The Boba Room exhibit immerses visitors in ‘tapioca and tea’

You’ll have a ball at this exhibit.

The Boba Room, a pop-up opening in a gallery on Bowery, invites visitors to step into a 700-square-foot room filled with large balls and a giant rubber straw, to appear as though they’re walking into a massive cup of bubble tea loaded with tapioca.

“We want to make people feel immersed in a cup of bubble tea themselves,” said Yanqiong Zeng, who founded the Chaimi Food Studio with Iris Xing.

Visitors to The Boba Room will also be able to taste some bubble tea themselves, with five stores rotating to serve the beverage as part of the show, including Vivi Bubble Tea LES, maker of Instagrammable cotton candy-topped bubble teas and Astoria boba tea makers Tea and Milk.

There will also be a “bubble wall” featuring a rainbow of balls, a wall painting by Taiwanese artist Melody Shih and neon art by Australian artist Natalie Jarvis.

The exhibit opens April 22 at the Open Space Gallery.

Zeng and Xing were inspired to put together the event after going to the Museum of Ice Cream in the Meatpacking District last summer (coincidentally, the immensely popular food installation is opening a version in Los Angeles this weekend, too).

“It was so fun, it wasn’t just food, it was also art and other experiences,” Zeng said. “So we were thinking, how about we just do something that can let people play with food?”

Both are natives of China and saw bubble tea as being similar to ice cream — “it’s like a daily sweet treat,” Zeng said — so they decided to build a multisensory exhibition around the drink, ubiquitous in cities like Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“It’s kind of reshaping the identity of bubble tea,” Zeng said. “In this way, it’s an easier way to introduce bubble tea to people who have never tried it before.”

New York City has plenty of bubble tea purveyors, but Zeng thinks there’s still room for the drink to catch on here.

“They’re popular, but I think it’s not as widely spread as I know it can be, compared to ice cream or coffee or pizza,” Zeng said. “In Asia it is definitely something that is pretty iconic.”

Know your boba

So what is bubble tea, aka pearl milk tea, aka boba? Connie Sham, owner of the three-year-old Vivi Bubble Tea LES, at 205 Allen St., breaks down the cold drink:

The “bubbles”: Traditionally, the “bubble” in bubble tea refers to the bubbly foam, created when the tea is shaken, Sham said, though today most people consider it the tapioca pearls, or boba.

The tea: Black tea is blended with milk to form the base. Vivi uses a non-dairy creamer, so those with dairy allergies can still drink it.

The boba: Vivi makes a fresh batch every hour, and it takes about 1½ hours to make, from cooking to cooling the tapioca. It has to be done in-house, because they go bad within three to four hours. A “big scoop” goes into each drink, Sham said.

How to drink it: Bubble tea is typically served in a sealed cup to prevent spillage. Sham recommends shaking it for a few seconds to mix the drink and boba before piercing the lid with an oversized straw.


The Boba Room runs April 22-May 6, weekdays from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. | Open Space Gallery, 355A Bowery, thebobaroom.com | admission $10/adults, $17/two adults, $7/seniors and children (tickets include a bubble tea)