If you are in Joburg and haven’t been living in a cave for the last month, then you’ve probably already heard about Happy.me — the new bubble tea joint in Greenside. Just about every lifestyle blog and online magazine in town has published something about it. Read some examples here, here, and here.
The Happy.me bubble tea shop. Pardon the mediocre photo — I’ve only been once and didn’t have my big camera with me. Happy.me is in the Village Green Shopping Centre in Greenside, next to the pet supply shop.
If you’re not in Joburg, or if you live in a cave, or if you just don’t know (or care) what bubble tea is, let me explain. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink that was invented in the 1980s. It comes in different varieties, but usually includes some kind of tea (coffee can be substituted), milk or fruit juice, and chewy tapioca “bubbles” that are also sometimes referred to as pearls. Bubble tea is served cold and drunk through a really fat straw. When you suck the tea through the straw, you also suck up the bubbles and they pop when you chew them.
If you’ve never had bubble tea before, this probably sounds disgusting to you. I know it did to me. But please read on.
Apparently bubble tea has been trendy around the world for some time, although I was unaware of this until I began reading about the launch of Happy.me. Bubble tea enthusiasts throughout the city are overjoyed and have been trumpeting the news from the rooftops: Bubble tea has finally come to Joburg.
But guess what, bubble tea lovers? This magical drink that you’d been yearning for was here all along, on Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene.
Simplicity Coffee and Tea in Cyrildene. If it were up to me I would rename it “Simplici-Tea”. But it’s not, so I won’t.
Last Friday, before I’d even gotten around to checking out Happy.me, I was in Cyrildene (Joburg’s Chinatown) with three other bloggers: Laurice (who is preparing to publish a new guidebook called Joburg In Your Pocket), Louise, and Meruschka. We sauntered down Derrick Avenue, poking into various funky shops and outdoor veggie stalls. Suddenly, there it was: Simplicity Coffee and Tea, with a sign for pearl milk tea (another term for bubble tea) on the door.
I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a bubble tea smack-down. I had Simplicity bubble tea on Friday and Happy.me bubble tea on Saturday. Herewith is my assessment.
First, the ambiance. As you saw in the photo above, Happy.me is shiny and cute and has a tree growing out of the floor. It also has free wifi. Simplicity is, well, a dive. Charming and clean but a dive nonetheless, like pretty much every other place on Derrick Avenue. I love dives.
Second, the menus.
Happy.me’s menu is fancier, with more sophisticated options and a cute cartoon character who says, “Grab it, Shake it, Pop it.” Simplicity’s menu is less expensive, and bilingual, which I like. Simplicity offers something called Pearl Yam Tea, which sounds amazing.
Lastly, the tea.
Pearl black tea from Simplicity. Pearl black tea is the most basic option — cold black tea with milk and tapioca pearls. In the background you can see Laurice trying to communicate something to Annie, the owner/manager. Annie is a wonderful woman but she doesn’t speak a word of English. It took me five minutes to successfully communicate my order of pearl black tea, which is the first item on the menu. Haha. I loved Annie and I loved the tea.
Happy.me Original Milk Tea. The man behind the counter (who spoke perfect English) tried to convince me to order the Osmanthus Infused Milk Tea because that’s supposed to be the best. But for my initial taste test I wanted to try the most basic item on each of the two menus.
The Happy.me cup has nice branding. But other than that the two teas were identical as far as I could tell, and equally delicious. I love those weird tapioca bubbles. LOVE THEM.
As you all know, I’m a fan of weird, quirky places. Simplicity stole my heart with its weird quirkiness. I would go to Simplicity every day if I could, but it’s on the other side of town. Happy.me, on the other hand, is around the corner, the staff speak English (which I must admit is kind of nice), and there’s free wifi. So I guess I’ll be frequenting Happy.me more often than Simplicity.
I hope to make it back to Simplicity soon though, and next time I’ll bring a translator.
So funny this whole bubble tea phenomenon. I had my first in the early 90s in Singapore. It arrived in NZ in the mid 2000s (I think) and I think they’ve been big in Europe last 2 years and now Joburg!
I usually also much prefer the quirky and unusual rather than the polished shiny version 🙂
LOL – apparently I have been living under a rock because I didn’t know that bubble tea was taking over (I avoided it like the plague when I was in China 8 years ago!), but funnily enough I was in Cyrildene today picking up veggies and saw Simplicity – and wondered what it was like. Now I don’t have to wonder anymore 🙂
Never heard of it and I swear, I don’t live in a cave!!!
Haha, well fortunately you’ve heard of it now.
Great article and pretty good analysis of the bubble tea shops, got to say, bubble tea have really became quite popular in the past two years, even elsewhere in SA there are alot of franchises. The owner of the Simplicity is Betty Wu, and next time if you are there, and by luck to find her there, she speak fluent English! Happy fishing!
I know, it’s crazy how many new bubble tea shops have popped up in the last couple of years. I really need to go back to Simplicity — I haven’t been back in forever. Thanks so much for the comment!
I love this thank you for posting. I live in the south of Johannesburg no where near Simplicity or Happy me but I make a turn to Simplicity whenever I am in the area and take a new friend there as much as I can. Please try to meet Betty and get acquainted with her. Simplicity is quite an experience.
I’ve heard so many amazing things about Betty! I really do need to get back there and meet her.