Cafe review: The Bubbling Teapot provides a welcome place for bubble tea on the East Side –

The Bubbling Teapot is thriving on Madison’s East Side, where it’s good to see the bubble tea craze carrying on and not disappearing like so many ephemeral food and drink trends.

Tea with boba, or tapioca balls, was big in Taiwan in the 1990s and started appearing in California first, becoming more widespread in the United States in the early 2000s.

There are plenty of places to get bubble tea on State Street, but it’s harder to come by in other parts of Madison.

That’s why I appreciate that Meena Canaie, 26, opened The Bubbling Teapot in October on East Johnson Street, taking over from the 12-year-old Jade Mountain, where she worked for three years, in two stints.

Canaie has improved upon Jade Mountain, but during two recent visits my daughter and I had our tea orders mixed up.

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Bubble tea from The Bubbling Teapot

Up to one-third of customers at The Bubbling Teapot ask for a custom sugar level for their bubble tea.

My daughter ordered her matcha green milk tea ($5.50) 75% less sweet, but my coconut milk tea ($5.50) was the one that came out with reduced sweetness.

On a second visit, my daughter again asked for the same tea with one-quarter the sugar to be more clear, and I ordered my red bean milk tea ($4.50) with half the sugar. Again, mine was hardly sweet and hers was too sweet for her taste. My daughter doesn’t have the sweet tooth I do.

I asked Canaie later if orders like that are unusual, and she said no. About a quarter of her customers, or up to one-third, ask for a custom sugar level, she said.

The Bubbling Teapot menu board

The Bubbling Teapot offers an ample selection of bubble teas.

She apologized for the mistakes and said it may have been an oversight by a new employee. Otherwise, the problem could have come in the communication of the percentage.

We ordered the drinks cold and they had ice, which I’m not used to. Canaie said customers can ask to have the ice left out or reduced. The boba, or tapioca balls (60 cents extra), were warm, sweet, soft and plentiful, the way they should be.

The food menu is small and focused on bao (steam buns) and pot stickers, with both items prepared in-house, but not homemade. Canaie said she works with the same local supplier of Taiwanese and Chinese food that Jade Mountain used.

Pork pot stickers Bubbling Teapot

The pot stickers have a slightly brown hue because they’re cooked in tea.

The pot stickers (10 pieces for $8) are the way to go. All three varieties — pork, veggie and chicken — were fantastic and heated in an unusual way, which gave them a slightly brown hue. Canaie said the secret is that they’re cooked in tea.

The meat in the pork and chicken dumplings was of high quality and there was a good variety of vegetables in the veggie ones.

Of the bao, the BBQ pork ($2.20) was best, with a small amount of meat at the center in a lightly sweet sauce. The veggie ($2.10) had a minced green vegetable that Canaie said was likely bok choy. They also had mushroom, bamboo shoot, soybeans and onion inside, she said, but those flavors were hard to distinguish.

On an earlier visit, the sweet potato ($2.10) and sesame ($2.10) boa were both delicious, but sweet enough to be considered dessert.

My daughter talked me into ordering the sweet butter toast ($3.50), which the chalkboard menu calls “a returning favorite.” It was a piece of white bread toast spread with butter as sweet as frosting. Canaie said the main flavor comes from milk powder.

Sweet butter toast

Sweet butter toast, which the menu calls “a returning favorite.”

My daughter took a nibble and left me 90% of it. I ate it, but it was too sweet even for me.

Canaie said she plans to expand the food menu, but it’s going to take time. She’s prioritizing adding baked goods, and just added egg tarts, which she made while at Jade Mountain.

“Our building’s age definitely limits how much electricity we can use at once and that affects how much food we can add to our menu, so it’ll be a while before we can add to the food menu. But we are bringing back custard bao this week,” she said Tuesday.

The Bubbling Teapot exterior

Meena Canaie opened The Bubbling Teapot last month on East Johnson Street. The space was formerly Jade Mountain, where Canaie worked.

The exterior sign is whimsical and welcoming. Inside, a counter in front of the shop’s big windows looks out over Johnson Street. There’s wooden bench seating, plus a comfortable living-room-type chair and a floral couch. The place attracted a good student-aged crowd on both of my visits.

Canaie said her goal is to provide a comfortable place to hang out that isn’t home or work. “Places where people can meet with their friends or have interactions with strangers if they want.”

She said that’s what Jade Mountain was for her and others. The East Side is lucky Canaie is working hard to preserve an important hub for bubble tea, coffee and other sustenance.

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