The 30 Best Boba Drinks in San Francisco Bay Area 2018

October 14, 2018 0 Comments

We are blessed (and honestly, a little overwhelmed) with the most versatile bubble tea options in the San Francisco Bay Area. If there’s one assumption you have to make about us based off of this whole blog, it should be this: Hop and I will travel near and far for nomz boba!

There are many “best boba shop” lists out there for enthusiasts and tourists alike. There’s a ton of consensus among those blog posts, and hopefully there’s a good reason why. Those guides have a couple of drawbacks for us – we have vastly different tastes, and the recommendations don’t provide enough specificity. As in, most spots can’t be good at everything on their menu. C’mon, tell me what the best drinks in the area are!!!

We noshed far and wide, and came up with a shortlist of our favorites. We’ve experienced other drinks and boba-ries beyond this list, but the standard is, if we won’t go out of my way again to get it, it doesn’t make the cut. There are plenty that didn’t make the cut because we simply didn’t like them, but also plenty that didn’t make the cut because they were positively standard.

This is how we characterize our tastes and preferences, in case you want to evaluate whether you’ll like what we like:

  1. We don’t have sweet tooths (teeth?). We prefer moderate sweetness where it doesn’t overpower other ingredients, rather it complements them.
  2. We haven’t adopted any food diets.
  3. We love soft, chewy pearls, but there is a point where pearls are so soft that they’re mushy. I’m arguably picky about my pearls, which is why I actually rarely order them as toppings.
  4. If our drink is tea-based, the tea can’t be oversteeped so that it’s acrid, and it can’t have noticeable essential oils in them. We once had a jasmine milk tea (which is really jasmine green milk tea) and it was all essential oil – downright burned out throats.
  5. I don’t like drinks with too much creamer because I don’t digest well, but if a milk tea ends up looking any bit transparent, I’d think it was lacking creamer.
  6. We love fresh and organic ingredients when possible, but just because they’re used doesn’t mean that we will blindly love the final product itself. There’s at least one shop I can think of whose hype is built on using fresh organic milk and organic premium teas. That’s all great, but if you have the finest ingredients and a lackluster recipe or process, the final product (tastes like colored water?) is probably no bueno.
  7. Drinks don’t have to be authentically Taiwanese, whatever that means.

So here you’ll have it: Hop & Ly’s top 30 best boba drinks in the yay area.

1) Black Tea w/ Salted Cheese – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

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The first time I saw “rock salted cheese” on their menu, I suddenly pictured a layer of melted cheddar cheese. I still don’t blame myself. They had a cartoon picture of a slice of cheddar cheese for imagery. Luckily it didn’t actually taste like cheese, not a savory type, anyway. The drink is a good black tea topped with a layer of what looks like typical bubble tea-style crema, except that the crema is bolder – a great mix of creaminess, saltiness, and sweetness. See our homemade recipe.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar, 50% ice.

 

2) Freshly Squeezed Lemon Green Tea – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

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A second Happy Lemon drink? I admit, I’m a big fan. This drink is marked with the taste of fresh squeezed green lemon from Taiwan in a nice green tea. A sweet and sour, exotic citrus drink saves the day.

Have it like we do: add lychee jello (enunciate so they know you’re saying jello not jelly…they get it wrong all the time).

3) BomberMan – U Cha

Oakland

I first had this black sugar iced milk drink at Taiwan’s Chen San Ding the other year. Soft, chewy boba basted in a smoky, sweet syrup topped with ice cold, fresh milk. Sounds simple, but my heart broke when I came back on my last day of the trip to see that the shop was closed. Luckily I found U Cha. Their 100% sugar isn’t nearly as much as CSD’s, which is perfect for me.  See our homemade recipe.

Have it like Ly does: 50% ice. How about always getting 50% ice? It only dilutes our drinks, no?

Have it like Hop does: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

4) House Milk Tea – Urban Ritual

San Francisco + Pop-up in Redwood City

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Lots of bubble tea shops have decent, standard black milk teas that aren’t on this list. Urban Ritual’s black tea base is a slightly malty house mix that reminds me a lot of a nitro cold brew. And, this drink comes with some kind of liquid cream which I usually fear would dilute the drink – at Urban Ritual’s SF location, it doesn’t.

Have it like we do: no modifications.

5) Iced Sea Salt Jasmine Tea – 85C Bakery Cafe

Multiple locations

I loveeeee jasmine bubble tea drinks, but good ones are hard to come by. 85C’s jasmine is delicately fragrant, and the addition of their signature sea salt cream makes one beautiful, fun drink.

Have it like Ly does: 50% ice, 75% sugar.

Have it like Hop does: 50% ice, 25% sugar.

6) Organic Milk w/ Brown Sugar Pearls & Herbal Jelly – Jin Tea #2 ORGANIC MILK

Cupertino

Fresh organic milk with fresh-made herbal jelly and what tastes more like black sugar pearls. Not a sharp sweetness like U Cha’s BomberMan, but it’s a star in its own right.

Have it like we do: 50% ice, and tell them not to add any extra water – I don’t even know why they do that.

 

7) White Grape Milk Tea w/ Sea Salt Cream – Shincha Tea

San Jose

White grape infused green tea is a beautiful thing. Because it’s a tea infusion and not a syrup, the white grape is subtle. Double the cream! Make this a milk tea and add sea salt cream on top – not at all overpowering.

Have it like we do: You know the drill…50% ice.

 

8) Mango Peach Milk Tea w/ Honey Boba – Tpumps

Multiple locations

Tpumps is one of the Bay Area’s homegrown classics. Some may bash on it for using canned syrups and weak teas, and, alright, that might be their downfall. Their strength, on the other hand, is cooking up the best and most consistent honey boba I’ve ever had, anywhere. It’s soft and chewy through and through: not soggy, not cooked unevenly. Mango Peach Milk Tea is my favorite flavor.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar. Go on Tuesdays for the Pumpbo size.

 

9) Herbal Tea w/ Whipped Cream – Meet Fresh

Multiple locations

Meet Fresh is known more for their shaved ice flavors (which you should definitely get). But they’re the only shop that makes herbal tea (note: not the same as grass jelly tea). So refreshing and makes me feel super healthy. Add some cream on top to cancel out the healthy.

Have it like we do: 50% ice, 75% sugar, add herbal jelly – it’s the real deal.

 

10) Matcha Latte – Stonemill Matcha

San Francisco

It’s just really legit, canon, awesome tasting matcha.

Have it like we do: as is.

 

11) Hojicha Latte – Stonemill Matcha

San Francisco

Hojicha is not so common. Good hojicha is less so. The roasted green tea latte at Stonemill is authentic as ever.

Have it like we do: as is.

 

12) Strawberry Black Tea – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

Happy Lemon makes a real chunky strawberry jam of sorts and makes tea drinks out of it. The black tea takes it really well. Together, it’s my crack. This is made most consistently at Stevens Creek Cupertino.

Have it like we do: 50% ice.

 

13) Mango Boba Green Tea – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

It’s rare I get black pearls, even rarer I get white pearls. White pearls, made of agar agar, are crunchy (rumor has it that it’s healthier). The only white pearls that have ever given me satisfaction are the mango pearls in this Happy Lemon drink. Bring the mango flavors on!

Have it like we do: 50 ice, 75% sugar.

 

14) Grasshopper – Teaspoon

Multiple locations

At Teaspoon, you can see them brewing fresh shots of tea with espresso makers to order. They have a great selection of oolong, black, and green milk tea drinks, but what shines is the Grasshopper. Lychee green tea and cucumber juice is an unlikely pair. It’s like a green juice, with a caffeinated tropical twist.

Have it like we do: as is.

 

15) Honey Oolong w/ Classic Cream & Creme Brulee – Urban Ritual

San Francisco

A sweeter oolong that’s a little nutty and a hint of infused honey is topped with a quality, spreadable creme brulee. How about that for dessert in a cup?

Have it like Hop does: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

 

16) Neptune Teaccino – Comebuy Tea & Coffee

Santa Clara

Seems like a pretty big chain in the rest of the world, but Comebuy has a quieter presence in California. What shines here is the unique neptune tea: It’s a sencha infused with honey. When you drink it, there’s the ghost of the taste of honey, but the sweetness isn’t necessarily there. Add Comebuy’s version crema for a softer mouthfeel.

Have it like we do: 75% sugar.

 

17) House Special Ice Milk – Teasociety

San Jose, Milpitas

Not sure about my fondness for the rest of the menu, but I certainly like the House Special. It doesn’t have much of a fresh milk taste like other spots do, but it’s only because of their caramel syrup made from scratch and Vietnamese-style flan for egg pudding.

Have it like Ly does: replace boba for basil seeds – their boba gets hard quickly/

 

18) Yakult Green Tea w/ Lychee Jello – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

Rather than a citrus fruit, the tartness comes from yakult, a light yogurt/probiotic drink. An Asian drink at its finest.

Have it like Ly: 50% ice, add lychee jello (remember, jellO not jellY!).

 

19) Ceylon Teaccino – Comebuy

Santa Clara

Comebuy sure does have some interesting single-origin, single-breed teas. Ceylon is one of the world’s top black teas. You can get it as a teaccino (cream top) so you can enjoy Ceylon on its own, than mix in the cream when you feel a little wild.

Have it like we do: 75% sugar.

 

20) Ice Coffee w/ Salted Cheese – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

This is a full-bodied boba drink. Black coffee with the cheese, which contains rock salt and condensed milk, is like Vietnamese coffee with a twist.

Have it like we do: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

 

21) BB Iced Milk w/ Grass Jelly – BB Tea Station

San Francisco

When made exactly the way we like it, this milk slush and grass jelly is a minimalist boba drinker’s dream. The taste of milk is true, and their grass jelly is one of the best. The grass jelly is so legit it has air holes in it.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar, and make sure they do not put caramel in it. The grass jelly is as sweet as needed already.

 

22) Iced Sea Salt Coffee – 85C Bakery Cafe

Multiple locations

Just like a milk coffee, enhanced with the taste of the sea.

Have it like we do: 75% sugar.

 

23) Matcha Latte – Matcha Cafe Maiko

San Francisco

Hop and I first had Matcha Maiko in Honolulu. It was delicious and had a strong matcha taste. When we heard it was opening in San Francisco, we were super excited. It isn’t quite the same experience, but still a good option behind Stonemill and ahead of others.

Have it like we do: as si.

 

24) Orange N’ Black – Teaquation & Tonic

Palo Alto

Teaquation specializes in tea mocktails & cocktails. One of their catchphrases is to “breakup with boba”. They focus on fresh ingredients and unique recipes. They make Orange N’ Black, essentially a Thai Tea with coconut milk and cinnamon flavors that I can get with.

Have it like we do: as is.

 

25) High Mountain Oolong w/ Organic Sea Salt Creama – Teaspoon

Multiple locations

Oolong teas in Taiwan have several varieties, and ones grown in the mountainous areas are some of the most highly prized. Teaspoon makes tea to order, and getting it topped with crema for stirring in later gives one a chance to taste tea quality without the distraction of other flavors

Have it like we do: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

 

26) Wintermelon Tea – Sharetea

Multiple locations

You wouldn’t think a vegetable to make a good drink, but leave it to Asian people to accomplish that. Sharetea has a vast number of options on its menu, but wintermelon tea is one of the classic populars. Delicately sweet and a bit herbal-y.

Have it like we do: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

 

27) Bubble Milk Tea w/ Puff Cream – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

It tastes like a cereal drink with some caffeine. Unlike crema as a topping, the puff cream is like a custard mixed into milk tea.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar.

 

28) Matcha Latte – Asha Tea House

Berkeley, San Francisco

Before Matcha Maiko and Stonemill, there was Asha. Asha makes a decent latte, and also good for other fresh tea brews too.

Have it like we do: 50% ice.

 

29) Hokkaido Milk Tea – Boiling Point

Multiple locations

Hotpot at Boiling Point tends to make me bloated, but the thing that makes up for that are their drinks. The Hokkaido milk tea is a particular stand out. It’s on the creamy side, which is why I don’t get it too often, but its richness is meant to imitate the creaminess of Hokkaido milk.

Have it like Ly does: as is.

 

30) Cheese Mousse Black Tea – Royaltea

Fremont, Oakland

Lots of cheese mouse drinks have shown up on menus after Happy Lemon showed up in the area. None were quite like Happy Lemon’s. Royaltea isn’t much like it either, but what I like about it is that you can distinctly taste real cream cheese in it. Real ingredients are alway a plus in my book.

Have it like we do: 50% ice, 50% sugar.

 

Now that I’ve listed our favorites, it’s time for you to list yours! What should be on this list, but isn’t? Let us know below!

ly

Ly is a software engineer and serial volunteer in the VSA & UNAVSA community by day. By night she dreams of traveling the world, eating good food, and drinking boba.

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