Bubble Tea Cafes in FlushingEver have tapioca in your tea? Bubble tea—sweet, milky tea served cold or hot and often with tapioca balls—is a treat easy to find in Flushing Chinatown. Many cafes are devoted to the teas, and also serve snacks or sometimes meals, especially noodles. Bubble tea is very popular with young adults and teenagers (and younger children), competing directly with the local Starbucks. It goes by many names (like sago tea, boba tea, tapioca tea, pearl tea, milk tea, zhen zhu nai cha, QQ, and boba nai cha), and comes in even more flavors (like almond, mango, melon, or lychee). Though you can order bubble tea without tapioca, tapioca balls are definitely a big part of the fun. They are chewy and edible, and you suck them up through a fat straw. Of course, you can order iced or hot tea without tapioca, and luckily, most cafes also serve delicious fruit shakes.
Sago Tea Cafe has the best location for people-watching, right on Main Street (3902 Main St, 718-353-2899). Sitting in its Ikea-style booths, you can order a Krispy Kreme donut with your tea. The prices are higher than at other local tea shops, and more teens are hanging out. Sago also has a menu including sandwiches and hot dishes.
Ten Ren Tea is pure tea. Part of an international chain ("The Art of Chinese Tea") it serves bubble tea to go on Roosevelt, just before Prince (135-18 Roosevelt Ave, (718-461-9305). There is a counter at the front for sipping, but it's a little too crowded to enjoy. Take your tea to go. In addition to bubble tea, check out Ten Ren's exquisite Chinese tea varieties, both loose and bagged, such as oolong, green, jasmine, white, pouchong, and blends. The classic tea ceremony is sometimes demonstrated at the store.
Chinese BakeriesChinese bakeries can bring a real surprise to novices. Sometimes buns contain pork or other meats. However, a lot of Chinese bakeries tend more to the sweet, not savory. Along Roosevelt, immediately west of Main Street, there are a few bakeries in a row, though you should take care to be choosy. A couple of these places, like Ping Key, are cheap but not so clean.
The Taipan Bakery (37-25 Main St, just north of 38th Ave) is highly recommended. They bake fresh cakes and sweet breads at the store, and specialize in cakes. They also serve hot snacks and buns filled with meat. Of course, bubble tea and all sorts of milk tea are available. Taipan's prices for bubble tea are most competitive, and their to-go counter is efficient. There's a branch in Manhattan and another one in Flushing, further south on Main Street (42-05B Main St).