This is my favorite milk tea place, but for other reasons than you might think.
Manila is currently afloat in a bubble milk tea mania, and the options are mind-boggling. This is made evident to me in last year’s MIYO Monday question asking readers: ”What’s Your Bubble Milk Tea of Choice? At 108 responses, that’s a lot of bubble milk tea, and the places just keep on popping up.
You must know that I’m no rabid milk tea fan with a raging thirst for it. I’ll have milk tea twice a month at most, if not less. And believe it or not, I ban bubbles from my beverage. (I can already hear the outcry over there). To most people, my Bin included, bubbles are the reason to have milk tea: no bubbles, no point. As a rather befuddled bubble tea fanatic explains to me, in much the same tone a mom would use on her 3-year old, “Bubbles give your mouth something to play with, and they’re fun, you know.” She says this rather reproachfully, I might add.
I’m introduced to Saint’s Alp right before the holidays and I’m immediately taken by its relaxed vibe. The Katipunan store, which I favor, is overrun by students on the weekdays but I always find a place to sit and chill. I especially like the “Eat*Drink*Snack” slogan stenciled on the brick wall plus the couches are comfy. The Fort store is smaller, almost utilitarian – and office workers use that to their advantage by holding meetings here or just hiding out. I’d rather have just tea at the Katipunan store but I prefer to eat at the Fort store (more on this later).
Now, let’s talk about that foot. As a writer, Saint’s Alp, the name, initially strikes me as grammatically incorrect – hello, misplaced apostrophe? But no, it’s not and neither is that foot ill-suited, or shall we say, ill-fitted? Saint’s Alp was the very first (Taiwanese) tea place in Hong Kong in 1994, way before the advent of tea spots and foot spas. There are two stories given as explanation for the curious logo. The first is that the owners, being the first Taiwanese tea place in the territory, wanted to “make their mark.” The second story, albeit fancied as folklore, tells of a monk who imprinted his foot on a mountain, and you can glean from that how noteworthy the symbolism is.
Here’s another bit of trivia: at one time, RBT, Happy Lemon, and Saint’s Alp were one group. If you remember, RBT had a store in the then-newly opened Rockwell in 2001; it didn’t last long, a case of a concept being too early for its time. Saint’s Alp is the mother brand and has always focused on supplying to most bubble milk tea brands in Hong Kong, and thus, has the least number of branches.
Cold Caramel Milk Tea and Light Black Tea w/ White Moustache, a Saint’s Alp specialty of salted whipped cream. Drink it sans straw and you really will get a white moustache! Hot Caramel Milk Tea for three. Bubbles on the side, please.
At Saint’s Alp, I’ve become quite attached to the Caramel Milk Tea, of which hot and cold are equally good. A holiday holdover, it’ll be gone by this writing. (Oh, woe!) It’s milk tea with a swirl of caramel that puddles at the bottom of the teapot. Now tell, me, does any other milk tea place serve their hot teas in a teapot? (Most milk tea places don’t even serve hot tea, I believe). It’s one reason why I like this place – people actually make time to sit and sup. I believe that if I’m going to be ingesting something, I should take the time to enjoy it. At other times, I also enjoy the Coconut Milk Tea (P100/P115) taken hot. It’s a tropical flavor rounded out with plenty of creamer and just sweet enough to make me sigh.
Cold Oreo Milk Tea and Blueberry Double Chocolate, one of the Ice Blended Drinks. It tastes like a super smoothie, very rejuvenating.
The Oreo Milk Tea (served only cold; P100/P115) is one of those yin yang things. A chocolate cookie and tea? It flies in the face of what’s usual but believe it or not, underneath the swarthy character of chocolate (and the subsequent cookie crumbs that escape up the straw), there’s a nuance of tea that carries the drink to completion. Very appealing.
Also popular in Saint’s Alp’s Fort store is the Sumiyaki Coffee (above and cover photo; P130/P150). Sumiyaki is a Japanese term for “charcoal roast,” or coffee beans roasted to a charcoal color. Its deep earthiness and bold flavor stand up well to the onslaught of creamer and sugar. It’s a favorite of those who like their coffee on the milky side.
Posse of pearls. From bottom left and around: aloe vera, tapioca pearls, nata de coco, citron agar, matcha agar, coffee agar aka coffee jelly.
I mention in the MIYO post (link above) that I’m bewildered by the choices offered at bubble milk tea places. At Saint’s Alp, that’s not so much the case. I only have to decide what drink I want – it’s still a lengthy list, though – and there are six options for fillers, sink-ins, add-ins, or however else you call them. I’ve only tried the tapioca pearls and am happy to note that they’re an improvement over their formerly mushy selves, a result of a formulation change.
An advantage that Saint’s Alp has is its food. It’s Taiwanese food to accompany Taiwanese tea, and it makes sense. Positioned as a fast casual restaurant, it’s a marked change from the dash-in-get-out pace of other milk tea places where space seems almost an afterthought.
I like the Taiwanese Marinated Minced Pork (P195), a rice bowl dish. Here, the minced pork is so fine and so seasoned that I can’t help but be reminded of a certain brand of Vienna sausage, or even say, luncheon meat. And that cute little tea egg on the side is a charming touch.
The Large Chicken Breast (P110) looks like a katsu (meat cutlet) and is just as tender. Large indeed, it’s meaty with sufficiently flaky breading. I order rice on the side.
But what I find myself ordering all the time at Saint’s Alp, and what keeps me coming back are the Toasts (P60/P75; Toast & Tea Sets available too). There’s Blueberry Jam, Matcha, Peanut Butter, Condensed Milk, and Half & Half, a super thoughtful combination of two flavors of one’s choosing. The toast is roughly a half-inch thick with macho crusts and a tight crumb. It holds well against the drippy Peanut Butter-Condensed Milk combo, my favorite.
Imaginings of immersion in those buttery, green tea folds.
The Matcha Toast is matcha powder smeared atop butter-moistened bread. It has the faintest green tea note finished with the velvetiness of butter.
A special DCF shout-out to Lorraine Cuyegkeng and Ed Bugia for making this post possible.
Saint’s Alp Teahouse
- 2/F Regis Center, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City
- Unit 6, Parklane Strip, Rizal Drive, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
02 478 7135
Open Monday to Sunday, 11am – 11pm