Growing up in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood, boba shops were a sacred afterschool ritual. Quickly on Clement was my go-to spot, where I would order a peach slushie with boba and sometimes popcorn chicken if I was feeling especially hungry.
After moving to the Walnut Creek area, the boba choices were slim and mediocre, until I recently discovered Sharetea in Concord and i-Tea in Walnut Creek. No longer did I have to make the trek down to Oakland or Berkeley to satisfy my boba cravings.
What exactly is boba?
Boba (also known as pearl tea or bubble tea) was created in Taiwan during the 1980s and was originally served with white tapioca balls (hence the name pearl tea). The black tapioca that is more common nowadays is from the cassava root, which is native of South America and was brought to Taiwan by the Portuguese. It is often served as a cold drink, but you can get it as a warm one as well. The original flavors were milk or fruit-flavored teas.
Boba menus can be overwhelming from tea choices to the seemingly endless list of toppings. Whether you are a boba newbie or a bubble tea regular wanting to try something new, here’s a guide to help decipher what’s what.
This is one of the original flavors, which consists of a specific tea mixed with milk or more often a dairy substitute like non-dairy creamer (since a lot of Asians are lactose intolerant) and it’s cheaper than real milk.
Popular flavors: black, jasmine, green, oolong, taro, Hokkaido (caramel toffee), Okinawa (roasted brown sugar), matcha red bean and Thai ice tea.
This version consists of fruit (and vegetables) blended with ice to make a refreshing drink and is one of my personal favorites. Even on a cold day, it’s hard to pass up on this brain-freeze inducing drink. One of my favorite renditions is when a non-dairy creamer is added to a taro ice blended drink. So so good.
Popular flavors: mango, taro, lychee, strawberry, avocado
I can only admire it from afar since I’m lactose intolerant, but I’ve lived vicariously through friends. The creama is a layer of salty cream foam added to the top of your drink and it slowly dissolves into the tea. Creama drinks come with a tiny knife to cut a slit into the top of the plastic film (covering the drink) to be able to remove it entirely so you can drink the tea and the foam simultaneously.
Popular flavors: black tea, roasted oolong, wintermelon tea, matcha tea
These teas are a much lighter option compared to the creamy milk-based ones. Most fruit teas have a slight natural sweetness to them, but you can usually add more sugar to your drink if you so desire.
Popular flavors: passionfruit, mango greet tea, strawberry, lychee, wintermelon
Some boba spots serve fresh milk with boba (sans any tea) or a tea drink with fresh milk. This is different than the milk teas that usually have a non-dairy creamer, and substituting it with fresh milk allows for a fresher (healthier) drink.
Popular flavors: fresh milk with pearl, black tea with fresh milk, matcha with fresh milk
A tangy yogurt-like drink that has probiotic properties and is a popular drink in Asia to help with digestion.
Popular flavors: mango, passionfruit, lemon
Extra toppings include your typical boba, mini boba, sweet red bean (which go well with everything), egg pudding, lemon ai yu jelly, grass jelly, lychee jelly and aloe vera (which go well with fruit tea drinks).
For some boba places you can adjust the ice and sugar in your order:
Adjustable ice levels are available on most drinks (except for the ice blended ones since the amount is predetermined). The levels are usually something like this: regular ice, more ice and no ice.
Adjustable sugar levels are available on most drinks (except ones like the Okinawa milk tea which is roasted brown sugar). The levels are usually something like this: 0% sugar-free, 30% slightly sweet, 50% half-sweet, 80% less sweet, 100% normal.
Some recommended spots in the Bay Area:
Locations: Alameda, Concord, Dublin, Fremont, Palo Alto, San Jose, San Leandro, San Mateo, San Rafael, San Francisco, Sunnyvale
Try: Taro Ice Blended with Pudding, Mango Green Tea Creama,
Asha Tea House
Locations: Berkeley, San Francisco
Try: Mocha Latte with Boba, Hong Kong Milk Tea
Try: Passion Fruit Green Tea with Ai Yu Jelly, Iced Fresh Milk Drink with Pearl
Locations: Alameda, Castro Valley, Dublin, Fremont, Livermore, Milpitas, Newark, Oakland, Pittsburg, San Francisco, San Jose, San Leandro, Walnut Creek
Try: Mango Crystal, Guava Tea with Egg Pudding
The Sweet Booth
Try: Taro Pearl, Avocado
What is your favorite kind of boba?