It’s boba time

‘Boba’ or bubble tea is the latest culinary import from the orient.

Formosan Tea Bar comes to Oxford

‘Boba’ or bubble tea is the latest culinary import from the orient. An unholy mixture of tapioca pearls, iced tea and topping served with a wide straw that allows you to slurp and chew at the same time, bubble tea is the biggest thing to hit the refreshments industry since fro-yo.

The hybrid drink/snack experience has been gaining a foothold in all the right places – although Chinatown has been in on the act for decades – and now its hit Oxford.

Formosan strips boba back down to the essentials. There are no zany colours or natty flavours – just four tea bases combined with your choice of milk, honey or lemon.

Drinks come in at around £4 – a competitive price-point for a place that practically backs on to a Starbucks but offers a far superior product to the American chain.

At first look bubble tea seems uniquely unappealing. The black tapioca balls that sink to the bottom of the cup have the look of frogspawn or, for the more refined amongst you, oversized caviar.

That said the tea itself is sweet and refreshing. Fortunately, the tapioca balls are less nauseating English dessert favourite and more like an odd, but faintly addictive, jelly sweet.

The sensation of drinking and eating at the same time feels decidedly strange, but I was quickly won over by the novelty of the thing. I’d guess that some people will be slightly repulsed but many more, like myself, will throw off the coffee shop yoke and join the boba revolution.

Formosan’s great strength is that it is ‘bespoke’. The staff are very knowledgeable and keyed into Western tastes. There is none of the nauseating first-name terms faux-friendliness of said American chain but they’re happy to adjust your drink to exactly how you’d like it.

The bar itself is modestly but quaintly furnished and a small, separate ‘oriental-style tea drinking room’ allows you to pretend you’re an extra in a low-rent version of Memoirs of a Geisha.

On the day I visited the bar was relatively quiet and the atmosphere relaxed – a place to avoid the buzz of Oxford city centre and find shelter from the packs of tourist on Cornmarket. Compared to your average shake or juice bar, Formosan provides an oasis of oriental calm in a marketplace dominated by uniform high-street brands. I’d suggest going before this secluded hideaway stops being the high street’s little secret.

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Formosan Tea Bar, 128A High Street, Oxford, OX1 4DF (At the end of the passage between Starbucks and the Wheatsheaf)