Nestled inside a vibrant storefront, Bee & Tea, 1843 W. North Ave., offers a variety of affordable boba teas and baos, the Chinese dumpling.
Boba tea is a traditional Taiwanese beverage that is either milk- or tea-based. Different flavorings are added, and the beverage is then garnished with tapioca bobas or pearls. The drink can either be served hot or cold and comes in a plastic container that is sealed off with a plastic cover that gets punctured by a fat straw large enough to slurp up the tapioca bobas.
Bee & Tea is the latest project of Chicago-based Forever Brands, LLC, which also owns the Forever Yogurt and Falafill chains. The shop’s goal is to put boba tea into the mainstream, according to Bee & Tea’s website. The current Wicker Park location will soon be joined by six more locations in Illinois and one in Wisconsin, making the rising boba tea and bao craze more accessible. Bee & Tea is a must for those who are looking for a quick snack and have a taste for adventurous tea flavors.
Boba tea, which debuted in the U.S. in the 1980s, is already in small shops in areas like Chinatown and from other Asian restaurants like the The Milk Teahouse in Lincoln Park, 2551 N. Clark St. But Bee & Tea puts a twist on the sweet drink by letting customers design their own beverages.
Just a five-minute walk from the Damen Blue Line stop, Bee & Tea is easy to identify by its cute, modern cartoon bee sign. Inside, the shop fosters a welcoming feeling with golden yellow- and charcoal-colored walls and hardwood floors. The front wall of the shop is lined with large windows, opening the shop up to lots of natural light. There are several mint green tables with a few wooden steps and wooden counters that line the front windows for patrons to sit.
Bee & Tea gives visitors a variety of options for creating their own specialized boba tea, allowing customers to choose a base tea, sweetness level, three different flavors and the kind of boba they want. The cafe offers a variety of flavors ranging from sweeter fruits to rich chocolate and ginger flavors.
Black milk tea lightly sweetened with mango flavoring stands out among the wide variety of tea options. The milky black tea base combined with the strong mango flavor creates a creamy, flavorful sensation that sips smoothly. Usually fruits and creaminess do not mix well, but the subtlety of the milk adds an interesting and delicious twist to the beverage.
However, the black milk tea sweetened with peppermint flavoring could have had a bit more of a kick. While the tea base and sweetness of the drink was pleasurable, the peppermint flavoring was almost nonexistent. With a little more peppermint, the drink could create a much more flavorful experience for customers .
For the tapioca bobas, customers have a few options. The traditional tapioca pearls, which are black on the outside and a murky tan on the inside, are chewy once you bite into them. Bee & Tea also offers “popping boba,” which are tapioca pearls filled with different flavorings on the inside.
The chicken teriyaki bao ($1.99) was presented in a large wicker basket lined with a piece of parchment paper and had the bao set in a tiny cardboard carton inside. The bao was quite small, so the presentation seems fairly unnecessary compared to the size of the dish. Wrapped in a cakey rice bun—too large compared to the ratio of the fillings—the zesty bao was filled with teriyaki chicken, shredded cabbage, scallions and sesame seeds. The flavor of the chicken was smoky and sweet with a hint of sauce to keep it moist.
Overall, the bao dishes are small food because of their small size. None of them could suffice as an entire meal on their own, but a side of rice, mixed greens or quinoa can be added for sustenance. Items on the menu range from $1.99–6.99, making the dishes and beverages affordable to Wicker Park residents and college students alike.