TNT Diner

They’re slick, shiny and tasty, but would you pay five bucks for a trendy tea drink?

A trio of teas and smoothies from Bobalust Tea House on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma.
A trio of teas and smoothies from Bobalust Tea House on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma.

Milk tea is an old menu item seeing a new life around here.

For the uninitiated, milk tea is a brewed or powdered tea mixed with milk and often served with chewy tapioca pearls and served over ice or blended. You might see it listed as bubble or boba tea at your favorite Vietnamese restaurant or teriyaki stop. Milk tea with boba is considered a Taiwanese creation, but milk tea can be found throughout Asia.

In recent weeks, two new tea cafes have opened here: BobaLust on the Foss Waterway and Brewtea House at South Hill Mall. Several more trendy tea-based cafes have opened in recent months — Sip + Spoon, Infinitea and Bambu, for starters — and I expect to see more coming here.

What’s different about these tea cafes is how Starbucks-y they are.

No, we don’t have 11 milk tea spots every four blocks like we do Starbucks, but when it comes to the experience of drinking tea, these tea cafes are adopting the Starbucks playbook, all the way down to the spendy prices: $4 to $6 for a cup of tea. No wonder so many are opening here.

Here’s a look at the two newest tea cafes.

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Brewtea House at the South Hill Mall in Puyallup. Sue Kidd

Brewtea House

Where: South Hill Mall food court, 3500 S Meridian, Puyallup.

If I were to pick one new milk tea cafe over any other to visit in the area, Brewtea House in South Hill Mall sits at the top of my list for one reason. The cafe advertises it will make its tea with five different sweetness levels, which are listed transparently on the menu. The cafe prepares its milk teas, smoothies and fruit teas on a scale that ranges from no sugar to quarter, half, three-quarter or full-strength sugar.

Craft beverages hide obscene amounts of sugar. I applaud this cafe for giving diners control over that intake. Please, would more cafes do this?

I experimented with the sugar ratios and found the half sugar formula was perfect for the tea-and-fruit smoothies, and I enjoyed everything from the quarter-to-half strength sugar options for the milk teas.

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A trio of teas from Brewtea House in South Hill Mall. Sue Kidd

Menu: 10 flavors of milk tea including Thai, Jasmine, taro, rose, matcha, caramel, chocolate and coffee flavors in two cold sizes — $3.75 for small and $4.25 for large. Hot version available for $4.25. Boba pearls are included free of charge.

Fruit teas include nine flavor combinations, from lychee to strawberry, pineapple and mango ($4.50 to $4.95). Free lychee — a delicious tropical fruit that’s sort of like a cross between a grape and a strawberry — is available as an add-in for the fruit teas.

The smoothie (creamy) and slushy (not creamy) come in 10 flavors in small ($4.25) or large ($4.95) cups with free boba pearls included in that price. There’s also yakult ($3.95) and snacks such as popcorn chicken ($4.95), fries ($2.95) and dessert waffles (coming soon).

Extra add-ins/toppings: 50 cents each. Find boba, lychee jelly, rainbow jelly, mango jelly, coffee jelly, popping boba and more.

Atmosphere: It’s a mall kiosk, so not flashy or fancy, but the menu and photos are well designed, which adds to the appeal for newcomers to milk tea, fruit teas and tea smoothies. Counter service was organized and swift. Huge amount of seating in the mall food court.

Get the: Half-sugar rose milk tea was dynamite with a light application of the floral flavor. The pineapple-coconut smoothie with reduced sugar also was tasty. The caramel or coffee milk tea with half sugar strength should be on your try list if you’re a tea and latte lover.

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A neon sign in the dining room of Bobalust Tea House on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma. Sue Kidd

BobaLust Cafe

Where: 1701 Dock St., Tacoma

Note: Website says the cafe opens at 2 p.m. daily.

The flashy-and-loud tea cafe was operating at full tilt when I arrived early afternoon during a time when most restaurants are fairly empty.

The tables were packed with 20-somethings. Who were all these young people drinking $4 glasses of milk tea in the early afternoon? Uh, I’m pretty sure the bulk of them were University of Washington Tacoma students.

The menu and dining room are slick designs with concrete floors and expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. That’s also the perfect recipe for creating a very loud cafe, and that’s precisely what I experienced when the pulsing dance track bounced loudly through the cafe. (Get off my lawn!)

Despite the long line and packed dining room, I got my milk tea, smoothie and fruit tea in a reasonable amount of time.

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A trio of teas and smoothies from Bobalust Tea House on the Foss Waterway in Tacoma. Sue Kidd

Menu: Nine styles of milk tea ($4), nine fruit teas ($4), nine flavors of tea slushies ($4), five each tea-and-fruit smoothies and slushies ($5) and six specialty concoctions original to BobaLust ($5).

Add-ins/toppings: 60 cents each. Find several flavors of boba and popping boba, fruit jellies, fresh fruit and more.

Get the: The Chamolly was a fun spin on a Mexican mangonada with blended mango slushy, fresh mango fruit, chamoy (a sweet-and-sour Mexican flavoring) and Tajin, the Mexican spice blend ($5). The Legend of Momo specialty tea was a swirl of peach-mango tea loaded with a spoonful of chopped peaches and mango jelly ($5). At about 1 a.m., I realized what a huge mistake it was to swig down most of the Thai green milk tea because I am pretty sure it had more caffeine than my coffee that morning ($4). If you’re caffeine sensitive, be careful what you order later in the day.

Sue Kidd has been The News Tribune’s restaurant critic since 2008. She dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals. Sue is a South Sound native. She writes about new restaurants, openings and closures and knows where to find the best tacos in every neighborhood.