nice with good herbal taste, and it was springier than those at Chatime.
Enticing pictures to whet the appetite of customers
On the other hand, Chatime outlets seem to be springing up everywhere! So far I've been to the ones in SS2 Mall and Mid Valley, and I've heard there's one in Sunway too. I dare say that Chatime seems to have single-handedly reignited the bubble tea craze from out of thin air.
A more acceptable queue at Chatime in SS2 Mall
If you think I'm exaggerating when I describe it as a craze, then you obviously haven't seen the mass of people thronging the Chatime booths at The Gardens at all hours of the day. Imagine there is a queue number system for people waiting to collect their tea, and there can be up to 30 numbers waiting at any given time!
No 2 and No 1 on the best seller list respectively.
But is it really worth all that hype? Both of us have had Chatime more than once, but this is the only time we took pictures (a total fail as food bloggers I know). Me being the strawberry fan, definitely had to give the Strawberry Pudding Au Lait (number 2 on their top best seller list) at RM 5.90 a go! Wendy is less fussy, and just went for their supposedly number 1 favourite, Milk Tea with Grass Jelly at RM 5.90, with an additional RM 1 to have it served together with pearls.
I didn't know what to expect from my strawberry drink, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness and flavour of it. The yellow pudding also went very well together with the strawberry, so that was definitely a winner for me, something Gong Cha doesn't do. I've already mentioned the herbal jelly is better at Gong Cha though, but thought the pearls here were softer and more flavourful. (However, people have been telling us the pearls at Gong Cha have been better so we may have to do another test to confirm that. =D)
At one glance it is obvious Chatime beats Gong Cha hands down at variety. That can be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. I like to think businesses should try not to offer too many varieties, because all that happens is customers are left stumped with too many choices. In the end I think customers probably end up relying on a top 10 list like the one in the picture above to make decisions. It also can't be very efficient for the business, since the staff have to learn how to make 10001 types of bubble tea. But then again it might not be that difficult - I wouldn't know since I'm not in the business.. =P
All in all, it appears the battle for bubble tea customers is far from over. It's hard to pick a winner between the 2, since each have good and bad points. Gong Cha seems to be the healthier option with choices like wintermelon tea, green tea & even earl grey; whilst Chatime seems to target the younger market with a large multitude of more funky choices. Price-wise both Gong Cha and Chatime are about the same, with a cup of tea averaging at about RM6. For me, Chatime is definitely worth the money you pay, but Gong Cha is also definitely worth a try, because you may just find that more satisfying to your taste. =)
P/S - If you want to try Chatime but don't want to wait at the 45 minute queues in Mid Valley, try heading over to SS2 Mall. Parking there is still free, and the Chatime outlet there is definitely less crowded. If you make it there before the end of May, you even get 20% off for any Milk Tea with Grass Jelly drink. In fact many PJ folk pop by the mall just to get their fix of Chatime. You should too... =)
S-238B, 2nd Floor,
The Gardens Mall,
Mid Valley City,
Lingkaran Syed Putra,
59200 Kuala Lumpur.
G-K9, SSTwo Mall,
No. 40 Jalan SS2/72,
47400 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia