So, my life revolves around a few things:
2) Family and friends
3) BUBBLE TEA
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 spend your money at 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 baristas hears three times a week.
- 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).
- Bubble tea will NOT last overnight. On average, bubble tea will last 2-4 hours at most. Tea Do lasts the longest at 6 hours, and Kung Fu will start to go bad after just 2 hours. The liquid is fine, but the boba will break down then get hard (like cooked pasta sitting in water). It's best to drink it fresh!
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.
Pronounced "tea dough" - this tea house is locally owned and operated with 3 stores in Boston, Philly, and Maryland. Has 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, peach black tea, Thai milk tea, Zen's Awakening
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
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
CHICAGO / NYC
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, just Quincy). They have dairy-free “Moo Milk”, so that’s a plus to any vegans or lactose intolerants.
Favorites: Honeydew milk tea, taro milk tea
If you're ever on the West Coast, don't forget to stop into Mr. Boba. These chewy, oversized balls and great flavor combos are sure to have you staying for hours. Get the lychee and honeydew!
It's Boba Time
It's Boba Time could be my favorite tea house in LA. With dozens of locations across California, they have soft boba and a huge menu of flavors. They have snacks like popcorn chicken, fries, and the BEST shaved ice with fruit and ice cream on top.
Bring Boba Lab to the beach in Santa Monica! This cozy spot boasts delicious tea and all kinds of food - shaved ice, waffles, chicken, and more!
Volcano Tea has the biggest menu I've seen in LA. The tea was delicious and the boba chewy and sweet - and the chicken wings are even better! This hidden gem is in a strip mall near Santa Monica, but make sure to do some shopping and eating in this amazing neighborhood!
This tiny, adorable tea house by the Pompadou has delicious boba and amazing flavors. Oh, and luckily they speak a little English, too ;) Remember to say merci!!!
There's no powders or syrups used here - just fresh brewed tea! Miu's specialty is their Thai iced tea, but their lychee green tea packs a punch, too! This adorable shop is filled with plants and greenery, and makes great cold drinks to cool you off after a swim on Miami Beach!
Questions? Comments? Need an enthusiastic spokesperson or photography for your tea house? - firstname.lastname@example.org
Art and excitement at the 2017 New York City Bubble Tea Festival
Note: this is an abridged list of tea houses. If I personally don't like a certain brand or store, it doesn't make the list. There are lots out there! These are just my favorites!
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