The latest newfangled fad to hit the bubble tea scene in Singapore is a straightforward combination of fresh milk with brown sugar pearls, otherwise known as brown sugar bubble (or boba) milk. It’s not exactly a hot-off-the-press trend – Taiwan’s had it for a while now – but the drink’s been popping up at countless bubble tea stores in Singapore recently, and the craze hit its peak when Tiger Sugar opened last month, attracting hour-long queues even during weekday lull periods.
Though we weren’t big on the idea initially — it’s basically sugary milk, right? — we found ourselves falling prey to the trend, too. And after a couple of hits and misses at big name chains and small heartland stalls, we decided to round ‘em up for a proper taste test.
First off, a few disclaimers.
We like sweet stuff, but not the kind that puts you on the express train to diabetes. As such, we’re not coming from the POV of a sugar stan.
Secondly, we didn’t try all of the brown sugar bubble milk brands available in Singapore, for obvious reasons. Seven versions from a few of the more popular and prominent places in central areas of town — we figured that would be enough to go on for a lot of you who are reading this rundown. So the next time you’ve got the craving, you know where to go.
Lastly — it took about 2 hours to gather all the drinks back to the office for the taste test. R&B Tea was first, Tiger Sugar was last. So, we have to admit that we lost some freshness and photo-ready pizzazz from this process.
Read on for the lowdown — from the hands-down best, to the underwhelming and downright disappointing.
The biggest question on every crowd-hater’s mind – is it worth the hype? And we’re here to tell you, yes. Yes, it is. The brown sugar boba + pearl with cream mousse ($5.30) may be slightly pricier than the rest, but damn if it isn’t the best we’ve tried. Unsurprising, too, since Tiger Sugar essentially concentrates on this one drink, with an entire production line making sure each element is up to standard.
From the rich and creamy milk to the caramelized sweetness of the brown sugar that’s just right, the brand’s signature easily took its place among our favorites. The cream mousse adds a dash of velvety smoothness, and the mix of jumbo and mini pearls – which are apparently cooked fresh every hour and simmered with brown sugar for an infusion of flavor – come in soft, chewy nubs to lend varying textures to the drink. Oh, and don’t forget to go trigger happy with your camera phone quickly, because those “tiger stripe” syrup marks fade in a couple of minutes.
We’ve never been one to get in line for the latest trend, but Tiger Sugar is almost tempting enough to lure us to the queue (which can go up to 2 hours on weekends). Almost.
#B1-21 Capitol Piazza. Daily 11am-10pm (queues can start as early at 9:30am).
We were happily taken aback by Muyoo’s light and fresh offering, labelled “Dirty Drink” ($3.90). The milk tasted pure, without too heavy a taint of brown sugar, and the pearls were pleasantly chewy. You’re supposed to try the warm brown sugar pearls before contrasting them with the cold milk, but we prefer to just shake it all up.
This one’s a solid option if you’re thirsty after a few hours of retail therapy, ‘cause you won’t feel too weighed down by all that sugar and starch. You can also adjust the ice and sweetness level, which is much appreciated. Plus, the drink comes in mango and strawberry flavors, too. However, one person in our office commented on the pearls tasting like fake syrup – guess you can’t please ‘em all.
#B1-67 Raffles City. Daily 11am-10pm.
Combining fresh-tasting milk with lovely, honeyed pearls, each chew of R&B Tea’s brown sugar boba milk ($4.80) gives you a burst of sweetness. It can be a tad too sugary for those who don’t typically like saccharine stuff, but otherwise it’s rather enjoyable to sip and stroll through the mall.
If you’re looking to one up your drink, try it topped with cheese brûlée ($5.80 at Marina Bay Sands) for an additional layer of savory cheese cream covered with torched brown sugar.
Six outlets, including #B2-50, Rasapura Masters, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 9am-9pm.
One colleague likened this bubble tea shop’s brown sugar milk with pearls ($4.50) to melted ice cream, thanks to its creamy, pleasant-tasting milk. The pearls were a tad sticky and slightly harder to chew, but the brown sugar was aromatic and intense. Nothing outstanding, but perfectly serviceable for those who happen to pass by the mall with a craving for the drink.
Two outlets, including #B1-49 Citylink Mall. Daily 10am-10pm.
Just one notch above big chains like Liho and Koi, Sharetea’s brown sugar pearl fresh milk ($4.80) wasn’t especially memorable. The milk was fine, the tapioca globs were alright. On the whole, it was rather forgettable. Perhaps you’d do better sampling the flavorful-sounding brown sugar pearl sea salt macchiato ($5.50) instead.
Six outlets, including #01-14A Bugis Junction. Daily 11am-10pm.
From the super sweet pearls to the faint taste of milk, this one was quite the dud. It sits on the affordable end of the spectrum at $3.60, but none of the elements within it really gelled well together: the pearls seemed to be done extra al dente, and there were strong, artificial syrupy notes that lingered. Pretty much everyone in the office tried the drink just once and pushed it away in regret.
Liho’s also got unusual flavors in its brown sugar pearl milk series, such as salted egg lava, but thinking about that just makes us want to hurl, sorry. We’ll be sticking to regular ‘ol milk tea instead, thanks.
Over 60 outlets, including #B2-20 Tanjong Pagar Centre. Daily 10am-10pm.
Oh, Koi. We love you for your matcha macchiato, but this attempt to get on board the trend was just sad. To be clear, the brown sugar milk with pearls ($4.70) was purchased fifth in line, before Muyoo and Tiger Sugar, but it still found its way to the bottom of the list.
Koi’s tough-to-chew “golden pearls” were the worst, and the taste of milk was worryingly absent. Consuming it was an exercise in masochism. Strange, considering how the brand’s usually on point with its drinks. Perhaps this cup was a fluke? Or perhaps it should just stick to its milk teas and macchiatos, because one of our tasters described the drink as a “vegan version” of brown sugar bubble milk. Ouch.
49 outlets, but only available at Koi Thé Express locations, which includes #B1-71 Raffles City. Daily 10am-10pm.