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Aug 13, 2013 03:27 AM

Boba Milk Tea - SF stepping it up!

Anyone have a favorite boba/milk tea/pearl milk tea/bubble tea place?

So many new "Taiwanesey" places that serves freshly brewed (milk) tea. I said Taiwanesey so I'll leave out Boba Guys and Fifty Fifty since they're more hipster.

We all know about Purple Kow, also now in Berekely, and Tpumps, which is originally from San Mateo. Purple Kow brews each cup of tea per order, hence the long wait. Tpumps brews in bulk because really, it'll still be just as fresh since they're constantly brewing a new pot. Their pearls are the best, just slightly coated in honey; however, Tpumps doesn't offer the different types of teas (matcha, hojicha, assam, etc.) that Purple Kow has.

I've recently been going to Super Cue Cafe (on Taraval) because they also serve just iced milk (no tea, similar to the popular drinks in Purple Kow) and with (real) fresh taro as a topping. They just opened less than a month ago, I believe. And now I just found out that Chinatown finally as a place that also makes fresh milk tea - Cool Tea Bar. These two places uses the espresso method of brewing the tea, hence a much faster turnaround.

Before these two places, I've been going to Ocha in San Mateo or Mr Green Bubble in Oakland for fresh milk tea (espresso-style), but now I don't have to go as far, unless I want to sit down and hang out for a bit, but if I want to stay local and have a seat with tables, then there's also Little Sweet Cafe on Geary, another new boba joint that only opens at night. Drinks served fresh, and this place is the _most_ Taiwanese of them all. I didn't even know so many Taiwanese people (straight from Taiwan) lived in the city.

By the way, most people don't seem to know this. 波霸 "boba" is Taiwanese slang for big boobs. It refers to the big black balls. Go ahead. Do a search in Google images. I dare you. "Pearl" (Chinese is 珍珠 zhenzhu) is actually the smaller black balls. It's more common to have these two options in Taiwan. Here in the states, they're basically synonymous for the bigger balls. And the "bubble" in bubble tea refers to the bubble that forms at the top of the cup after the tea is shaken up.

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  1. Thanks for posting!

    Definitely interested in trying Super Cue Cafe. I'll check it out soon. And I'll also try Little Sweet Cafe.

    My current favorite in the city is still Wonderful Foods on Irving, down the street from the T Pumps. I wasn't that impressed by TPumps when I went, mainly because of the line:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave MP

      I think Wondeful Foods will always hold a special place in the hearts of locals. I still make my occasional visits. But I don't know how it will be able to keep up with the new wave. Remember Sweet Delite (三明) on Clement? It was even older than Wonderful, but sad story, it closed.

    2. I wasted no time, and went to check out Super Cue Cafe last night with a small group. Overall, we were impressed. The boba in particular was good—it tasted fresh, and had a sweetness that we enjoyed. It was very similar to the boba at T Pumps.

      They had two samples available–the toffee assam milk tea, and peach oolong iced tea (no milk). Both were quite good, and two of my friends ordered the toffee. The peach wasn't overly sweet, since the peach is part of the tea (as opposed to being a syrup that gets added).

      I had a regular jasmine milk tea. The tea is brewed on the spot, then mixed w/ non-dairy creamer (no real milk at this place), and then added w/ boba. The result was in my mind not cold enough, but otherwise really good. The smallest size is quite large, and costs around $3.75. So not the cheapest bubble tea by any means.

      I also tasted the genmaicha milk tea w/ pudding, and this was surprisingly good. I had never had genmaicha with milk before, and certainly not with pudding, but the flavor combo was better than I expected. And the pudding here was very good—vanilla-ey, firm, and fresh-tasting.

      Service was friendly, but it's not quick. It took about 10 minutes to get all of our drinks, and this was with no line whatsoever. So if it were crowded, I could see it becoming way too long a wait...which I think is also the downfall of Purple Kow and T Pumps. Making the tea fresh for every cup is a great idea in theory, but not if there are 20 people in line in front of me.

      But assuming the crowds don't get too crazy, I'd definitely return to Super Cue, and I'd certainly recommend it. It's also conveniently close to House of Pancake, which is now probably my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city. Thanks JonasApproved for the tip.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Dave MP

        LOL! House of Pancakes + Super Cue is my dinner combo.

        If you like Genmaicha, you should also check out Hojicha. Both have a roasted flavor, and they go great with grass jelly. But if you really like pudding, then you have to go to Fantasia in Cupertino. They make the best pudding!

