Chatime milk tea with pearls, $4.20
Chatime, 132 Dundas St. W., one of 19 locations in Ontario
Cat Chen adores bubble tea.
It is, she says, her one true weakness.
“I probably drink three a week,” she says, laughing. “I try to limit myself to one a week, but it’s so hard in the summer. I don’t drink coffee or pop or juice; only water and bubble tea. It’s my only indulgence and I love it.”
Chen, who works in marketing in the food industry, frequents Chatime, a popular bubble tea chain with 19 locations in Ontario. She guesses that Chatime will soon have 20 outlets, which means, according to provincial legislation, the company will have to post nutrition numbers for its drinks, including one of her favourites: Chatime milk tea with pearls.
“It’s really smooth, not too milky, not too tea-ish; it has a perfect balance,” she says. “I know the calorie counts will come eventually and I’m bracing myself. Sometimes I think ignorance is bliss and I’d rather not know. But it has come to the point that I have so many that it’s time I find out.”
“I’m going to ballpark it’s between 300 and 350 calories,” Chen says. “Because it’s a milky drink and because of my knowledge of the calorie counts of some Starbucks drinks.
“But … I hope it’s not more!”
The exclusive results
Fat: 9 grams
Sodium: 146 milligrams
Carbohydrates: 59 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Total sugars: 23 grams
- This bubble tea has 23 grams, or about 6 teaspoons, of total sugars. According to the lab analysis, the sugars used to sweeten the drink and tapioca pearls are sucrose, fructose and glucose; all are added sugars, rather than natural sugars. Chatime explained to the Star that its recipe for a regular-size signature milk tea includes “three tablespoons of a special blend of ingredients that includes a lactose free cream,” rather than plain milk. The World Health Organization recommends people consume no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugars a day.
- It’s easy to forget about calories while sipping a sweet drink. But this bubble tea has more calories and the same amount of sugar as what’s found in a chocolate chunk cookie from Starbucks.
- Here is a snapshot of how this bubble tea compares to other sugar-sweetened iced tea drinks. At Starbucks, a Grande Green Tea Crème Frappuccino (16 oz), made with 2-per-cent milk and no whipped cream, has 300 calories and 16 teaspoons of sugar. At Second Cup, a medium (16 oz) Berry Hibiscus Sparkling Tea has 60 calories and 14 grams (3.5 teaspoons of sugars). A 500 mL (16.9 oz) bottle of Nestea Lemon Iced Tea has 160 calories and 43 grams (about 11 teaspoons) of sugars.
The restaurant response
Vincent Lau, CEO of Chatime Ontario, says customers will soon see nutrition numbers for all drinks and toppings since the company is opening its 20th location in the province later this summer.
“We are doing our own calculations and testing and this (nutrition numbers provided by The Dish) is right in line with what we’ve been doing,” he says during a phone conversation with The Star.
Lau says staff are being trained to carefully measure the ingredients for standard and customized drink recipes to ensure each drink that is made — Chatime offers about 120 different kinds at its shops — accurately reflects the soon-to-be-posted nutrition numbers.
The customizable drinks, he says, allow bubble tea fans to adjust flavours and sugar levels, depending on their tastes and health needs.
“The majority of our customers do take advantage of that,” he says.
Lau says Chatime, an international brand, “was the first in Ontario to bring the authentic bubble tea from Taiwan” and toppings, including pearls, jellies and pudding, are made from scratch in the stores. Tapioca pearls, he says, are boiled in sugar water, so “there is a little bit of sweetness to it.”
In a followup email to the Star, the company says the milk tea recipe for a regular-size drink uses “classic Taiwanese ingredients,” which include “three tablespoons of a special blend of ingredients that includes a lactose free cream.”
Lau, whose favourite drink is the grass jelly roasted milk tea, Chatime’s second bestselling bubble tea, says tea lattes, which are made with fresh-brewed tea and fresh milk, are a good alternative to bubble tea. The standard lattes are made with added sugar but can be customized to be less sweet.
The expert response
On its own, tea is a zero-calorie nutritious beverage, says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker.
“Regular tea drinking has been associated with health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, healthier blood cholesterol levels and healthier blood pressure levels because of the antioxidants found in both green and black tea,” she says. “Plus it’s hydrating and refreshing, especially over ice on hot summer days.”
But adding sugar and sugar-sweetened flavoured syrups to plain tea dilutes these benefits, which is why Crocker suggests scrutinizing your favourite tea treat before deciding whether it’s a regular or a once-in-a-while drink.
“When we take a closer look at this bubble tea, its 330 calories signals it’s not in the every day snacking category for most people,” Crocker says, pointing out that a healthy snack, depending on a persons needs, may be between 150 to just over 200 calories. “As it is, and just like any other sugar-sweetened beverage, consider this bubble tea a dessert and enjoy it now and then.”
That Chatime lets its customers choose less sugar in their customized drinks is definitely a positive.
Crocker suggests people try to reduce the amount of sugar in their bubble tea, starting at first with 80 per cent sweet, then moving to 50 per cent and then 30 per cent sweet.
“You can train your taste buds to appreciate less sugar,” Crocker says, adding that it will soon be easier, after Chatime posts nutrition numbers for its drinks, to know how much sugar comes from the tapioca pearls and other drink toppings.
Crocker suggests health-conscious diners consider a tea latte, unsweetened or lightly sweetened (30 per cent strength), which is made with plain milk and provides some nutrition benefits, including protein, calcium and vitamin D.
The reader reaction
“Awesome!” says Chen with a happy laugh on finding out her much-loved drink is 330 calories. “Right on! I’m so happy it’s not more shocking.”
Since Chen orders her tea at 30 per cent sweet, the nutrition news is even better.
“I don’t feel badly about my bubble tea obsession any more. I’m glad I’m not drinking a 500-calorie drink and I’ll continue to allow myself to have two or three a week.”
“And,” she adds, “I won’t be hard on myself when I do indulge.”
The Dish is a weekly series that helps health-conscious diners navigate Toronto’s food scene by revealing the nutrition information of Star readers’ favourite foods.
If you are curious about the calories in a meal or treat, email Megan Ogilvie at [email protected] . Items selected to be featured in the Dish will be sent to an accredited laboratory for nutritional analysis.
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