Top 25 Boba Drinks in San Francisco Bay Area 2020

January 4, 2020 1 Comments

Another year, another bunch of boba drinks to devour. 2019 was another year of growth for the SF Bay Area boba scene, so much so that I can confidently claim that outside of Taiwan, we’re the best place on Earth to come for bubble tea.

This is gonna work much like it did last year: this won’t be your vague, run-of-the-mill “top bubble tea shops” article. I’ll tell you specifically what drinks to get, where, and exactly how. Here are the top 25 (in rough order) which you should consume in 2020. What diet?

1) Sea Cream Jasmine Tea – 7 Leaves

San Jose

I’d been waiting for 7 Leaves to come to NorCal since the day I moved here five years ago. This region is unparalleled in terms of bubble tea choices, but it was all going to be incomplete without 7 Leaves. It was one of the first (if not, in actuality, the first) bubble tea shops in the U.S. to offer crema. The version they have, trademarked Sea Cream, is a refreshing and creamy yet lightweight sea salted foam. My favorite drink of all time and places in the world is this Sea Cream Jasmine Tea. I had listed 85C’s Sea Salt Jasmine Tea in place of this last year, but nothing quite measures up to 7 Leaves’ jasmine tea leaves which brews pure, crisp, and gently floral. It took a good half year for the lines to die down, yet I still order 2-3 large cups of these every time I make a visit!

Have it like we do: no modifications.

2) Milk Tea – TP Tea

Cupertino, Berkeley

In 2017 I visited Taiwan, aka bubble tea motherland. I came across the story of how a Chun Shui Tang product developer had invented bubble tea and launched the tea house into a national success. I had the classic Pearl Milk Tea at the time, but wasn’t impressed with it at the time to want to come back for more. Fast forward a couple years, I came across a TP Tea on Yelp, where there were lots of mentions of “Chun Shui Tang”. Turns out, Chun Shui Tang had started to expand internationally with their child company, TP Tea, and their menu and recipes overlap quite a bit. I tried the classic milk tea here, and it tasted like the very one from a couple years prior. Somehow my taste buds had evolved so that I could fully appreciate it this time around. It’s the definition of a very solid classic Taiwanese milk tea: strong velvety black milk tea base and a natural mustache of bubbles formed from the shaking motion.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar

3) Pineapple Shortcake – Liang’s Village


Some time ago, our lovely friend Kim, who was visiting home, had invited us out for lunch at Liang’s. We got to try a variety of tea-based drinks and yummy dishes. When we attended Kim and her husband Dung’s wedding last spring, Liang’s happened to cater the bubble tea. Lo and behold, Kim had taken us along for lunch to have us help taste test for their wedding, and we didn’t even know! Anyway, Liang’s is an artisanal tea master! People might go there for the food, but their drink menu can be part of a standalone business if they wanted. The most interesting drink is the Pineapple Shortcake, which I tried recently and had for three weekends in a row. It’s just an all around fun drink made of fresh pineapple muddled in green tea, topped with salted crema (they are not shy about their sea salt), a piece of sun-dried pineapple, and bits of toasted Taiwanese pineapple shortcake. If I had to, if I had to, I’d say the Shortcake is really the differentiator as it gives the drink a delightfully oily, savory quality. There’s so much going on in this drink! It’s like a day in the theme park.

Have it like we do: As is, in store. Just tastes better in their pineapple cup.

4) Black Tea w/ Salted Cheese – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations

1st place last year

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.

5) BomberMan – U Cha


3rd place last year

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.

6) House Milk Tea – Urban Ritual

San Francisco + San Mateo

4th place last year

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.

7) Herbal Tea w/ Whipped Cream – Meet Fresh

Multiple locations

9th place last year

This drink slid up the list from last year because no other herbal tea is comparable to this. 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.

8) Yifang Fruit Tea – Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea

Multiple locations

Yifang as a chain has been a lovely addition to this region. It seems that their main focus is fruit teas, but not the ones made from fake fruity syrups and powders. Not quite fresh fruit smoothies either. Their offerings can be compared to Happy Lemon’s fruit-based teas, but a lot more subtle. They also have some milk-based drinks, the brown sugar milk being a fan favorite, but alas my favorite is their namesake drink. Can’t explain. It’s just good shit.

Have it like we do: no modifications.

9) Freshly Squeezed Lemon Green Tea – Happy Lemon

Multiple locations


2nd place last year

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).

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

San Jose


7th place last year

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.

11) House Coffee – 7 Leaves

San Jose

You can’t go wrong with any of the coffee options at 7 Leaves. Like they don’t play around with their tea leaves, they don’t play around with their coffee beans. The house coffee, which is Vietnamese ca phe sua da topped with their Sea Cream and likely spiked with something like hazelnut, is one of their best sellers. Enter your favorite coffee crack.

Have it like we do: 50% sugar.

12) Creme Brulee Pearl Latte – Boba Bliss


We were on our way back from Tahoe when we discovered this gem in Dublin. It’s a bit out of the way, but I think Dublin is still considered east bay, right? Boba Bliss is in the league of local shops that build upon “the best ingredients” (queue organic Strauss milk, Oat-Ly oat milk, premium brand teas/coffees). Unlike that one shop that leans on “premium ingredients” as a crutch but in actuality makes quite lackluster stuff, Boba Bliss produces very well balanced drinks. Creme Brulee Pearl Latte sounded too sweet for me, but it ended up tasting very addictive. This is the ultimate brown sugar milk-based drink, dressed to the nines. Next time I’m able to swing by, I’ll also be trying the strawberry matcha latte, natural taro fresh milk, and golden pineapple tea.

