Two things occur whenever a food craze hits our shores — the first reaction’s one of pure unadulterated #fomo, where we’d think nothing of hour-long queues and happily stand in line to slurp/sip/gobble up the hype. The phrase “is it worth it” flashes across our feeble minds, and we trust no one — nothing except our own tastebuds, of course. Which then gives way to the second thing: skepticism. Thank you, left brain. Now, we’re thinking: is it even worth it?!
That’s where we are when it comes to this brown sugar bubble milk madness. We were alerted to this season’s most fetch words, “Brown Sugar Boba Milk”, earlier in January, when R&B Tea announced that they were bringing one of Taiwan’s hottest bubble tea trends to Singapore. At that time, we thought nothing much of it — it was good, but nothing we craved. Fast forward 11 months later, and that humble drink has gone viral, morphing into a widespread fever that has seized our nation. A monster too; kinda like Singaporeans’ insatiable attitude. So you bet we wanted to try them all!
So, for the uninitiated out there, what’s a brown sugar milk drink anyway? The beverage usually refers to a blend of fresh milk and brown sugar syrup, with the option of additional pearls; these can sometimes be steeped in brown sugar as well.
For our taste test, we did set a couple of parameters though: our list was limited to the 6 most popular brands, mostly for ease of convenience since they’ll probably have the most outlets you can visit.
Then, we tried to make it as impartial as possible; it wasn’t one person trying the drinks, but at least 3 of us, in order to see if we could come to a unanimous decision (spoiler: we did!). To ensure each drink’s maximum freshness, we made sure that the drinks were consumed less than 20mins after they’re made — max. Oh, and we queued if we had to alright! You’ll see the queue times reflected, true to a real-life scenario on a Friday afternoon. Here are our honest opinions, from worst to best…
Brown Sugar Fresh Milk + Golden Bubbles, 50% Sugar — $6.50 (L)
Outlet: Ngee Ann City, #B2-37C
queue: None ; <5mins waiting
Hmm, no queue?
Now, we normally like Koi for their bouncy golden bubbles… but despite all that brown sugar, I’m not gonna sugar-coat this: it was a major disappointment. There was something weird and artificial about its taste, and one of us even commented that it tastes like cough syrup, probably because the brown sugar left a dissatisfying aftertaste that’s extra cloying. You can’t even taste the fresh milk!
As for the pearls, their usually neutral taste did not go along with the drink, with their firmness almost bringing out the unnatural flavour. Harsh. Two sips was the maximum any of us dared afford. Go for the other drinks instead. Also important: not all the outlets feature the Brown Sugar series, only the express ones — we originally visited the one at Lucky Plaza, and got referred to the Ngee Ann City store instead.
Available at KOI express outlets, including Ngee Ann City, 313 Somerset, Raffles City.
VERDICT: 1 / 5
Brown Sugar Pearl Fresh Milk — $4.60 (L)
Outlet: Capitol Piazza, #B2-31
QUEUE: NoNE ; <5mins waiting
There are outlets everywhere, so you’re almost guaranteed of your brown sugar fix. If you’re not too fussy, and have a sweet tooth, this one might be for you. Plenty of folks who thought the famous Tiger Sugar isn’t worth its waiting time would immediately recommend LiHo’s drink, so in a way, LiHo’s already got the popular vote going for them! We also agreed that their pearls had the most brown sugar flavour — other than R&B, these seem to be the only ones with that distinct caramel taste.
When freshly prepared and slurped on the spot, the blend of brown sugar syrup and fresh milk was good, but not out-of-this-world. We felt that the drink was too sweet overall, which then compromised on the complexity of flavour. Once again, the problem might lie with the cloying brown sugar syrup; when used in abundance, it’s almost too artificial-tasting. Also, while LiHo might have the most outlets around, we can’t say much about the drink’s consistency and quality control — maybe there’s a better outlet out there?
Available at all LiHo outlets islandwide.
VERDICT: 2 / 5
4. Bobii Frutii
Childhood Memory — $3.90
Outlet: Suntec City, #02-376 (near H&M)
Queue: None ; 10mins waiting
We know this Taiwanese brand because the Singapore outlets have a famous creative director and brand ambassador: local actor Nat Ho. And their drink names are usually pretty unique too; this one’s called ‘Childhood Memory’, pretty apt since the drink conjures up feelings of sweet nostalgia. The formula’s straightforward: milk, brown sugar, and brown sugar bobii — what we did enjoy was how the blend wasn’t overly sweet, while the outlet has a nice seating area for you to chill at. Oh, and this one’s the most affordable of the bunch!
While most of their drinks are usually pretty-looking for the ‘gram, we somehow can’t say the same for this one, especially when compared to the others. Maybe it’s the plastic cover? In terms of taste, we thought it was average as well, which is why this one falls right in the middle of the pack.
