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Stop by downtown Flushing on any given day and you’ll quickly notice a line snaking down Main Street packed with New Yorkers chasing the newest food craze. The wait isn’t for jiggly pancakes or some newfangled hybrid dessert, though. It’s for… bubble tea. That’s right, the hottest drink in New York City right now is an iteration of the already popular Taiwanese beverage. Here’s why everyone’s obsessed.

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Brown sugar milk is exactly as its name describes: a combination of a sweet brown sugar syrup and milk that is irresistibly rich and creamy. While it’s been popping up at many tea shops across the city lately, brown sugar milk reached peak viral food status earlier this month when the Taiwanese chain Tiger Sugar opened in Queens. The star drink—with its signature “tiger stripes” of caramel-colored syrup dripping down the sides—has foodies queuing up for as long as two hours just to sample a cup (and Instagram it, of course). Demand is so high that the shop is even limiting each customer to four drinks per purchase (shades of that proto–food craze, the Cronut).

Tiger Sugar isn’t the only tea spot with brown sugar milk on the menu. Nolita’s Bar Pa Tea has a caffeine-free brown sugar milk that’s served cold with bits of shaved ice, plus a not-so-secret menu item: a steamy tea affogato capped with a brown sugar milk foam.

spirit tea new york
Courtesy of Spiritea

At the newly opened Spiritea in the East Village, owner Dan Zhang amps up his version of brown sugar milk with peach jelly, a gummy-like topping that’s considered a beauty food in Asia. “Beyond the looks, people also love the taste of this drink. The warmness of freshly made brown sugar sauce and the coolness of chilled dairy create a unique flavor,” says Zhang.

vivi tea
Patty Lee

Even longtime bubble-tea purveyor Vivi has gotten into the brown sugar milk game with a tea-infused version that’s as extra as they come. Every cup is finished with a topping that’s reminiscent of melted ice cream and a sprinkling of sugar that gets the crème brûlée treatment in front of you with a kitchen torch. 

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