Photo by Toby M

These Five Konbini Bubble Teas Just Changed the Boba Game

A decade ago, it looked like tea was on its way out. The final insignificant item on a menu, or a perfunctory drink given to you only ever when you visit your elderly gran. The rapid expansion of global coffee culture, spurred on by Starbucks-esque near-infinite customizability of beverages, was leaving tea in its gritty brown dust. That is until the world caught on to Taiwanese bubble tea.

Buba added a whole new dimension of chewy tapioca texture to tea. It also brought different kinds of milk and sweetenings to enhance the flavor of various different teas, which could now be enjoyed hot or cold. The thousand-year-old brew suddenly received a facelift which has revitalized its popularity across the world.

The bubble tea or tapioca, as it is known locally, craze has been especially pronounced in Japan. Such has been its popularity that new stores pop up on an almost weekly basis. But supply is never quite enough to meet demand and customers are forced to wait in long lines, especially at the weekends when visiting a popular store.

Fortunately, a number of prepackaged bubble teas have been released and are now readily available in Japanese convenience stores. With the number of options, flavors and styles growing, we’ve been out and about sampling konbini tapioca so you can pick up quality boba without the wait, anywhere in Japan.

The Konbinis

We restricted our search to the big four konbinis in Japan: Seven Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson, and Mini Stop. These are the most common convenience stores in Japan, so you’ll be sure to find one of them wherever you are.

The availability of the teas we recommend may vary from store to store, even within the same chain. But to set you on the right path to boba bliss, we’ve listed the chain we found the tea at beneath each recommendation.

Family Mart’s Tapioca Milk Tea

Photo by Toby M

This is Family Mart’s version of the basic bubble tea you’re used to drinking in most specialty boba stores. And boy have they nailed the basics. Family Mart’s own-brand version has strong tea flavors, a good level of sweetness and juicy, soft tapioca. You can’t go wrong with this milk tea!

Where we found it: Family Mart, Tokyo Price: ¥238 (inc. tax)

Uchi Cafe Strawberry Milk and Fruit Pulp Tapioca

Photo by Toby M

This delicious strawberry-milk tapioca can be picked off the shelf at lawson. The strawberry milk is rich, thick and sweet. The flavor comes from the strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry fruit pulp that’s mixed in with the drink. The tartness of the fruit harmonizes with the sweetness of the milk. The cherry on top of this fruity cake is the soft and squishy tapioca pearls.

Where we found it: Lawson, Tokyo Price: ¥248 (inc. tax)

Tappuri (Plentiful) Tapioca Milk Tea

Photo by Toby M

This bubble tea is immediately appealing thanks to the smiling panda design on the label. Once you try this tea you’ll be smiling too as it’s a delicious balance between creaminess and sweetness. The tapioca in this tea have a great chewiness and brown sugar flavor, making them the best pearls we tried. You’re only one sip away from being a happy panda with the Tapuri Tapioca milk tea.

Where we found it: Family Mart, Tokyo Price: ¥278 (inc. tax)

Almond Tapioca - Peach Juice Mix

Photo by Toby M

A peach flavored peach of a tea; this almond milk bubble tea is addictive. The saccharine fruity flavor and marzipan like aftertaste from the almonds made us want to drink carton after carton. The tapioca in this one were soft, small and have a tasty brown sugar flavor.

Where we found it: Family Mart, Tokyo Price: ¥214 (inc. tax)

Warm Tapioca Milk Tea

Photo by Toby M

Mini-Stops limited edition Warm Tapioca Milk Tea deserves a mention even though it's technically freshly made and not packaged. The warm tea is ideal for winter, strongly tea flavored and bursting with plump, chewy tapioca. Every mouthful is like a warm, delicious squishy hug for your pallet. You may consider this unpackaged addition cheating, we consider it just plain delicious, however. A strawberry milk version is also available for those seeking a sweeter bubble tea.

Where we found it: Mini Stop Tokyo Price: ¥378 (inc. tax)

Next time you need a quality boba fix, any one of these 5 teas will hit the tapioca spot and can be picked up without enduring a long wait in one of Japan’s plentiful konbinis. In fact, isn’t it about time for tea?

By - Toby M.