Available at bobii frutii outlets, including Suntec City, The Clementi Mall.
VERDICT: 2.5 / 5
Brûlée Bobo Tea (Fresh Milk, Standard Sugar) — $4.50
outlet: ION Orchard, #B4-29
Queue: 15mins ; 10mins waiting (queue starts at Watsons)
We’re getting there people, and on the upswing now! HEYTEA’s another brand that opened to much fanfare recently, which is a no-brainer since it’s lauded for being “China’s No. 1 contemporary tea connoisseur” and also, ahem, the originators of another bubble tea fad, the cheese tea. Despite the queue, the cafe’s interiors are some of the nicest we’ve seen, with a contemporary white-and-wood theme, while friendly staff were on hand to guide new customers and take their orders.
On to the drinks though! We like that the brand tried to incorporate one of their signature flairs to it — it’s not just brown sugar pearl milk, but Brûlée Bobo tea, with a torched brown sugar crème brûlée top. Its chewy Bobo pearls are also slow-cooked in brown sugar, for a subtle caramel taste, and these come accompanied with fresh brown sugar milk. Taste-wise, we liked the blend, especially since we could finally taste the fresh milk in this one. This one also wins points for being such a good-looker!
No doubt, the queue was quite the turn-off — it moved pretty fast, but when combined with the waiting time, ended up being almost half an hour in total. Do you really need a thirst-quencher then? Also, while we were glad that this one wasn’t too saccharine sweet, we would have preferred if the burnt caramel flavour stood out a bit more. It might be the proportion of the milk, but somehow, those yummy notes we were looking for just didn’t quite satisfy. We’d go back for a second chance though, once the queues subside!
Available at HEYTEA, currently only at ION Orchard.
VERDICT: 3 / 5
2. Tiger Sugar
Brown Sugar Boba + Pearl With Cream Mousse — $5.30
Outlet: Capitol Piazza, #B2-32
Queue: 40mins ; 10mins waiting (queue starts at MRT area)
The OG of brown sugar pearl milk. From Taiwan. With queues and repeat customers to back them up. These are the top-notch credentials of Tiger Sugar, and when coupled with the surging amount of testimonials on social media, you know it’s the one to beat. Gotta say, it comes darn close! Firstly, the drink is gorgeous when you first receive it, and much like you would with a newborn baby, you’d be coo-ing over the artistic streaks of brown sugar syrup. The ideal here, would be to take the drink a total of 15 times — no more, no less — according to the brand.
What we admired was the fragrant blend; the harmonious combination of brown sugar and fresh Meiji milk (premium!) resulted in a smooth drink that’s rightly accompanied with a natural brown sugar taste, one that complements and adds complexity to the drink rather than takes over. Finally! The cream mousse gave a more full-bodied flavour and frothy texture to the beverage too, while the mix of pearls, some tinier and softer, and others larger, kept each sip varied and fun.
You know it! That dreaded queue. We’d definitely avoid it if we could, because it’s actually almost an hour for one drink. Also, as pearl lovers, we had a small gripe with Tiger Sugar’s — they weren’t perfect, and a little too soft for our liking, and quite plain-tasting as well. You’ll see why that’s important soon…
Available at Tiger Sugar outlets, at Capitol Piazza and Chinatown Point.
VERDICT: 4 / 5
1. R&B Tea — WINNER!
Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cheese Brûlée $4.80
Outlet: Marina Square, #04-101/102
Queue: None ; <5mins waiting
R&B, you had us at hello. It was love at first sip, and we’ve been going on and on about you since. You see, this drink, the Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cheese Brûlée is everything you want in a brown sugar drink — the fresh milk perfectly blends together with the fragrant aroma of the brown sugar glaze, imported from Taiwan, swirling together like dancers on an ice skating rink. As for the pearls, they’re said to be slow-cooked in R&B’s unique brown sugar, and we could taste the difference! The chewy al dente delights add a caramelised note that’s similarly not too cloying, and with that, instantly adds a depth of flavour to the drink.
We’re not even done! There’s that layer of cheese brûlée, made cheese cream, with brown sugar bits sprinkled and torched into a crust; this gives a hint of saltiness, and if you’ve watched Netflix’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, you know how that divine combination can elevate sweetness. Lastly, the thing that edges out all other competition: the texture: this one’s creamy, fluffy, with a lightly whipped texture in every sip. How this outlet had no queue totally eludes us! Go on and try it, we’re not making this up! It was a unanimous decision.
None, really. But being Singaporeans, we just weren’t comfortable with giving full marks.
Available at R&B Tea outlets, including Marina Square, Toa Payoh, Singpost Centre, Marina Bay Sands, Oasis Terraces.
VERDICT: 4.5 / 5
By: Amelia Tan, Lim Yen Shuen, Wylie Wang