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Bubble Tea in Singapore: KOI vs LiHo vs Gong Cha vs TaiGai & More

bubble tea

Eugenia Liew

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Congratulations Singapore, it’s been almost 2 decades and we’re still obsessed with bubble tea. Also called “boba tea”, the food fad made a comeback in the early 2000s and never looked back since. A regular teh ping will cost you about $1.20 at the hawker centre, but add tapioca pearls to make pearl milk tea and you can expect to pay more than double the price.

Why? Because teh ping in a plastic bag is not going to make it to the ‘gram – duh.

So how much does an Instagrammable cup of pearl milk tea cost? We compare the prices of 10 popular bubble tea chains, including newcomers like Bobii Frutii and TP Tea, as well as the original gangsters KOI, Gong Cha and LiHo.


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Bubble tea price guide: Which pearl milk tea is the cheapest?

I used the most basic pearl milk tea as the point of comparison for your reference. Sadly, I’m not a food connoisseur so I can’t comment on which one is most worth those damn bubble tea calories.

Bubble tea shop  Pearl milk tea price (medium/regular) 
Woobbee  $2.90 (WB milk tea with pearls)  
Partea $2.90 (Amber tea with pearl)
Gong Cha $3.20 (Pearl milk tea)
LiHo $3.30 (Classic milk tea + pearl)
I Love Taimei  $3.40 (Milk tea + pearl)
KOI $3.50 (Golden bubble milk tea)
Playmade $3.70 (SG / Taiwan milk tea + pearls)  
TP Tea (halal) $3.90 (Pearl milk tea)
Bobii Frutii  $4.20 (Black tea au lait + bobii) 
Tai Gai  $4.50 (Beary creative)

Bubble tea delivery

Also, if you’re lazy, here are 4 stores that offer bubble tea delivery. Not sure which to go for? Check out our comparison of local food delivery platforms. 

Bubble tea shop   Where to order (delivery platform)  
Woobbee Foodpanda, GrabfoodWoobbee website
Gong cha Deliveroo, Foodpanda
I Love Taimei Foodpanda
Playmade Deliveroo, Foodpanda

 

Woobbee

Woobbee stands for “wu bi”, which is unbeatable in Mandarin. Sounds like a kiasu Singaporean name, right?

That’s because it is – Woobbee is a homegrown bubble tea brand, supposedly inspired by KOI.

Currently, their pearl milk tea is one of the cheapest in Singapore ($2.90 for regular), but if you do drop by, you should probably try the fancier flavours. The menu features many signature drinks, all of which were concocted by founder Irene, who has previous experience not just working at other bubble tea stores, but also as a barista in London. I especially like the Yakult drinks, which are mostly under $3.80 (exceptions are the ice-blended ones, which are $4.90).


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Although not a Taiwanese franchise, Woobbee claims to use tea leaves imported from Taiwan, as well as raw sugar (less calories). There are 3 Woobbee outlets – Tanjong Pagar, Shaw Tower and Chinatown – and if you’re within 1km of any of them, you can also opt for bubble tea delivery ($3, minimum order $18).

 

Partea

Now, if you’re a purist and can only have Taiwanese bubble tea, then the cheapest one to get your bubble milk tea fix is Partea ($2.90 for 500cc). However, if you want to get their signature rainbow teas, then you must be prepared to spend as much as almost $7.


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Partea’s concept is slightly different – the menu focuses on fruit-tea blends, using a wide variety of Chinese tea bases like Gaoshan Oolong, Puer, and more. The most expensive drinks are the fruit teas with cheese. I personally dislike the whole cheese tea thing, but I just generally have quite a conservative palate. The fruit teas only come in large cups and are $5.20 to $5.90. Add cheese and they’re $6.40 to $6.90.

That’s as much as a grande cuppa Starbucks (or 2 cai png meals) – worth it or not, you decide.

 

Gong Cha

Ah… Gong Cha 2.0.

Most of us long-time bubble tea fans will remember the first Gong Cha, which was brought in by RTG Holdings (they also manage Nene Chicken, Bornga and Paik’s Coffee franchises). In a very dramatic move (May 2017), they converted all of their outlets into a new brand called LiHo.

Long story short, Royal Tea Taiwan (Gong Cha’s then-parent company) was sold to Gong Cha Korea without RTC Holding’s knowledge, and RTC Holdings wasn’t too happy about it. TBH, I don’t really care about this squabble – all I know is that we now have LiHo AND Gong Cha 2.0, which is good enough for me.


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Now, the new Gong Cha sells the basic pearl milk tea at $3.20, which is $0.10 cheaper than its predecessor (LiHo). It is by no means the cheapest bubble tea chain, but if you get the signature drinks – like the Brown sugar dessert smoothie ($4.50 for medium), for instance – it’s relatively affordable and you typically wouldn’t pay over $5 for a drink. From now until 30 June 2019, flashing your NTUC card entitles you to a discount of 5% off your total bill.

There are currently only 14 Gong Cha outlets, check if there’s one near you via the official website.

 

LiHo

There are two camps – the ones who hate LiHo for turning its back on the Gong Cha brand, and those who #DGAF. I’m obviously in the latter camp, and to me, LiHo and Gong Cha will forever be the same. I only order earl grey milk tea ($3.40 with pearls) anyway. On the days I feel like saving $0.10, I order the classic milk tea with pearl ($3.30).


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After rebranding to LiHo, the chain introduced the new cheese topping. It took off at the start, but I don’t see anyone queuing for the “limited edition” cheese drinks anymore. Like Gong Cha, most of LiHo’s drinks are under $5, with the exception of the cheese smoothies (or if you order in large size). Even the cheese guanyin is only $4.10 (medium).

