013115 bubbletea2Fabiana Villegas holding a vial of boba, above, and her “anatomy of bubble tea” wall drawing, below.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)


013115 bubbletea3The latest attempt to satisfy the thirsts and sweet tooths – teeth? – of visitors to downtown Red Bank is a tea shop offering cold beverages with a chewy finish.

The new Chill Bubble Tea Bar, at 15 White Street, blends drinks that combine several types of tea and fruit juices with “boba,” or tapioca, that’s been infused with fruit flavor to deliver an intense, chewy mouthful that proponents claim is healthy stuff.

013115 bubble teaChai tea boba, left, and a green tea mango mix flavored with strawberry boba on the right are just two of the many menu options at Chill. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

What distinguishes bubble tea from other tea is the boba – a Cantonese slang term for “breast”  – that you order as “popping,” “bursting,” or “chewbee,” each having a different texture.

Tasting a “Mango Mango” green tea with strawberry-infused boba was an experience that won’t quickly be forgotten. The mango-flavored ice tea was refreshing and sweet. Sucking up the boba through the wider-than-average bubble tea straw was weird enough, but the fish roe texture of the tapioca that literally bursts in your mouth is something else.

Shop owner Denise Russo PieHole that when her kids were little, they wanted “those slushie drinks that weren’t good for them.” But while living in California, she discovered bubble tea, made with organic teas and pureed natural fruits.

“I thought it was a healthy alternative, and decided to bring it to the Jersey shore,” she says.

She opened her first shop on the Ocean Grove boardwalk, just south of the Casino shell, but it was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy. A second shop, in Belmar, “was such a hit that we thought Red Bank needed a store, too,” Russo says.

Initially, she hoped to open her bubble tea bar within Shore Scoop, the ice cream store formerly at the White Street location. But when the full space became available, she decided to take it over on her own.

“A lot of people are coming here because they went to the one in Belmar,” says shop employee Fabiana Villegas, a student and aspiring artist at Red Bank Regional who painted the “Anatomy of Bubble Tea” image on the shop wall. “It’s fun, just something different.”

A taste of the chai tea, made with almond milk and infused with black pearl tapioca, was an entirely different taste and texture experience. The boba in this case were chewy and more like the tapioca pearls you might remember in your grandmother’s puddings.

There is a list of styles of tea such as Milk Bubble, Ice Bubble and Snow Bubble to choose from. Then you mix and match from the variety of flavors offered.

The drinks run between $3.50 for a 12-ounce to $5 for a 20-ounce. A vial of the fruit-infused boba, which are eaten like candy, can also be bought for about a buck.

Villegas says the pina colada is the most popular, but her favorite is a more exotic taro, an acquired taste to be sure with an appealing aroma.

Chill Bubble Tea is open part-time on weekends, but Russo says she expects to offer extended weekend hours in March and, as the weather warms, the store will be open all week.