The magical elixir that is boba tea goes a little like this: creamy milk tea poured over ice with bb-sized chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom, which you suction up the oversized straw. It’s half snack, half caffeinated heaven, and it's pretty much all over the Bay Area.
From local, artisanal teashops that handcraft each individual tea using the finest ingredients to Taiwanese chains that crank out these sugary beverages in mass, here's where to go the next time you're craving some boba.
(Courtesy of Boba Guys)
Boba Guys gets credit for kicking off the boba craze in San Francisco and remains the gold standard for the highest quality boba tea made with ethically sourced and local ingredients. They don’t used condensed milk (unless you order it) and they brew their loose-leaf tea in house (many other places use tea concentrate or tea that is pre-brewed and shipped to the store). The horchata (rice milk and cinnamon) and Thai tea varieties are both wonderful if you ever tire of the classic. // Multiple locations Bay Area–wide; bobaguys.com
Tea on Piedmont
This new kid on the block in Oakland is offering some top-notch boba drinks (add the chewy tapioca balls to their best-selling hojicha latte) and even sells those cute Betty Boba reusable glass tumblers with wide glass straws for all your future drinks to go. But you won’t find any over-the-top, candy-filled drinks here and boba is only the start of it. Cafe owner Grace Shen, who holds a tea sommelier certification from Taiwan, sources quality teas directly from Asia. Skipping caffeine? The herbal chrysanthemum cold brew is a must-try. // 4098 Piedmont Ave (Oakland), teaonpiedmont.com
This Taiwanese chain serves tried-and-true recipes at over 300 locations worldwide, including two in San Francisco and several more around the Bay Area. Their classic milk tea is creamy-delicious, and their Okinawa (roasted brown sugar) and Hokkaido (caramel-toffee) variations are both great if you're looking for something super sweet. // Find your nearest location at1992sharetea.com.
(Courtesy of Teaspoon)
Teaspoon serves an extensive menu of bevvies ranging from a classic milk tea to a host of refreshing fruit teas as well as several creamy options. If you're here for boba, you'll find it in a variety of options including a silky mango or strawberry, caramel cream with brown sugar syrup, and Thai tea. // Locations Bay Area–wide; teaspoonlife.com.
Purple Kow is known for their fresh-brewed tea, fat cups, and long lines. Avoid going when school lets out, as it’s a popular hangout for kids in the Outer Richmond (3620 Balboa St). Their signature is the D3—a diabetes-inducing blend of caramel, pudding, and boba. For a healthier drink, you can order one of the oolong or the fruit teas (we like mango) and request less sugar or none at all. The tapioca itself is soft, sweet, and heavenly, and if you want to go all out, add on grass jelly to your drink for a texture mash-up. // Locations in SF, Berkeley, and Concord; purplekow.com
Fifty/Fifty Coffee & Tea
Enjoy your boba in a cool coffee shop atmosphere with free WiFi. Aside from the standard, you can ask for boba in any of Fifty/Fifty’s coffee shop drinks (just know they don’t start serving boba until noon). Try their jasmine green tea, honey coconut latte, or matcha latte—hot or cold—with boba, of course. Their tapioca is sweet and pleasantly chewy, and holds up just fine in hot drinks. Added bonus: They also have a variety of coffee beverages, as well as pastries for snacking. // 3157 Geary Blvd. (Inner Richmond), fiftyfiftysf.square.site
Milk Tea Lab
For folks who are seriously serious about boba, Milk Tea Lab has it down to a science: Each month, they release a special drink crafted by one of their “Scien’tea’ists.” There's alway a fun new formula or flavor to try, and this boba shop really goes above and beyond in making their drinks fun. There is the Alien Tonic, a sour green apple drink with mango stars; and the LovelyDew milk tea, which gives you a sweet combination of HoneyDew milk tea with honey boba. // Multiple locations Bay Area–wide; milktealabs.com
(Courtesy of @urbanritualcafe)
For an elevated boba experience, head to one of Urban Ritual’s three Bay Area locations. They pride themselves on using natural ingredients, loose leaf tea, and homemade syrups. If you’re looking for something sweet and decadent, order the Matcha Toffee (matcha green tea with milk and bite-sized toffee brittle). For something more refreshing, the Bae-Sil (strawberry basil lemonade with strawberry syrup, basil, and lemon) is a no-fail pick. // Locations in SF, San Mateo, and San Jose; urbanritualcafe.com
B is for binging on bahn mi along with boba tea at this new spot in Oakland's Chinatown. Their tea comes in all shapes and forms, from freshly brewed peach oolong to the creamy Panda milk tea (assam milk tea with honey and crystal boba). Another favorite is their Vietnamese coffee, which pairs great with some chewy boba pearls. If you’re really feeling adventurous, try one of their salted cream cheese drinks, a classic tea beverage topped with a layer of creamy salted cheese foam. // 1004 Webster St. (Oakland), boba-binge.com
Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea
First-timers at Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea should order the signature fruit tea infused with fresh chunks of passionfruit and pineapple. Also look out for their variety of drinks made with sago, which is comparable to tapioca except that it’s made from a palm plant rather than cassava. // Multiple locations Bay Area–wide;yifangteausa.com