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Boba novice seeks advice

O.K. I had my second boba ever in China Town last weekend. My first was at a place called Tea Station in Irvine. I found them pretty tasty but my daughter went bananas over it in China Town.

Question.. I am sure as with all things food, there are higher quality ones to be found. How does one determine a good boba? Is it the boba itself or fresh brewed tea as opposed a huge batch made each day?

What exactly is a boba anyway?

Are there any great boba places in the Newport/Costa Mesa area?

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  1. I used to work in a boba tea shop; they're tapioca "pearls" derived from the cassava/yucca plant. Of course, when people say boba they usually mean those pearls in a drink (tea/slushie/coffee/etc.)

    People have different preferences as far as boba goes, some like the texture to be chewier, others like it more soft (note: it gets chewier as the boba sits throughout the day, and also a bit softer in hot drinks). Bobas typically are made in batches - several times a day depending on customer demand.

    As for the tea drink quality, definitely try to find one that makes the tea to order as opposed to mass brewing it. Not only will you get a fresh tasting brew, you can also customize it to your preference (less sugar, soy milk, etc.) -- I'm pretty certain that all of the chain places (TeaStation, Quickly, Lollicup) makes their teas in large batches. My favorite place for fresh-brewed boba is Aloha Boba in Monrovia. I'm sure there are some independently-owned places that fresh-brew the teas in the OC - hopefully other hounds can help.

    ~H.C.
    http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: AquaW

      I will second Aloha Boba. I know it isn't in your area, but they make great tea, and they will work to make it just the way you want it.

      Cha for Tea is also good, but I have had trouble getting them to make it sweet but not knock-your-teeth-out sweet.

    2. I can't help you with boba in Newport/Costa Mesa, but if you can make it to UCI, in the University Centre plaza across Campus Road is Cha for Tea. They make everything by hand and the boba are quite tasty. Their drinks are quite good as well, and they'll sweeten to your liking (but be aware that the default is very, very, VERY sweet).

      Honestly, the boba themselves vary widely even in the same tea shop so the quality of the boba themselves is not relevant since it will change. What you need to do is differentiate the drink. The major chains (Lollicup, etc.) have very sweet tea with quite a lot of condensed milk in it. It doesn't taste much like "tea" at all. This is OK if you think of "lai cha" (milk tea) as a separate beast -- honestly, it tastes a bit like a drink common in Hong Kong called junjong, which is a mix of coffee, tea and condensed milk.

      Then you have the places like Cha for Tea or Tea Spirit or Au 79 that make your tea to order. Some are good, and some are bad.

      And interestingly, "boba" is a slang term for... hm... a big bosom. It's not a rude word but it's not something you'd say in front of your grandmother, either. Thus, it's also known as zhen zhu, pronouned "junn JOO", which means "pearls", or even as QQ, since "Q" is a slang term for "chew".

      My favourite of the do-it-to-order places is Cha for Tea. My favourite of the junjong-type places is Volcano Tea in the Westminster Mall.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        The Ten Ren Tea Company in Chinatown IMHO serves the best Boba around. They're in a mall at 727 S. Broadway. They also sell fine bulk teas, pots and tea sets (BTW Ten Ren Company also owns Cha for Tea).

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I love Cha for Tea. They make the best boba tea (both the boba pearls and the tea) I've tried so far in OC. And it's the only place where I can specify exactly how much fructose I want. Many places that make their boba tea in large batches is often way too sweet. And I like the fact that I can also get my boba with soymilk.

          Lol, that's an, erm, interesting fact about 'boba' too. :-0

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            Cha for Tea's my #1 choice for boba cravings. At other places, I get really inconsistent boba texture and IMO, Cha has been the most stable provider.

          2. i'm a fan of Boba Smoothie in Costa Mesa. They make slushies and also good quality teas w/ boba. It's possible they make the nondairy powder premix based "milk teas" like so many chain places do, but if that's the case, I never order them here.

            I usually get the smoothies here because they use real (albeit frozen) fruit. It's not just a syrup and ice concoction. I also like that they keep their boba balls in a heated syrup filled vessel, and I like the temperature difference between the slushie and the heated and mildly sweet boba.

            It's in the mall where Henry's Market is, and kitty corner across from the Marukai shopping center on Baker & Harbor.

            Here's an old post about it on my blog. Jeez, it's been four years since I wrote this.
            http://professorsalt.com/2004/10/15/b...

            -----
            Boba Smoothie
            1460 Baker St Ste D, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

            8 Replies
            1. re: Professor Salt

              Hmm, Professor your description of Boba Smoothie definitely warrants further investigation. Just the idea of a Jamba-like smoothie with boba sounds too good to pass up.

              1. re: FoodieKat

                You can get these nearly anywhere, though never with real fruit -- they're usually called "snow bubble".

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Yup, one thing I always ask at a new boba place is if their "smoothies" or slushies are made with real fruit or the syrups. Some places use real fruit, especially the independent stores.

                  I don't know about Newport/Costa Mesa, but I'm sure you'll find a place that makes the boba to your liking. You'll realize pretty quickly what texture/sweetness you like.

                  If you are ever in Chinatown in LA, try the Strawberry Green Tea Boba at Singapore Cafe. It tastes like Jasmine Tea mixed with fresh strawberries. It's really different!

