I first tried ‘milk tea’ in China – what we would call ‘builders tea’ in England but made super sweet and super milky, and more often than not with little tapioca balls bobbing around at the bottom of the cup. Served with a jumbo straw through which to suck up the afore mentioned tapioca balls, this drink was created in Taiwan and has been popular in China for many years, now gaining popularity in the UK under the label of ‘Bubble Tea’. I rarely see it for sale in Japan, and so to discover a dedicated tapioca tea shop in my city Kumamoto has been a great find.
With a shop near Kumamoto University (and a van close to the Kamitori shopping arcade) this is a business clearly aimed at the youth of Kumamoto – you often see high-school kids and university students walking around town on a Saturday with a cup of Tapiking in their hand. The drinks have sweet, milky flavours and price-tags that certainly make a dent in your wallet – a bit like Starbucks but more colourful.
A ‘short’ is ￥420, and probably the worst value because the cup is really quite small, and for ￥80 more you can upgrade to the ‘tall’ (standard size) which is basically the same price but much larger. At ￥800 the ‘king’ sized drink is the price of a small meal, with calories to match – seriously, who needs that much milk in their daily diet? Not recommended unless you happen to be sharing… so regular size is probably the best choice.
As for flavours, there is quite a choice to pick from but if you’re purchasing from the central van on a busy Saturday afternoon, don’t worry – the queues are pretty long so you’ll have time to decide! Fruity options include lychee, pineapple, and strawberry. If you have a sweet tooth, you can choose from banana and chocolate, caramel, chocolate, and Oreo’s, or just plain chocolate.
For a caffeine boost, try green tea or cafe au lait. For something a bit more adventurous, there is rare cheese (cheesecake), yoghurt, or milk au lait (doesn’t that just mean milk with milk…? Interesting.). As well as the cold tapioca drinks, they also have hot coffee, chocolate, green tea, or caramel serviced with tapioca (￥420) or coffee (hot or ice) for ￥250.
Not the kind of thing you want to be indulging in every day (or at least, not the kind of thing you should be indulging in every day…), but a yummy treat and certainly a popular choice for kids and youngsters. Neither outlet has seating, so it’s a good option if you’re on the go – perfect for when you’re walking around doing some shopping on a Saturday afternoon or taking a sunny walk up in the Tatsuda area behind Kumamoto University.
Tapiking Website*Japanese Only