London bubble tea taken to another level
Biju opened recently right in the heart of Soho on Old Compton Street. The shop is bright, airy and the large glass windows encourage passers-by in to what might be their first taste of bubble tea. Seating is unusual with boxlike layers of cork and bright coloured walls mix with diagonal strips of exposed brick below.
Biju don’t play by the rules. There are a number of welcome changes to the norm: fresh tea is brewed from leaf for each cocktail shaken cup, tapioca pearls (boba) are fresh every three hours, no artificial flavours or sweeteners are used, and natural rather than candy based toppings are added to the tea or fruit based drinks. There is an open bar concept so that customers can see each stage of the drink making process and there is no use of milk powder – rather they use organic milk from independent Medina dairy in New Covent Garden.
It’s good to see the introduction of tea espresso machines. Biju use two espresso machines especially built for tea: one at 85 degrees for green teas, one at 95 degrees for black teas. Pressure and steep time are customisable. These have been used in Taiwan for some time now and I have enjoyed hot and iced tea brewed in this fashion in LA. They allow for a swift, intense extraction of tea flavour without harshness.
Like with most bubble tea places here, many ingredients including tea and boba are sourced straight from Taiwan. One difference here is a fairly simple, small menu of signature drinks with suggested toppings. New customers are not bombarded with a huge mix and match exercise. Visitors are not questioned as to their preferred sweetness and ice level. Now, I’ve appreciated those options in my experiences at other places so I asked Biju about that. Biju founder, Nicholas Phan, explained that customers familiar with bubble tea could still order customised sugar and ice levels but that the sweetness level was optimised for each drink and new customers would need that experience before choosing a customised option. This approach does make sense.
Although the drinks menu is shorter than many, Biju will make bespoke drinks in whatever combination your heart desires. The emphasis is very much on quality rather than quantity. That’s down to the Nick’s passion for the drinks he has enjoyed since a young age and commitment to offering a better quality of taste and a better customer experience. Nick grew up in Singapore and explored the Taiwanese tea experience fully before planning Biju.
So what about the boba? Toppings here are excellent. The boba (tapioca pearl) are soft and fresh with just the right texture. So many places use boba that are past their best…they dry up in a few hours so if you have boba that are tough or hard in some places, that’s the reason. Of course there is a range of textures that people prefer, and I have a slight preference for the texture and size of the equally fresh boba at Yao Yao Cha in Earlham Street, Biju boba is top quality though. I tried basil seeds for the first time as a topping at Biju and I must say, they added a great dimension to a drink. Slightly gelatinous when soaked, basil seeds are one of the latest superfoods but add considerably to texture and taste too. Also available are mango jelly, nata de coco (coconut water jelly), egg caramel pudding or black herbal jelly (grass jelly).
One huge difference here is the replacement of the powder based drinks found in many bubble tea establishments with what are described as fruit nectars (concentrated liquid fruit extracts). This combined with the focus on more natural flavours, the décor, the open bar and the cocktail style hand shaking of the drinks makes Biju the essential London bubble tea visit.
Monday – Thursday: 12 pm – 12 am
Friday – Saturday: 12 pm – 1 am
Sunday: 11 am – 12 am
45 Old Compton Street, London W1D 6HQ