Bubble tea spots are popping up all over Charlotte, and they offer a lot more than your traditional boba teas

 By Beth Mack

April 6, 2021

Within the past two years, many bubble tea shops have quietly opened up in Charlotte. While this may be a new phenomenon, bubble tea is not. Bubble tea, often also referred to as boba tea or pearl milk tea, originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. With the widespread immigration of Taiwanese to the U.S. in the early ’90s, so came the bubble tea craze. 

Traditionally, bubble tea consists of black tea, milk, chewy tapioca pearls (bobas) steeped in a brown sugar syrup, and shaved ice shaken together forming a layer of foamy bubbles on top giving bubble tea its name. Bubble tea has come a long way since its inception in format, flavor, and toppings.

Today, it can be served hot, over ice, or blended like a smoothie. Sometimes, bubble tea may not contain tea or milk at all. To include more variety and flavors, bubble teas can be made from bases such as classic brewed teas (green, oolong, etc), herbal teas, fruit teas, fruit juices, espresso, coffee, fruit juices, milk (and milk alternatives), or yogurt beverages. 

Kung Fu Tea

Even bobas have undergone a makeover over the years, transforming from the traditional sweet black tapioca pearls into varieties that include colorful, fruit-flavored bobas to popping bobas that burst when chewed. Bobas can also be replaced with flavored jelly-like cubes that range in flavors from coffee, lychee, mango, and strawberry to more exotic flavors such as grass (herbal mint), ai-yu (cheese), aloe, and taro. 

Things get really creative with the toppings outside of jellies and bobas that can be found in bubble tea shops. These can include Oreos, chia seeds, basil seeds, egg pudding, ice cream, red beans (adzuki beans cooked in sugar), milk foam (milk, whipping cream, and salt whipped into a foam that is poured on top of the drink, also called a milk cap), and cheese foam (also called a cheese cap or crema). To further customize your bubble tea, some bubble tea shops even allow you to choose the amount of ice and sweetness level to create your unique drink.




The sheer amount of flavors that can be found in today’s modern-day bubble tea shop is limitless and shows no signs of slowing down. The creativity, innovation, and social media, have played a large part in bubble tea’s worldwide surge in popularity, so much so that it was granted its own emoji in 2020. 

Milk Cha-Cha

For locally owned Milk-Cha-Cha the devil is in the detail. Milk Cha-Cha goes the extra mile and makes sure all of their ingredients are the best, from fruit purees are made in house to premium quality teas and fresh milk. They offer classic, milk, and fruit chas (Chinese for tea) in addition to swirl (smoothie), yakult (Japanese yogurt), and sparkling (flavored craft soda) chas, all of which can be customized to your preferred sweetness and ice levels. If regular milk isn’t your cup of tea, they offer soy milk as an alternative. For toppings, you can find bobas (regular, crystal, and popping) and jellies, some of which are heart- or star-shaped. Located in South Park, be sure to swing by after your next shopping trip.

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4620 Piedmont Row Dr Suite 170 A
Charlotte, NC 28210
(980) 298-6226

 

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Ding Tea

Ding Tea is every Instagrammer’s dream, with picture-perfect drinks paired with a luxury bohemian-style store complete with a greenery wall and porch swing. The Ding Tea chain separates itself by offering golden boba over the typical black bobas, for a chewier texture and less sweet finish. Ding Tea offers an extensive menu with everything from milk teas and juices to yakult-based (Japanese yogurt) drinks, all customizable with varying levels of sweetness and ice. Complete your drink with one of the more unique foam toppings they offer– sea, tiramisu, or cheese. In addition to bubble tea, they also offer a modest quick bites menu of macarons, egg rolls, spam musubi (spam sushi), and pandan waffles to complete the experience.

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4841 Shopton Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28278
(704) 817-9052

Gong Cha

In a span of a year, two Gong Cha franchises have popped up in Charlotte. Beyond your typical combinations of bubble teas, customizable to your preferred sweetness and ice levels, Gong Cha is continually innovating to keep pace with food trends. They are currently featuring a crème brulee series and brown sugar/ginger series to liven up the menu. In addition to bubble tea, Gong Cha also offers bubble waffles (waffles made with eggs prepared in a special waffle maker that creates bubble-shaped pockets). Their bubble waffles can be made with plain or flavored batter and ordered with or without ice cream and toppings for a photogenic sweet treat. 

