One of the biggest non-surprises in the world is that I’m a big fan of bubble tea. Being an extremely suburban Chinese person, I’ve practically grown up drinking these (sometimes over)sweetened and flavoured milk tea beverages, complete with (supposedly carcinogenic) tapioca pearls. Interestingly, the whole notion of bubble tea was practically unheard of when I was a child in 1980′s and early 1990′s Indonesia. It’s only when I moved to this wonderful land of opportunity and crazy hockey fans that I first became exposed to this delightful beverage. Interesting. I had to move OUT of Asia to be introduced to what is probably the most Asian drink of all.
I initially tried bubble tea because it was a “trendy” new thing. All the cool kids in school hung out in bubble tea shops, so obviously I had to do what other awkward high school kids do and try it out (note: do NOT apply the same principles to drugs, kids. Because WINNERS DON’T DO DRUGS). I loved it but I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that it was a fad: something that would eventually disappear when the novelty wears off. I’m glad I was wrong because, if anything, my love of bubble tea has grown as I grew older.
That’s why I’m happy to observe the sudden influx of bubble tea shops around the GTA. Up until a few years ago, the most prominent bubble tea players were mostly local brand names: the ridiculously large and hip Destiny, the more chic-looking Go for Tea, and the stupidly oversweetened but cheap Tea Shop 168. And that’s not counting the minor players like Bubble Tease and units like Freshly Squeezed that offer bubble teas. Recently, however, I’ve seen a proliferation of interesting bubble tea shops that come straight from Asia as part of their first forays into North American expansion. Chatime was the first, and then I started seeing brands like Latte Mei, Kung Fu Tea Shop, and, for the purposes of this review, Easy Drink Easy Go. As a customer, more options is always a good thing, as each chain usually has something that distinguishes their offering and positioning from the rest. However, I can’t help but think that this must be quite tough for the franchisees, who now have to contend with exponentially higher competition.
Gloomy thoughts, aside, I was very happy when I was invited by the owners of Easy Drink Easy Go (hereafter referred to as EDEG) to sample their famous milk teas. Located in a tiny shop at the base of a Tridel-owned condo in North York, EDEG prides itself in providing high quality bubble tea drinks, which are made with care, and not slapped together with cheap ingredients (I’m looking at YOU, Tea Shop 168). The franchise is based out of Taiwan (what a surprise), but have many locations in South East Asia (in particular Malaysia) and Australia, with this modest store being its first Canadian location. Feeling quite proud to be a part of this historic occasion, WW and I went to see if we couldn’t enjoy some of these ourselves.
We sampled quite a bit of drinks that day, so for the purposes of this article I will only highlight some of the major ones. Firstly, we HAD to try EDEG’s signature drink: the Hokkaido Milk Tea, complete with a sweet pudding-like topping inside. This was without a doubt one of the most flavourful teas I’ve ever had in my life. It was creamy and smooth, with a taste that’s not overpowering. The sweetness actually mostly came from the pudding, and thus the beverage did not have the painfully sweet taste one gets from the lesser bubble tea shops. The tea taste itself was pronounced, and blended well with the overall creaminess of the beverage. It brought to mind a bit of Malaysia/Singapore’s teh tarik, in cold form. We also sampled the taro milk tea (WW’s favourite flavour) and I was personally impressed, again, at how strong the flavour was, without being overpowered by the taste of sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I love sweet drinks, but when your eyes keep on repeatedly closing due to the sugar concentration, that’s NOT a good thing. Happily, EDEG has found that happy medium where the taste is delicious but the sweetness is just right. Sacrificing sugar doesn’t have to mean sacrificing taste. In fact, a nice touch that you see in many of the newer bubble tea stores is that you can choose your level of sugar, and I’m very happy to report that EDEG offers this option as well.
Damien and Eunice, the two lovely owners, explained that they come from South East Asia. This makes a lot of sense as, being one myself, I understand the importance of getting a flavour explosion in your mouth. The taste must be pronounced enough to hit you, but complex enough that it’s not just a flat one-dimensional sensation (i.e. plain heat, plain sweet, plain salty). This definitely rings true with EDEG’s offerings. There’s a hint of complexity in their beverages, something which is often found lacking in many of the more local-based bubble tea shops, and something which quickly reminded me of why I love food and drinks in South East Asia so damn much.
EDEG has one more pleasant surprise: they offer food! In an interesting twist, you can try out some Malaysian-style curry beef with rice, which is as delicious as it sounds. The curry flavours were rich and hit all the right notes, almost exactly mimicking the taste of curry that I loved so much growing up in that part of the world. It’s spicy without being overwhelming, and rich without being too creamy. The only drawback is that I found that the rice portion was a bit much, but I can’t really complain because to some other people this may be viewed as a plus.
I would definitely come back here and sample the other varieties. One that I’ve earmarked is the Yin Yang tea, which is a take on the traditional coffee and tea mixed together found in many cha chaan tengs around town. It may not be lavishly big, it may not be sleek and modern, but for awesome quality bubble tea for a reasonable price, it’s kinda hard to beat this place. Bonus: You can then take a walk outside and check out the delightful restaurant offerings at Northtown Way. And in an ever-changing bubble tea environment where major corporate players move in, I feel it’s important to take some time and check out the smaller players. You may just be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
Easy Drink Easy Go
5423 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M2N 5R6