A Milk Tea Journey through Chengdu

Authors: Helen Loaiza

2019-03-07

Most of my experience has, for better or worse, been with milk tea chains that can be found across the country.
As a self-proclaimed milk tea lover, I've had a chance to test out many of Chengdu's milk tea shops while on the search for the best one. With several Chinese cities under my belt, I'm no stranger to what a good cup of milk tea entails. That's why I have decided to give myself the responsibility of finding the shops that are worth checking out around town.
To those new to the milk tea craze, here's a quick run-down of what milk tea is. Milk tea is typically the combination of hot tea and milk. In its most popular form, it is the combination of black tea and powdered milk served with tapioca balls. Other popular combinations include green tea and jasmine tea, while other common ingredients are grass jelly, pudding, and coconut jelly.
A quick vocabulary check for ordering milk tea
* Most importantly… how do you say milk tea?
Milk tea (nǎi)(chá)
* Types of tea
Black tea (hóng)(chá)
Green tea 绿()(chá)
* Ingredients
Tapioca (zhēn)(zhū)
Grass jelly (xiān)(cǎo)
Pudding ()(dīng)
Red bean (hóng)(dòu)
* Preparation
Hot ()(de)
Cold (bīng)(de)
No ice ()(bīng)
Room temperature (cháng)(wēn)
Regular sweetness (zhèng)(cháng)(táng)
Half sweet (bàn)(táng)
Slightly sweet (wēi)(táng)
I am a traditionalist when it comes to milk tea. Most of my experience has, for better or worse, been with milk tea chains that can be found across the country. Although, with most things, it is expected that a chain store could not possibly provide the quality a local store can provide, I tend to disagree. The quality these milk tea chains offer may often beat that of the local competition. The pricing, of course, will also often be lower than that of a local store. That's why I tend to rest assured when I see a Coco or Yi Dian Dian. When I buy from these stores, I can be certain that the quality, price, and offerings will be the same as that I could find at any other location.
To kick-off my milk tea comparison, let's start with the milk tea chains that can pretty much be found everywhere (according to me):
Coco
Its iconic orange and white color-scheme will attract the attention of many passing by. The quality of its beverages transcends cities.
I recommend the three brothers milk tea (奶茶三兄弟), which includes tapioca pearls, grass jelly, and pudding in milk tea.
Yi Dian Dian
Yi ian Dian is recognized by its green logo. This milk tea shop holds a special place in my heart because it offers two sizes of tapioca pearls: small and large. Those who have been exposed to milk tea for several years will realize that the standard milk-tea-and-tapioca combination does not have the same allure as before. Depending on the store, the tapioca may not have the correct consistency. Luckily, Yi Dian Dian offers tapioca to suit all tastes. I personally prefer milk tea with small tapioca (珍珠). My friends have also highly recommended Yi Dian Dian's milk tea with ice cream and caramel.
Now we can move on to milk tea chains that are not as common:
Cha Bai Dao
A nice distraction from my regular milk tea habits. I ordered the sesame pudding milk tea, which featured sesame within the pudding itself. I found this store near the Tonghuimen metro station. It has a blue and white logo. This site is also close to a scenic area where you can find many antiques, opera houses, and tea houses.
Shu Yi Shao Xian Cao
According to its name, this store features grass jelly as its specialty. I would recommend it for the variety of grass jelly you can find here. It can be found near the Second Chengdu People's Hospital metro station. Only a short walk down from this location is Chengdu IFS, a shopping center with a gigantic panda hanging off the side of one of its buildings. If you're looking for high-end brands, coffee shops, or good eats, make sure to hit up Chengdu IFS while you're at this milk tea spot!
Cuo Nei Village 小眷
Also located outside of Second Chengdu People's Hospital metro station (and conveniently next to Yi Dian Dian), this milk tea spot has a variety of drinks to choose from. When I am looking for a variation from my usual pudding or grass jelly milk tea, I try the specials found here because this chain tends to use less traditional milk tea ingredients. I recently tried a beverage from this shop with sweet potato as the ingredient. The sweet potato seemed to have been boiled down before being added to the milk tea, so it melted in your mouth with each sip, making it a very enjoyable experience if you are not in the mood to chew tapioca balls. This drink was called jiǎ xiān yù tou nǎi chá (甲仙芋头奶茶). (Yù tou can also be translated as taro.)
And an honorable mention:
The Alley 鹿角巷 (lu jiao xiang)
When I am searching for a milk tea with low sugar content, I always search for the nearest The Alley. This milk tea shop has many of the same ingredients found in previously-mentioned milk tea shops but with a twist on its milk tea flavor. I went to the shop near Wide and Narrow Alley metro station (宽窄巷子kuān zhǎi xiàng zi). While visiting this shop, I would suggest a quick visit to Wide and Narrow Alley! Here you can find many of Chengdu's local eats while also taking a look at Chengdu's Panda memorabilia. No matter how long you are staying in Chengdu, this is a must-visit area.
Disclaimer: The search for milk tea is never over. In fact, the search for Chengdu's best milk tea spot has just begun.

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