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601 S Kings Dr Suite K
Charlotte, NC 28204
(980) 613-8712

Around the World Cafe

After extensive travel abroad mother and daughter team Sandy and Nicole opened Around the World Café in 2019. Their mission was to bring authentic Taiwanese boba tea, Thai rolled ice cream, and French macarons to Charlotte. Around the World Café offers classic tea, milk tea, and fruit tea bubble teas customized to your desired sweetness level. Along with toppings of bobas and jellies, they also offer a milk cap for an added velvety texture. They have you covered with milk alternatives that include Lactaid, almond, coconut, and soy milk. Next time you are in the Selwyn area stop in for a bubble tea or one of their Instagram-worthy rolled ice creams.

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5110 Park Rd 1-K
Charlotte, NC 28209
(980) 888-3472

Binki Cafe

Located in a strip mall in the University area is Binki Café. Open the doors and you will discover that they are no ordinary bubble tea shop. Not only is every corner of the shop Instagram worthy but so are the drinks. Binki offers a tantalizing menu of beverages ranging from the usual suspects of teas and slushies to more unique ones such as their Yo-Da beverages series (fruit, yogurt, and seltzer), all of which can be customized to your liking. Vegans and the lactose intolerant can rejoice as Binki offers almond, coconut, and lactose-free milk that can be substituted for regular milk in most drinks. Binki is truly a one-stop shop with a frequently growing food menu that complements the drinks and rolled ice creams perfectly.

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9211 N Tryon St #5
Charlotte, NC 28262
(980) 859-2002

Kung Fu Tea

Touted as the Starbucks of bubble tea franchises, Kung Fu tea has spread quickly across Charlotte with a third location opening soon in the University area. Kung Fu offers an expansive menu offering everything from milk teas, classic teas, fruit teas, lemonades, slushies, Korean yogurt drinks, and espresso. If lactose doesn’t agree with you, fret not as Kung Fu has crafted an entire list of drinks made with Lactaid milk. They also use icons on their menu to denote beverages that contain gluten and ones that are caffeine free. All drinks can be customized to desired sweetness, ice level, and toppings to craft your perfect beverage. Be sure to check out their app for mobile ordering, special deals, and seasonal specialty drinks.

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8200 Providence Rd #1000
Charlotte, NC 28277
(704) 544-1002

MiGuo Bubble Tea

Adjoined to Bonchon Chicken in Pineville is MiGuo Bubble Tea. Glance through the menu and you will find the trifecta of freshly brewed tea-based drinks (classic, milk, and fruit) alongside smoothies, espresso, and yogurt drinks all of which can be adjusted to your desired sweetness level. MiGuo also offers hard-dipped ice cream and a selection of cakes sold by the slice to satisfy that sweet tooth. Get in on the next big trend in bubble tea and try the cheese cap as a topping to your drink for a creamy and slightly salty finish. The sweetness of bubble tea is a perfect match to Bonchon’s Korean crispy double-fried chicken.

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8318 Pineville-Matthews Rd #703
Charlotte, NC 28226
(704) 752-6090

MiGuo Bubble Tea

QC Tea Bar

QC Tea Bar has been serving up bubble teas in south Charlotte since 2017 and recently opened another location this year in Carmel Village. In addition to their selection of classic, milk, and fruit teas, they also offer smoothies, slushies, and lemonade spritzers with sweetness and ice levels adjusted to your liking. QC Tea Bar offers almond and oat milk to accommodate the dairy adverse as well. Top off your drink with the usual suspects of bobas and jellies or try out their sea salt or cheese foam. For coffee drinkers, QC Tea Bar also offers coffee and espresso beverages. With ample seating, a small bites menu, and a strong selection of desserts it is a great place to spend an afternoon. Did we mention they serve Two Scoops Creamery ice cream?!?

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3615 Whitehall Park Dr.
Charlotte, NC 28273
(980) 218-9898

 

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Ocha Time Tea & Creamery

Located in the heart of Plaza Midwood you will find Ocha Time Tea and Creamery right next to its sister restaurant, Cilantro Noodle. Ocha offers a solid selection of organic milk teas, fruit teas, and slushies that can be topped with an assortment of bobas, jellies, and cheese crema that can be customized to your preferred ice and sweetness level. Ocha also offers Asian-inspired food trends such as bubble waffles served with ice cream, rolled ice cream, and made-to-order Taiyaki fish ice cream (soft serve filled fish-shaped cone). To accommodate the non-dairy crowd, Ocha offers a coconut rolled ice cream and milk teas that can be made with oat or soy milk. With teas made fresh every four hours and authentic Vietnamese right next door, it is a win-win.

