Brewed with bubbles


Pullman’s bubble tea restaurant, Popo, as seen on July 2, 2015.

One of Taiwan’s greatest gifts to the world is bubble tea. It goes by a couple names: pearl-milk tea or the ever-catchy boba tea. It is a tea-based drink sometimes with shaken milk or fruit added in.

The bubbles refer to the frothy bubbles formed from the shaking of the tea. With just about every variation of tea, fruits, jellies, tapioca and slushes added in, boba tea is an accessible drink for just about anyone.

Pullman finally got its godsend in June with the arrival of Popo. This is one place you won’t need to hide your wife and kids from. The cute name is easy enough to remember, but it also serves as the only place in Pullman to get boba.

Popo is as colorful and bubbly as the beverages they are bestowing. Bright yellow makes the room pop, and the glistened wood tables add a hint of sparkle. I’d be tempted to just go and sit in the room for a while after a stressful midterm week or rough day just for the ambience.

It’s a relaxed and fun atmosphere with a welcoming aura about it. You can play an assortment of board games while you wait for your food. It’s a nice gesture that adds character to the restaurant because it is meant to be a hangout spot. I recall many a late nights playing Jenga and other games with my friends at the boba tea place in Seattle’s Chinatown. It’s something I look forward to doing come tea time, time and time again.

While Popo exudes an energetic and vibrant tone, the food and drink cannot be understated. I attempted to order a little of everything to get a feel for each of the restaurant’s creations. I started with deep fried calamari – $5.45 – skillfully fried for a beautiful and magically diaphanous texture. I’ve never had calamari as airy, pure and delicate as that.

While the product was sublime on its own, it was desperately needing an aioli or bagna cauda for flavor and to make up for the lost moisture. It would have added just another layer of dimension.

The entrees at Popo are limited to fried rice, a Mongolian beef burger, or Mongolian Beef with white rice. I opted for the Mongolian Beef – $12.95 – as it allowed for a compromise of both meat and rice. The beef was a little tough, but the umami flavor was present in spades. The rice acted as a dutiful undercurrent to the richness of the beef, and the earthy vegetables made the dish soar.

Now onto the main star of Popo, the boba tea. At first glance, the menu is intimidating for those not experienced with it. Even my eyes widened a little at some unique flavors such as rose milk tea, yogurt milk tea and Osmanthus milk tea.

While I did not venture into those floral terrains, I appreciated the fact that Popo, like other boba tea stores, offer their own brand of unusual tastes. It gives a sense of identity to genres of restaurants that can be at times homogenous. While Popo is one of the only few boba tea serving restaurants, the fact it has a bizarre but welcomed niche is something of note.

I chose to stay safe and order my longtime trusted favorite, jasmine milk tea. I was instantly whisked away by the first sip refreshing, vivacious and sweet sea. The undercooked pearls caused my dreamy waves to come crashing down, hitting me against the stony shore.

The pearls did not have the feel of an actual pearl but were soft, chewy and a complement the silkiness of the drink. The textures were at war in my mouth and it felt like a small scathing shot with each bite of black marbles.   

One of the great things about Popo is the cultural awareness they are bringing. Everything from the food and drink to the ambience and whimsical feel all serve to bring a piece of Taiwan to America. Sure, it can be a chilled and light-spirited place for anyone, but for some, I think it can feel like a home away from home.

One of the coolest things about Popo is the selection of Asian candies and Asian ramens. I bought a package of ramen because I could not pass up the opportunity. I implore everyone to buy from the hodgepodge of Asian specialty items at Popo.

Popo is very much like the game of Jenga they offer. The notions of bubble tea and even Popo might sound weird at first, but it is a fun time for everybody. It can be a scary start for some, but for others it is that nostalgic childhood memory. It can have great moments of triumph, but sometimes, pieces here and there make the experience wobbly.

Given enough time, people can master the game of Jenga, much like Popo mastering and perfecting the peccadillos of its food. Overall however, you can’t help but be swept away and feel happy by the end. I’m glad Pullman can have a friendly spot like Popo, and I’m hoping to see some more of them running around in the future.

Atmosphere: Infectiously bubbly, but also down to earth and chill.

Contact: 509-592-9927 or

Delivery: Pick up is available.

Dress Code: Casual

Hours: Weekdays: 11am-10:30pm and Weekends: 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Reservations: No

Sound: Moderate

Rating: ★★

What the Stars Mean:

Ratings range from zero to five stars. Zero is poor. One star, is fair or satisfactory. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent. Five stars is extraordinary or outstanding.