Boba or Bubble or Milk? The Mystery of Tea Street Unfurled

BY Linnea Covington

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 At the forefront of the bubble tea and boba boom in Denver, siblings Patrick and Victoria Lam opened Tea Street in 2018. Now, the duo has plans for a second location in Parker, all while catering to the families, after-school rush, and post-dinner tea craze found at their original Glendale shop. 

While growing up in Colorado, the siblings, who are ethnically Cantonese with Vietnamese-born parents, frequently visited family in Hong Kong. It was there the sweet, creamy flavors of Hong Kong-style milk tea enticed and enchanted them. Those visits and those teas never left the Lams’ minds, even when the two lived in different places. 

For Victoria that meant studying abroad in Shanghai. During that time Patrick made frequent trips to Taiwan, the place where bubble tea started in the 1980s. Owning and operating a tea shop in Denver was never the sibling’s goal. In fact, each studied in industries far from hospitality, finance and taxes. But once Taiwanese bubble tea came into the siblings’ lives, it never left and the two decided to take a leap and open their own spot dedicated to the beverage. 

brick wall with two asian people standing in front
Patrick and Victoria Lam, owners of Tea Street. | Photo by Alex Guardia

Tea To Think About

The Lams take premium tea leaves sourced from their numerous trips to Taiwan. The basic choices include ceylon black, jasmine green, four season, and tieguanyin, a type of Chinese oolong tea the Lams grew up drinking.

Everything at Tea Street gets made fresh, in house. The team eschews artificial flavors or fake sugar and instead, happily talks to customers about the products and what they may enjoy. Some options may sound familiar, such as iced honey green tea, lemon black tea, and Vietnamese coffee. Other items like the tiger milk tea, cloud teas or longan tea may garner questions. 

Ask away, the staff welcomes any inquiries and wants to give customers information about what kind of iced or hot teas one might enjoy. While there, we found out the ins and outs of winter melon tea. Turns out it’s a beverage using a pumpkin-like squash known for having natural sugars, and only comes in season in the cooler months. In tea form, winter melon proved absolutely delicious, especially when paired with salty plum juice and sweet lychee jelly.

white wall with decorations and black chairs in front
Take tea inside the shop or to go. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Boba Vs. Bubble Tea

It’s not uncommon to think boba and bubble tea are the same thing, the two often go hand in hand. However there is a simple distinction between the two, boba is the topping, and bubble tea is the popular Taiwanese drink. 

“As bubble tea culture has become more mainstream, I’ve learned to distinguish the difference,” commented Chea Franz, who does the public relations for Mile High Asian Food Week. “Think of bubble tea as pizza, and boba as pepperoni. While people use the terms ‘boba’ and ‘bubble tea’ interchangeably, which is totally fine, don’t be surprised if you order boba at a boutique bubble tea shop and the barista asks you what kind or what flavor.” 

Boba commonly refers to the tapioca pearls, those gooey balls of goodness that offer the perfect chew. That texture, by the way, is referred to as “Q” or “QQ” in Taiwan. The toppings on bubble tea don’t stop there. Favorites include the rectangular lychee jelly bits, pieces of passion fruit, and mango popping boba, which brings to mind the old school lunchbox treat, Gushers. Even the boba isn’t just one flavor. At Tea Street customers choose from honey, brown sugar or crystal, which may have a light citrus essence. 

white wall with wood table and three cups of white and blue tea
Milk teas, both hot and iced, are popular at Tea Street. | Photo by Tea Street

Teas To Try 

Though some of the teas on Tea Street’s menu (and other bubble tea shops around town) say “milk tea,” it’s usually not the normal milk Americans think of. Instead, it’s a lactose- and dairy-free powder that gives the drink a creaminess without the animal product. Customers can ask for real milk too, but it has to be specified. Personally, cow’s milk doesn’t make any of these drinks better, in fact, may add more heaviness to the tea.

Now, off the menu a simple order of cold taro milk tea from the menu produced a grayish-purple drink with an earthy sugaryness similar to a sweet potato with floral notes. Add in coffee jelly for an extra kick. Tea Street also makes freezes with some of the ingredients, and a mango slush tasted like a high end Slurpee without the sugar and chemical hangover. 

If salty and tart is your thing, the plum juice winter melon tea had such a complex flavor, it was gone in a flash just trying to figure out the nuances. Soon the Lams will tuck winter items to bed and wake up spring flavors. This includes a pickled lemonade, which ironically doesn’t involve lemons but black limes instead. Of course, a passion fruit green tea will quench thirst just as well if the funky summer beverage sounds strange. 

bike with basket and food cart
Head to Tea Street in Glendale now for some seriously good bubble tea. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Coming Up

When the Lams open the next location of Tea Street the tea menu will mirror what they do now. But with the expanded operation, dumplings will begin to make a show, giving customers the ability to have snack or meal, and their tea too. Look for more news on the opening, slated for late spring, early summer.

Visit Tea Street Wednesday through Monday starting at noon and until 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 4090 E. Mississippi Ave., Denver, teastreetdenver.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linnea Covington

Linnea Covington is the managing editor of DiningOut. She comes to us with a long background in food, restaurant and drinks journalism. Over the last two decades she’s written for tons of publications including Denver Post, Washington Post, Forbes Travel Guide, 5280 Magazine, New York Magazine, New York Times, Time Out New York and more.

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