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2001 Commonwealth Ave
Charlotte, NC 28205
(980) 219-7859

 

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ShareTea

Opened in 2019, ShareTea is part of one of the largest bubble tea franchises in the world. ShareTea prides itself on using dried tea leaves imported directly from Taiwan for an authentic flavor. In line with other bubble tea franchises, you can find an expansive menu of teas, ice-blended beverages, and juices with various toppings to choose from to craft your own drink. For those avoiding dairy, ShareTea offers a Fresh Milk lineup of drinks made with a tea base and topped with a milk cap that can be made from almond milk instead of whole milk. For those not avoiding dairy, they offer crema (a cheese cap, or cheese foam) to add an extra layer of flavor. If you order through their website, you will have access to their secret menu for even more drink options.

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1204 Central Ave Unit 102
Charlotte, NC 28204
(980) 299-6006

 

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Central Tea House

Nestled off Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood in a strip mall next to Pho Hoa is Central Tea House. They offer a robust menu of classic teas, milk teas, fruit, teas, smoothies, slushies, fruit juices, and espresso beverages. For the more adventurous try out one of their more exotic smoothie flavors of jack fruit, winter melon, or durian. Round out your experience with one of their banh mi sandwiches, an item from their small bites menu, or give in to temptation with one of their baked goods. Be sure to follow them on social media to stay up to date on new drinks and specials.

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3000 Central Ave #6
Charlotte, NC 28205
(704) 595-7223

Tea Fusion Café

Tea Fusion Café has been serving up bubble tea since 2016, making it one of Charlotte’s oldest bubble tea shops. Located in the University area, Tea Fusion offers a variety of bubble teas served blended or over ice with the traditional array of mix-ins. One of their more popular beverages is the mason jar tea refreshers. The refreshers start with the fruit tea of your choice and are topped with jelly, chia seeds, freshly diced apples, mango, and strawberries for a fruity taste of summer in beverage form. With an inviting lounge area and small food menu, it is a good place to relax and enjoy bubble tea.

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440 E McCullough Dr Unit #116
Charlotte, NC 28262
(980) 585-1448

 

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Boba Koala

Across the street from Johnson & Wales is locally owned and operated Boba Koala. Boba specializes in fruit teas, milk teas, and slushies. For toppings, what stands out from their assortment of regular and flavored bobas and jellies, is their matcha green tea pudding. Check out their quick bites menu featuring dumplings, pork bao, meatballs and sweet buns before you check them out Uptown.

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901 W Trade St Suite 160
Charlotte, NC 28202
(980) 224-9764

Boba Koala

Le’s Sandwiches & Cafe

Le’s Sandwiches & Café is Charlotte’s hidden gem for banh mi, but they also offer a modest selection of no-frills bubble teas as well. Le’s makes ordering simple. Simply choose your flavor and your beverage will be made into a blended ice beverage served with regular bobas. Bubble tea is the perfect complement to cool the jalapeno kick from your banh mi sandwich. This marriage of Taiwanese and Vietnamese cuisine can be found inside the Asian Corner Mall off of North Tryon. Just as a reminder: Le’s only accepts cash so be sure to swing by the ATM beforehand. 

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4520 N Tryon St #41
Charlotte, NC 28213
(704) 921-7498

Le’s Sandwiches & Cafe

Honey Buns Cafe

Tucked away in the corner of Super G Mart’s food court, you can find Honey Buns Café. No trip to Super G is complete without one of their Chinese buns (baos) or banh mi. To complement their main attraction, Honey Buns presents a long list of milk tea, fruit tea, and smoothie flavors that you can add either regular boba or a flavored jelly to. Honey Buns is the perfect place to enjoy two iconic Taiwanese food staples, bubble tea, and baos, in just one stop. 

7323 E Independence Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28227
(704) 904-4021

Steamed Buns (Bao) at Honey Buns Cafe.

Hong Kong Bakery

Super G Mart has not one, but two vendors that serve bubble tea. While most of Hong Kong Bakery’s notoriety is from its made-from-scratch Asian baked goods, they also offer a decent selection of bubble teas. Hong Kong Bakery keeps ordering bubble tea simple. You simply choose from one of their milk teas, fruit teas, or smoothies and add in either boba, flavored popping boba, or a flavored jelly. Be sure to grab a bubble tea on your next visit to Super G as you browse the store’s worldly offerings.

7323 E Independence Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28227
(980) 321-7283

Hong Kong Bakery




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