To deerioca or not to deerioca?
Like any self-respecting Asian person, I am a devotee of bubble tea. So when I heard that The Alley—a Taiwanese bubble tea chain with locations across East Asia that's famous for its creative artisan bevvies—was opening its first Western Canadian location in Vancouver, I hightailed it to the soon-to-launch spot to get the deets. And maybe a few drinks. (All in the name of keeping the tea-loving public abreast of the latest developments in the local BBT scene, of course.)
What was I met with? A menu of nearly 50 drinks and a narrow, industrial-chic space (complete with faux red-brick wall) that’s not far off from the inspiration behind the chain’s name (the many pedestrian-only alleyways of Taiwan). Seasoned slurpers in the sweet, ever-diverse world of BBT will be familiar with most of the offerings here: milk teas, brewed teas, fruit juices and so on—served with toppings like tapioca balls, pineapple jelly and milk pudding—though there are a handful of Alley specialties that keep so-called “Deer fans,” a term that plays off the chain’s deer logo, coming back for more.
Here are the ones I tried—and what’s worth ordering when The Alley officially opens its doors at 985 Hornby Street on Saturday (April 27). (The first 100 customers on that day and Sunday will nab a free large-size milk tea or tea bevvy.)
Deerioca Series, $6.50 each
This is The Alley’s signature beverage series, and will give you a taste of its trademark "deerioca": made-in-house tapioca balls or pearls that have been slow-cooked in melted brown sugar, lending the drinks they’re scooped into a satisfying textural component and a lot of, for lack of a better word, sugariness.
You can enjoy your deerioca with whole milk or soy milk, or opt for matcha (pictured above) like I did, the slight bitterness of which helps temper the sweetness of the pearls. Honestly, even with the matcha, this was still a tad too sweet for my palate, though I gotta respect the craft of the deerioca: each batch is made fresh daily and slow-cooked for a minimum of two hours, with an employee stirring frequently to ensure the perfect chewy consistency.
The deerioca is served warm, and the milk and matcha cold. Leave the components unmixed on your first sip to enjoy the deerioca as is and then stir everything together for a slightly altered flavour experience.
Royal No. 9 Fresh Milk Tea, from $5.25 each
Another Alley best-seller, this milk tea uses imported blueberry-infused black tea—the chain sources premium roasted tea leaves from Taiwan and other regions—that imparts the final product with a delicate, fruity and not at all cloying sweetness. Sugar-cane syrup, which The Alley produces in-house, is also employed here. This is dangerously drinkable. And also auspicious, since nine is considered a lucky number in Taiwanese culture?? Add pearls and slurp up!
Aurora Series, $8.50 each
This beverage series consists of two designed-for-Instagram drinks inspired by the cosmic colours of the aurora borealis: the Northern Lights (apple vinegar, grape slush and butterfly-pea-flower tea) and the Morning Dawn (jasmine green tea, mango slush and, again, butterfly-pea-flower tea). The butterfly-pea-flower tea is a vibrant blue, which is layered atop the purple grape slush and sunny yellow mango slush to create very visually appealing sips. They taste fine enough—mostly like their fruity components—and the reusable and resealable bottle is a nice touch. But, let’s be real, this is something you buy for the ’gram.
Apple of My Eye, $6.25 each
I asked the barista (bubble-rista?) for something light and fruity, and I was presented with the Apple of My Eye: a golden, partly slushy beverage made from honey and apple vinegar (apparently a trending ingredient in the BBT world), and topped with aloe. This doesn’t look like much, so I was surprised by how delightful I found it. (There's no sour taste, despite the vinegar.) A refreshing summer sipper that rivals 7-Eleven Slurpees—and a great pick for the lactose-intolerant and non-dairy crowd.
985 Hornby St.