I’ve wanted to write about this place for a while. For me it’s quite a recent discovery as I only found it in January this year. It just goes to show you that can have lived in a place for a while and still keep finding something new. Tucked down an alley just off Oxford’s High Street (follow the signs for The Wheatsheaf pub and the tea bar is right at the end of that alley), I believe Formosan Tea Bar is still one of Oxford’s best kept secrets.
Formosan specialises in Taiwanese bubble tea, something I had never heard of or seen before (yes, I’m that well travelled ;-)). After seeing various signs on the high street promoting bubble tea, a friend and I decided to discover what this mysterious drink was. Bubble tea, sometimes known as Boba Tea or Pearl Milk Tea, is the name given to many different fruit or milk based teas that are served either ice cold or hot with chewy tapioca pearls inside.
Despite never having had tapioca before, I have been nervous of it since childhood – who can like a food nicknamed frog spawn? I wasn’t sure whether to have the pearls in my tea at first, but the friendly staff at Formosan convinced me to give it a try as it helps to enhance the flavour of your chosen drink. The pearls themselves are a glossy black with a texture like a jelly sweet. They taste of nothing in particular alone, but they really add an interesting texture and taste when combined with your tea. Extra thick straws mean you can suck up the tapioca pearls as you drink – just remember to chew!
The menu at Formosan Tea Bar is small but manages to span both the traditional favourites and the more unusual. So far I have tried two of their special teas, almond milk tea and the tea with seasonal jam (which was raspberry flavoured when I had it). I added some honey to the almond milk tea to sweeten it just a little and it was delicious – or as my friend put it “just like a liquid Bakewell tart”. The raspberry tea was also lovely, I had it hot and it was just the thing for a rather miserable January day. You can add flavours and sugar to taste, Formosan’s staff are more than happy to advise the uninitiated.
It’s a tiny place and can get quite busy. Most of the clientele tend to be young Taiwanese students or other Southeast Asian nationalities looking for a taste of home, as well as in the know young professionals and Asia enthusiasts. My favourite feature is the raised traditional Japanese style room at the back of the tea bar. Here you take off your shoes and seat yourself on one of the embroidered cushions to sip away at your drink. For me, it’s a hidden piece of Japan in Oxford’s heart. I’ve loved catching Formosan Tea Bar on a quiet afternoon, choosing my tea then going to sit in the peace and surprising tranquility of that back room fantasising I’m some sort of Geisha. 🙂 Well, it beats the trauma of Cornmarket Street on a Saturday!
Formosan Tea Bar
128A High Street
T: 01865 200911