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If there’s one thing I remember about my childhood summers in Taiwan, it’s the giant cups of boba milk tea—beautiful beige columns of creamy liquid loaded with chewy tapioca and a shot of sweetness that got me through the island’s subtropical humidity. My uncle, who was usually the one to accompany me on my daily trips to buy a cup, would joke about my milk tea addiction—one that has since become a global phenomenon. While as a child I could only experience the drink on those summer trips from Minnesota to Taiwan, decades later, I was delighted to find cans of Twrl Milk Tea online, conveniently packaged for a taste of childhood whenever the fancy strikes.
Twrl is a vegan-friendly take on the iconic beverage, featuring tea leaves sourced from family farms, pea protein milk, and less sugar than many milk teas on the market. The drink comes in three flavors: an original black tea and two green teas, hojicha, and jasmine. While the black tea is classic, and the jasmine has a nice, mildly astringent aroma tempered by the creamy milk, my favorite is hojicha, thanks to the bolder flavors of the roasted Japanese tea leaves.
I usually layer the milk tea with ice before topping it off with cold brew for a twist on yuanyang coffee milk tea, inspired by the proliferation of Cantonese restaurants popping up in Taipei. It can also be enjoyed on its own—co-founder Pauline Ang recommends sticking it in the freezer for 45 minutes first so that it’s ice cold and almost slushy-like; co-founder Olivia Chen prefers hers warm and frothed or heated up in a steamer, specifically the Tatung—or used as an ingredient in baked goods (like this adorable boba cake). And, if you have the tenacity, you can even make your own boba to mix into the tea.
Twrl was founded in 2019 by Ang and Chen, a design director and marketing strategist who have been friends for over 20 years. Ang was born in Hong Kong, where British-style hot tea with milk and sugar was a coveted treat, and then raised in Hawai’i. Chen, like me, is Taiwanese-American and was born in the Midwest and raised in California where the food of the motherland was hard to come by at the time. In the days before Amazon Prime, visiting relatives would schlep pineapple cakes, nougats, and bubble tea from overseas, while Chen made DIY versions in the stretches of bubble-tea drought in between. That inspired Twrl. “[It’s] a consciously-made version of the quintessential Asian milk tea that we grew up drinking and loving,” Chen says.