                  1. re: metaphora

                    FoodieKat, I'll back up what DU and metaphora have said. Most chain places don't use real fruit, so it's worth finding a shop that does. They're usually the indies, which are struggling to stay open now that the boba fad has peaked and waned.

                    1. re: Professor Salt

                      Actually though, there are exceptions - for example, Tapioca Express uses fresh fruit for at least some of their offerings. I love their honeydew snow bubble, and that's generally made with fresh fruit, at least at several of the locations down in OC (Irvine, for example). Also, I've had banana snow bubble at the TE in Irvine with fresh bananas (BTW I prefer the "artificial" version on this one, but maybe that's just me - healthier maybe, but not as fun to drink :-)

                      At the Tustin TE (Redhill at El Camino Real, in that big strip mall), they have numerous tropical fruits (frozen but "real" not powders etc. I had a durian snow bubble this summer (good, but it didn't have me coming back for more of the durian).

                      Personally I prefer TE's boba, which is usually nice and soft and fresh-tasting and slightly sweet, unlike some places where the boba consistency can be too hard (almost dried-out) and very bland-tasting.

                      1. re: Professor Salt

                        Yes, which is a real shame too, because I've completely missed out on the boba tea craze (moved back to the US last year from UK where boba tea isn't so popular). I always tend to shy away from the fruit based boba drinks, because I assume they use syrups, so it is good to know that there are some places out there that use real fruit. I like supporting the indies!

                        1. re: FoodieKat

                          I remember back in what late 1990s I could only find certain Boba shops in certain places--parts of the SGV, and never a decent one in OC, or westside, SFV, whereas now they are everywhere.

                          1. re: b0ardkn0t

                            Yep. In 1999 you either went to the SGV or spent twice as much by going to Zen Zoo on 26th and San Vicente.

              2. as others have noted, boba rilly is a preference.. i like mine a little bit chewy.. there are the normal dark brown ones, clear ones, light brown ones, etc. i also prefer fresh fruit drinks to teas and what not. my place of choice (tho not anymore since i've long left my boba days) was always life plaza, which has a location in roland heights and one in arcadia (and perhaps a third??). the one in rh is in the diamond plaza right off the fullerton exit off of the 60. the boba is not the greatest, but it's the only place i know that serves juices made from fresh fruit- NO SYRUPS/POWDERS like places like lollicup, boba loca, and the like use. the only downfall from this tho is that sometimes they may not have your fruit or it may be unripe. their apple milk, strawberry milk are awesome, but banana juice is my fav. one time they were out of bananas so i went down the street, bought a couple bananas from the market and brought them back and they made some for me :) hehe.

                1. Agree with all the above posters that it is really about preference. Aside from the texture of the boba, people have very different tastes when it comes to the strength of the tea, the amount or type of milk, and the amount of sugar. I have boba a lot when I travel around Asia and it tastes different in every area.

                  Personally I would stick with the big tea chains if you're outside of areas like Rowland Heights and the San Gabriel Valley. The chains may not be the "best" but they are at least consistent, and there's a lot more bad boba than good. Sometimes you can customize, but unless you've worked at a tea shop, it's pretty hard to know what you want yourself! Easier to just find one that you like and stick with it.

                  1. Stick with Tea Station, trust me, I'm a boba snob. It is far any away the best, most consistent Boba Milk Tea that (surprise) is actually made from REAL TEA and not sugar water! It's pricier than most other places but it's the best. There are several branches all over Southern California and they have expanded to northern California over the last few years and now even Las Vegas has a branch!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: yellow fever

                      ^^ Yes, I second Tea Station as well. My only gripe is the cups. The lids are flimsy and tend to leak so make sure you don't tilt the cup unless you want tea/juice all over yourself. They used to use the brand Solo but have since switched to a cheaper brand. I know they're not hurting for money since they have over 12 locations and more to come.

                      1. re: hungry_hippo

                        I have been meaning to try Tea Station's location in Irvine. They are also owned by Ten Rea tea company, like Cha for Tea. That would explain why their tea is of a better quality. I am also very partial to the type of boba pearls they use. They're made from yam starch instead of the more typical tapioca base. I like the chewy texture and the taste better. Do you know if Tea Station can also make boba milk tea with soymilk instead of nondairy creamer? I prefer this option.

                        Good to know there's a Tea Station in Vegas too, since I'm planning on visiting the city in a few weeks. I'm addicted to good boba teas!

                      2. re: yellow fever

                        Agree. Tea Station is high quality.

                      3. I'm so bummed we do not have boba shops here in New England. I'll be in SoCal in July and cannot wait to enjoy boba again in SGV, SFV, Costa Mesa and Chinatown. Tea Station sounds great. Thanks for the tip.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: creamy

                          I was absolutely shocked when I went to Lollicup in the Santa Anita mall and ordered a Thai Tea Boba only to see that instead of using real 1/2 & 1/2 and sweetened condensed milk, they used Mocha Mix! It still tasted good but I was really disappointed. Is this typically the way things are done these days?

                          1. re: Fru

                            I tried the Lollicup at Marukai market in Costa Mesa and didn't care for their boba tea at all. The boba pearls had a weird aftertaste and there was a certain artificial quality to the tea.

                            1. re: FoodieKat

                              I agree with you on this, I went there once and decided it wasn't all that good, to my taste.

                            2. re: Fru

                              Yes. Most boba places, including Lollicup, are complete crap.