The Boston + Beyond Guide to Bubble Tea

So, my life revolves around a few things:

1) Photography 

2) Family and friends

3) Where I can get tea

I am extraordinarily addicted to bubble tea.

Some people have Starbucks budgets, I have a tea budget.

If you don't know what bubble tea is,

it's time to get with the program!

What is bubble tea?

Bubble tea is a cold drink with a milk or fruit tea base with tapioca pearls / boba at the bottom. It is mixed either by hand with a cocktail shaker or put into an automated machine, and sealed on top. You drink it through an extra-wide straw, and chew on the deliciously soft boba. Variations include hot bubble tea, smoothies / slushies, and the rare alcoholic bubble tea.

What are toppings?

Toppings are the fun things you can put in your drink: boba / tapioca / pearls (all the same thing), jelly (coconut, lychee, mango, nata), popping boba, grass jelly, etc. Some tea houses include one topping in their prices, others charge ~$0.50 per topping.

Where is it from?

It was created in Taiwan in 1988 and became popular in Southeast Asia in the 90’s. It hopped over to the United States in the 2000’s, and has exploded since 2010.

How much is it?

Expect to pay $3.50 - $6.50 for a drink with toppings.

Where can I find it?

Some Asian restaurants serve bubble tea, but often the boba can be undercooked and tea flavors weird - stick to the professionals and visit a tea house where they only serve bubble tea.

How do I order it?

State your size (usually two sizes, regular or large) - iced/hot - flavor - with/without boba and toppings, and they usually ask for sugar and ice preference - just say normal ice and sugar, or if you don't have a big sweet tooth, you can ask for 50 or 75% sugar, same with ice. "Hi! May I have a large honeydew milk tea with boba please? Normal ice and sugar." - what the Tea Do staff hears three times a week

Boba 101

  • It takes about an hour for boba to finish cooking - so if a tea house opens at 11am, boba will most likely not be available until around 12pm.
  • Boba + jelly is always a great combo for fruit teas and smoothies, but stick to only boba in milk teas.
  • Many tea houses have custom plastic bags to fit your bubble tea perfectly so your hand doesn’t get cold!
  • Bubble tea is totally sealed at the top, so you can put it in your bag, hold it upside own, etc without leaks. However, I recommend standing it upright and making sure nothing can squeeze it, or it WILL explode (lesson learned: tea does not belong in the empty laptop compartment of a backpack).

Enjoy your new tea addiction!!!

Now that you know what bubble tea is, it's time to name the best tea houses in Boston and beyond.


THE HALL OF FAME

#1 - Tea Do

Locally owned and operated with 3 stores in Boston, Philly, and Maryland. The softest, chewiest boba and the largest variety of flavors. Come here in the afternoon after they switch from smaller boba to their signature larger boba. They’re the least expensive chain in Boston, even with a recent $0.50 price increase across the board. Expect to pay $4-5.50 for a drink. They have a custom drink menu full of amazing flavor mixes as well, so don’t be afraid to try something new. They also serve takoyaki, onigiri, and other snacks and have Jenga, Connect Four, and Uno cards to play with friends.

Favorites: Honeydew milk tea, coconut milk tea, lychee black tea w/ lychee jelly & boba, Zen's Awakening

#2 - Chatime

Massive chain - 1,000 stores worldwide. In Boston, you can find two in Chinatown, one on Huntington Ave by Northeastern, and one in Allston off Harvard Ave. They have fresh, chewy boba, a little smaller than Tea Do's. They have a solid menu of smoothies, milk teas, and fruit teas. Expect to pay $4-6.50 for a drink. They have a loyalty program via LevelUp, and often offer discount vouchers on Groupon.

Favorites: Lychee black tea w/ boba & lychee jelly, oolong latte, Thai milk tea, mango coconut smoothie

#3 - Kung Fu Tea

Huge international chain. Their boba is soaked in honey, so it has the most flavor out of these teahouses. However, it usually lasts the least amount of time in the fridge before drinking - max 2 hours (Tea Do is good for 4-6+ hours, Chatime 3-5 hours). They have a great rewards program on their mobile app. Visit them in Boston at Symphony, Chinatown, Allston, or in Cambridge or Malden.

Favorites: Kung Fu milk tea, mango green tea w/ boba & nata jelly, wintermelon milk green tea, peach oolong tea w/ boba & nata jelly

 
 

#4 - Vivi

When in NYC, don't forget the tea. Vivi boasts a unique experience in their stores, with bubblegum pink walls and princess skulls painted everywhere. Usually paired with a frozen yogurt station, Vivi offers solid drinks in over a dozen locations, joining Chatime and Kung Fu Tea in NYC, Brooklyn, and Chicago (NO Boston location). They have dairy-free “Moo Milk”, so that’s a plus to any vegans or lactose intolerants.

Favorites: Honeydew milk tea, taro milk tea

Looking for more NYC spots?

Try Ten Ren Tea and Boba Guys

#5 - Mr. Boba

If you're ever on the West Coast, don't forget to stop into Mr. Boba. With dance music bumpin' and every board game you could ever want on the tables, Mr. Boba's tea is even better than the atmosphere. These chewy, oversized balls and great flavor combos are sure to have you staying for hours.

Looking for more LA spots?

Try Boba 7 (alcoholic tea!) and Sharetea


Questions? Comments? Need an enthusiastic spokesperson or photography for your tea house? - lena@lenamirisolaphoto.com

Lena Mirisola

Boston, MA 01886, USA