The Alley is proof that not all bubble tea cafes are created equally. This cafe, the first Canadian location of a fledgling Taiwanese chain, offers creative teas and other beverages in an inviting space filled with exposed brick and lots of wood. The vibe is definitely more relaxed than your average bubble tea shop.
Vincy Lai, one of the shop's co-founders, tells me they wanted a space with more of a Western design.
Don't expect to see cutesy mascots and the bright colour palettes that are so common at most of the city's bubble tea joints.
Even the tapioca here is a cut above the rest. In addition to the standard tapioca balls, the Alley makes a handful of flavoured tapioca from scratch that are incorporated into certain drinks.
They're called deeriocas after the chain's deer imagery and the flavours change up from strawberry to black sesame.
If you're looking for something a bit more conservative, the Polka Deer ($6.50) is a good fit. Using fresh milk green tea and served with black sesame deerioca, it's unfussy and smooth.
The Penguin on the Ice ($5) comes with milk at the bottom and grass jelly concentrate at top. The herb-like flavour of the grass jelly is really prominent in this drink - it might be an acquired taste.
For those who prefer something more indulgent, go for the Snowberry ($7). This thick, rich smoothie shake is resplendent with milk, strawberry jam, whipped cream, and strawberry deerioca - it's the store's version of a DQ Blizzard.
My personal favourite is the Garden Milk Tea ($6.50). Served with chocolate deerioca and Oreo crumbles, the drink resembles a small plant inside a pot. The Assam black tea mixed with powdered milk is creamier yet lighter than similar products I've had elsewhere.
Finally, for those who prefer something lighter, go for the Citron Soda ($5.50). A mix of soda and pomelo skin, it's a bright and refreshing beverage that's also good for you.
Posted by Darren "DKLo" Susilo. When not writing for blogTO he can usually be found tweeting here or delaying mealtimes everywhere by posting pictures here . Photos by Hector Vasquez.