13) Brown Sugar Fresh Milk – Black Sugar

San Francisco

I was told by a reader that we had totally missed Black Sugar from last year’s list. In fact, I had wanted to try Black Sugar for a while, so on our way back from a trip to Mendocino, we dropped by for some cups of bubble tea. Here’s another local shop that swears by premium loose leaf teas, organic Straus milk, fresh fruits and real sugar. Premium ingredients, again, don’t always amount to a good drink, but Black Sugar does it well, and I can totally see why they’re the new bubble tea sweetheart of SF. The brown sugar milk here tastes pure with good boba texture. I’d still put this behind U-Cha because it’s not as flavorful, however U-Cha quality can be a miss on some days.

Have it like we do: as is.

14) Honey, Say Cheese! – Liang’s Village


Not for the faint of heart, this drink is like Happy Lemon’s black tea rock salted cheese, but instead of cream cheese, Liang’s uses Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam cheese. I liked it, but you really have to work your way up to this drink. I really dig Liang’s bravery.

Have it like we do: as is.

15) Strawberry Blueberry w/ Sea Salt Cream – Sweet Honey

Multiple locations


This Hong Kong style dessert shop has everything from sweet soups, to savory snacks and desserts, to tea drinks. The one I had and really like is this green tea based berry smoothie with sea salt cream – super refreshing! I’d like to also try their golden kiwi, guava, purple yam, sesame soup, and peach gum topping. I’ve also tried the soufflé pancakes at their Foster City location. With no heads up nor updates, it took an hour for the first pancake to come out, and another hour for the second.  They were delicious, but needless to say it wasn’t a good experience.

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

San Francisco


21st place last year

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.

17) Cucumber Soy Milk – Soypresso

San Jose


Not really a boba shop, but it hails from Taiwan and deserves the honors anyway. I grew up with soymilk, but this is a different beast. They use a special Japanese soybean processor that produces a rather thick soymilk, yet it tastes very crisp and pure. Virtually all of their flavors are good – black sesame, almond, matcha, regular, even rose. If I had to pick one, it would be the cucumber, which I wouldn’t have guessed would be very good.

18) Seaweed Jasmine Green Tea – Liang’s Village



Yes, Liang’s Village is the newest object of my affection! >.< This is a jasmine green tea with a layer of fresh whipped cream like any other day. The twist? It’s sprinkled with nori and sesame bits which gives the drink a unique savory twist. It works really well. Who would’ve ever thought to put seaweed on tea?!

Have it like we do: no modifications.

19) Matcha Latte – Stonemill Matcha

San Francisco


10th place last year

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

Have it like we do: as is.

20) Potted Dirtea – Liang’s Village



This is a black tea sweetened with brown sugar, topped with fresh cream and a layer of oreo crumbles. The thing I like about this drink is that the oreos and brown sugar give the black tea a very herbal quality.

Have it like we do: anywhere from 0%-100% sugar is fine.

21) Matcha Taro Latte – Black Sugar

San Francisco


This is a light matcha milk complemented with a dollop of fresh, natural taro. The ingredients make for a delicate and subtle creamy uber Asian drink. Black Sugar is local-owned and such a gem to the city. Next time I’m back, I’ll be trying the pear green tea.

22) Caramel Cream – Teaspoon

Multiple locations


Teaspoon was one of my first loves after TPumps when I first moved to the Bay. They make solid drinks, and there’s one right next to my work place. Nowadays, I reach for the Mango Milk and Grasshopper which was on this list last year, but most I’m reaching for the caramel cream, which is similar to our Caramel Iced Milk recipe.

23) Black Cheese Crema – N7 Draft Tea + Coffee

San Jose


N7’s special trick is nitro all the things: nitro coffee, nitro milk teas, nitro fruit teas. If you know me, you know my ears perk up at the sound of nitro-infused cold brew coffee, and I even liked Urban Ritual’s black milk tea because it tasted like it was nitro-infused. I’ve tried N7’s Black Cheese Crema and Blue Berry Blush. They’re solid drinks and that’s why N7 is on this list, but I would’ve rated this higher had the nitro been more apparent.

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



6th place last year

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. It was one of my favorites previously, however the quality of the toppings is somewhat inconsistent and the price is a bit steep for that experience.

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.

25) Ceylon Black Tea w/ Durian Milk Foam – Fengcha

Newark, Berkeley

Fengcha had a lot of other great options that I’d like to try next time, like Dirty Boba, Bursting Dragonfruit, and Ginger Milk Tea. I had to get the weirdest option, since I started to develop an affinity for durian. The drink is pretty special, but it’s also one of those experiences that’s a once-a-year thing.


So there you have it! My top 25 drinks of the past year, and the ones you need to try this year. What am I missing from this list? Let me know down below!


Ly is a software engineer by day. By night she dreams of traveling the world, eating good food, and drinking boba.

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    January 6, 2020

    time to try ALL of them !