Bubble tea. Boba. Pearls. Tapioca balls by any name would taste as sweet, but that doesn't mean they’re all just as good. Taiwan set the ball rolling in the 1980s and boba has become international fare since. They add texture to any drink, from milk tea to slushies, coffee, booze, shaved ice and even superfruit smoothies (this is LA after all). Armed with a giant neon-colored straw, we hit the streets to find who’s perfected the delicate and mysterious art of creating the perfectly honey sweet boba pearl. Here’s what we found.
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Wide windows and blonde wood walls make Boba Time the perfect afternoon haunt. The boba is soft to the core and they have options galore: smoothies, frappucinos, shaved ice, slush, iced milk, fresh juice, coffee, milk tea, and shakes. If you're feeling adventurous, try a sweet potato smoothie ($3.75). If you want to satisfy that sweet tooth and get a brain freeze to boot, try one of their "milk fluffs"—not to be confused with the shaved ice which doesn't have the same creaminess or lightness. We recommend the green tea milk fluff with condensed milk drizzle, fresh strawberries and boba ($4.50). Parking is free, but it gets hectic after dark. The wifi password is their phone number (although you may have to fight for the tables near the outlet).
Shiny metallic red chairs, white floors and blaring music makes this a chic spot for PG after dinner drinks. Fancy a round of Rummikub? Pick out a board game from one of the red cubbies or settle down for a game on the Pikachu Nintendo 64. You'll find something for even the pickiest of your friends here—coffee frappe, a hot tea, shaved ice, frozen yogurt, milk tea. They're even in on the health juice frenzy with acai smoothies and vampire juices—carrot beet celery orange ($4.25) anyone? We recommend trying the avocado smoothie with boba ($3.70). This creamy buttery concoction of milk and avocado may sound strange, but it’s the perfect backdrop to the caramel-y boba balls.
Although boba isn't Urth's main fare, their organic drinks are worth the four bucks. Their boba is on the chewier side, and you can get soy, rice, almond or soy milk substitutions in your tea. We recommend the organic Green Tea boba ($3.95), milky and with plenty of matcha, it's not too sweet and just a bit earthy (Urth-y?). The succulents, charming iron wrought chairs and brick patio let you unleash your high class hipster while indulging in bubble tea.
Boozy bubble tea...need we say more? If you’ve found yourself inside a fancy Thai restaurant then you’re actually in the right place. Head past the fine dining tables of Soi 7 to the boba bar in the back covered in art deco and Pokemon posters. With names such as Boba Fete, Barack Bobama, and MyDrinkTotaro, this labobatory just can’t keep its puns from bubbling to the surface of its menu. For those who love a pint, we recommend the Green TeaHeineken ($6)—one whole bottle of beer with slightly sweetened green tea and boba. Non-drinkers should try the horchata with boba ($4)—rice water perfectly spiced with cinnamon and vanilla.
The line for Volcano Tea often goes out the door, but no fear, the queue moves quickly and the wait will give you time to decide between strawberry milk tea boba ($3.25) and almond milk tea ($3.45). We recommend the good ol' fashioned milk tea ($2.95) with spicy fried chicken ($4.50). Their boba is chewy and has a pleasant toffee after taste. Take your drinks to-go and wander down Sawtelle to work up appetite for a second dinner.
AU 79 has noodles, shaved ice and coffees, but there’s something about their pink boba that’s inexplicably enticing. It’s sweeter and chewier than regular boba and, well, more pink. There’s a minimum of three dollar per person tab if you want to take one of the dine-in tables and that’s because you’ll often find groups staying for hours, playing Cards Against Humanity or Monopoly Deal. We recommend the Royal Milk Tea (Earl Grey black tea) with pink boba ($4). Yum.
Half and Half’s infamous cups look more like buckets than something a normal-sized human would drink from. This bubble tea is not for the faint of heart or the faint of stomach, but it’s some of the best tapioca in town. They make their trademarked hot honey boba fresh and it’s still warm when they plop it into your iced drink. This location is cash only and it’s express (you can walk while you drink which might help that calorie intake). If you want to try strawberry cheesecake in liquid form, we’d recommend the iced milk with strawberry, pudding and boba ($4.20).
Boba Loca is in the middle of Westwood Village so it’s no surprise that it’s haunted by students and its menu contains less traditional bubble tea shop fare, such as grilled cheese, Odwalla bars, instant oatmeals, and instant ramen noodles. Grab a book, order a taro milk tea with boba ($2.95), pretend you're a studious Bruin and settle in for a few hours of quality study time.
Amid the joyless landscape of boba-underserved communities, a wild boba truck appears! Here it is, there it goes—check their Twitter feed for the exact location. Their teas are steeped with real leaves and make the chase worth your while. We recommend the French Rose milk tea ($4) or the customer favorite—the Cherry Blossom Green milk tea ($4). The incredibly friendly staff will entertain your questions about the difference between “premium” and “regular” milk teas (regular flavored tea options have flavoring in them whereas premium teas are steeped with real flowers or bits of fruit). You can also check out their regularly updated schedule by clicking here.
This bubble tea may not satisfy the gourmet boba connoisseur, but you get so much bang for so little buck, it’s hard to resist. Any flavored milk tea (Royal, Thai, Honeydew) with tapioca is a mere $2.19. They also have traditional Taiwanese snacks—go for fried taro balls ($3.80) if you want to try something delicious outside of your comfort zone. Quickly is cash-only and their service is drink-centric so if you order food you might not get it very, erm, quickly.