During the roughest finals season of my college career, I went through a dark, experimental phase spiking beverages that had no business being spiked: smoothies (with one can of white claw), a cherry 7-Eleven Slurpee (with a shooter of Fireball), and bubble tea from my favorite campus shop — though the vodka never quite mixed in.
That version of me now rejoices, because someone finally accomplished what I never could: Make a drinkable bubble tea cocktail.
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Chinatown’s Hop Sing Laundromat is adding to the drink menu at Han Dynasty’s University City location with bright, boozy bubble tea cocktails starting today. The concoctions cost $10 a pop and come in two flavors: strawberry, which tastes like a slightly melted milkshake, and a green tea, mango, and mint mix that’s equal parts tangy and hydrating.
Hop Sing owner Lê, who doesn’t tell anyone his last name, did tell Billy Penn the inspiration for the pair of drinks came from restaurateur Han Chiang’s upbringing. The Han Dynasty tycoon grew up in Taiwan before moving to Lancaster as a teen, dropping out of Drexel University, and opening a suite of acclaimed and irreverent Sichuan-style restaurants across Philadelphia and New York City.
“Han told me he wanted to have a cocktail made with Asian ingredients,” Lê said. To get the recipe testing process going, Lê drank bubble tea for what felt like a week straight, and claimed he tried all the boba shops in West Philly and Chinatown.
What’s in the duo of libations? Well, a hell of a lot of booze.
Each beverage comes with two ounces of Haku vodka imported from Japan, which I was informed is above the legal limit for serving a drink in Utah. The boba — which offer little bursts of real fruit juice — is shipped from Taiwan. The mango and strawberry flavoring come from fresh fruit, too.
An added bonus, Lê joked, is that the drink was concocted by a North Korean after some sleepless nights of partying, though he’s actually Vietnamese and a very legit mixologist who won a 2018 Best of Philly award with Chiang for another cocktail collab. (This one was an alcoholic matcha egg cream aptly named the Phat Phuc.)
Though boozy boba tea cocktails (boba-tails?) already came and went from California’s Bay Area bar scene, the trend has yet to catch on in Philly. Chiang said most of Philly’s Asian restaurants focus more on food than on cocktails — and, besides, “making this shit was difficult.”
“It took us a lot of tries to get where we are,” Chiang told Billy Penn.
One key step: find the right alcohol. Chiang and Lê ran through tried whiskey and gin before settling on vodka, which preserves the fruits’ sweetness. As for the milk, they learned they should use half and half, not actual milk at all.
The duo are hoping to roll out new boozy boba tea flavors over time, including matcha, classic green tea, and taro.