All previous Gong Cha 1.0 stores are now LiHo, which means there are some 30+ LiHo outlets islandwide.

 

I Love Taimei

If you have an inner se bei bei that can be satiated (at least in part, I suppose…) by Taiwanese bubble tea and street food, I Love Taimei (ILTM) is your answer. If you think the brand name is cringe-worthy, wait till you see the menu items: You can literally eat out  S.H.E, Jolin Tsai and 大S, which are the names of the food dishes ($2.90 to $5.90).


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ILTM boasts about having “the best pearl milk tea in Singapore“, and judging by the raving reviews, it seems to live up to the hype. The pearl milk tea comes in just one size, and is $3.40. If you don’t want the pearls, you can order it “naked” for $2.80. They also have some very colourful signature blends – featuring juices, Yakult and even chia seeds – that go up to $4.90.

 

KOI (KOI Thé)

I suppose there’s not much to say about KOI – it is probably everything you know, feel and think about bubble tea. After all, the OG bubble tea goes a long way back in Taiwan, where it is called 50 Lan.


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Despite ILTM’s claim, most people I know unanimously agree that KOI serves the best pearl milk tea ($3.50) in existence. And this includes the friends who love being “indie” and are generally against food trend bandwagons. The secret seems to be in the golden pearls, which are just the right amount of chewy.

The most popular drinks are undoubtedly the macchiatos and tea lattes, which are $2.90 to $4.10 (medium, excluding toppings). In this day and age where people are blowing $7 to $10 on cold brews, I think it’s relatively affordable. There are currently almost 50 KOI outlets, and you can check out the full KOI menu here.

Note: Since 7 May 2018, KOI has been offering $2.50 medium-sized bubble milk tea for transactions made via GrabPay.

 

Playmade

I don’t know about you, but ever since I read some trashy news article about bubble tea pearls that contain fish eyeballs (shut up), I have been slightly suspicious of delightfully chewy boba balls.


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With Playmade by 丸作 (wan zuo), you can rest easy. 丸作 is a huge bubble tea name in Taiwan, and the parent brand of Playmade in Singapore. The “wan” in its original name means pearls, which is what Playmade is famous for.  Playmade’s pearls are made with all natural ingredients, without artificial colouring, and are always fresh – they’re churned out hourly, so you don’t have to worry about those hard, stale excuses for pearls.

For $3.70, you can choose from a variety of drinks like the SG/Taiwan milk tea, tieguanyin milk tea and earl grey milk tea ($2.90), and toppings like the pink cactus, black sesame and burnt caramel pearls ($0.80).

 

TP Tea (halal)

Okay, so if you’re a true bubble tea enthusiast you would’ve heard of Chun Shui Tang (CST), the real OG bubble tea chain from Taichung (sorry KOI). They are the ones who started the whole craze in the 1980s. TP Tea is a brand under CST, and opened its first Singapore outlet (which is halal) earlier in mid 2018.

Most of the news around TP Tea talks about the fact that its first outlet is open 24-7… Gasp, can I really say goodbye to 3am bubble tea cravings?????


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No, I cannot. The 24-hour TP Tea is located within Changi Airport, which is very lame because literally nobody lives near the airport. Bummer. But anyway, the pearl milk tea is $3.90 (16oz), which is on the steep side. In fact, it’s more worth it to get the ice-cream variant, which is $0.40 cheaper (milk tea soft serve with pearls, $3.60).

 

Bobii Frutii

Bobii Frutii‘s branding is a tad confusing to me – its logo and name is super cutesy, but on the menu, it uses fancy French terms like “au lait” which just means “with milk”. A Taiwanese franchise, Bobii Frutii is famous for its super colourful drinks; and it’s not just the teas that are in all shades of the rainbow, the tapioca pearls come in different hues too.


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So it makes sense that if you head to Bobii Frutti, you should get the Instagram-worthy bubble teas. The pearl milk tea – or black tea au lait – isn’t cheap anyway ($3.60 without toppings, and $4.20 with pearls). The signature drinks are $4.50 to $6.50, while the ice-blended slushies are mostly $5.90.

Also, Bobii Frutii’s Singapore brand ambassador and creative director is local celebrity Nat Ho. Not really relevant, but just in case you are a fan girl…

 

TaiGai

The last in this list is TaiGai, the newest bubble tea chain to hit Singapore. TaiGai is from Shenzhen, China, and was brought to our shores by BreadTalk Group. Their first (and currently only) store is at NEX B2, and is TaiGai’s first overseas store – woohoo!


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TaiGai is wildly popular in China for its  “Fruity Milky Kiss” drinks. The milky kiss is what you get when you sip on the milk cheese foam, which covers the milk tea (奶盖).

“Fruity Milky Kiss” teas that are blended with fresh fruits, and then topped with a layer of frothy milk cheese foam. Although the newest player in the game, Tai Gai doesn’t seem to care about being price competitive – the Beary Creative drink (essentially milk tea + 1 topping) is $4.50, which is almost 1.5X more expensive than the others because it comes with a bear-shaped lid.

Update: The Beary Creative drink was part of a limited-time promotion that is no longer available.

Like Partea, Playmade and Bobii Frutii, the signature milky kiss drinks can go up to almost $7 each.

Which of these bubble teas are your favourite? Share it with us in the comments below. 

 

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Eugenia Liew

I’m a 90s millennial who’s starting to realise that #adulting is more expensive than it seems on Instagram. When I’m not writing for MoneySmart, I’m usually playing with drain-dwelling stray cats or shopping at Sephora.