        $3.75 is actually pretty standard for that type of drink - the size, freshly brewed tea and boba.

        Check out Cool Tea Bar in Chinatown when you get a chance. Similar method, less options, but even larger sizes.

        1. re: JonasApproved

          Yeah, I think $3.75 was reasonable considering the size of the drink. But I wished there was an option for a smaller size, cause it was pretty large and I got full! I guess next time I will just share with someone.

          Will definitely check out Cool Tea Bar sometime soon. Cupertino might be a bit too far for me for boba, but if I'm ever passing through, I'll give it a shot.

          Dave MP

          1. re: JonasApproved

            Thanks for the Cool Tea rec. We usually find ourselves wandering in Chinatown at least once per trip, what with it being so near the hotel. I still haven't tried bubble tea outside of Vancouver/Richmond, so it's about time! In the interim, I'm going to make myself one at home now :-).

        2. Thanks for your thoughts on the SF boba scene. I am a Wonderful Foods die hard when I used to live in the city.
          I was surprised/confused a while back when visiting Irving on the influx of new boba places and Wonderful foods moving across the street.
          I always liked WonFoods because they used crushed ice instead of cubes and their good boba. I'll have to try the places you mentioned.
          I still have yet to try anything in SF that can match what I had in Taiwan years ago.
          I got a kick out of the boba places that attach a toy doll to the drink shaker :).

          1. I went to Little Sweet Cafe last night for the first time. I didn't think the drinks were that great. We tried 4 different types of milk tea: Black, Jasmine Green, High Mountain, and Tie Kuan Yin. All are made with non-dairy creamer. Since we got them to eat-in, they were all served in glasses.

            They seem to have a lot of pride in their tea and the quality of the tea, but it didn't translate into great bubble tea. The tapioca was average...certainly not as good as Wonderful Foods, T Pumps or Super Cue. The tea/ice/milk/sugar ratios were also off. I liked the jasmine green the best. I thought tie kuan yin didn't work at all as a milk tea, but perhaps that's just my personal preference.

            We also had some popcorn chicken, which had the look and texture of fried calamari. I didn't like it because I thought it was too salty, but some of my dining companions seemed to like it OK.

            I probably won't rush back, since now that I know about Super Cue, I'm alternating between there and Wonderful Foods. I did go back to Super Cue again last week, too, and tried jasmine green milk tea w/ pudding. The pudding at Super Cue is really good.

            Pictures of jasmine green milk tea and popcorn chicken from Little Sweet

            1 Reply
            1. re: Dave MP

              The brick toast at Little Sweet sucks too. It's basically a slice of toast and some jam. You could easily make it at home.

              Since you're trying all the new places, might as well try the semi-new ones?

              Honey B is ok. It's like a wannabe Purple Kow, but not as great, but way faster. They use the fat cups.
              Sweethut is from the in-law of Wonderful Foods. Similar taste, but they have special rates here. I also like getting their avocado or papaya shakes here because they're cheap!
              Geneva Bubble Tea has a unique taste to their drinks. Their pudding and grass jelly is not bad.

            2. Who's tried the newly opened Share Tea (or ShareTea) in San Mateo? Straight from Taipei.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Tried Share Tea last Saturday during the soft opening. Boba not cooked properly, slightly hard in the middle, milk tea watery. We waited a long time for it too, after we ordered. I always wondered why Tpumps has such a following, their tapioca is consistently cook right, but they are also cheaper than any other place. I do like Ocha better because their tea is stronger, the tapioca isn't always consistent though.

                1. re: peppatty

                  I just tried Sharetea. Boba seems to be cooked and pretty good. The drinks here reminds me of the chains in Taiwan. I like.

                  1. re: JonasApproved

                    Jonas you'll probably be pleased to know that 貢茶 (Gong Cha) from TW also just opened up in Fremont. I walked by at least two locations in Hong Kong but never bothered trying it.

                    46827 Warm Springs Blvd #101
                    Fremont, CA 94539

                    Sharetea is ok, respectable job. The honey aloe tea I got earlier, the green tea is unfortunately a tad watered down, and this is the 2nd cup that is like this. The crema (creama) teas are decent, but still a bit off from the Taipei locations.

                    1. re: K K

                      Thanks for the heads up on Gong Cha! I go all the time in HK. I'll try to check it out next weekend.

                      Where is Sharetea in Taiwan? I've never even heard of it, unless it doesn't use the English name.

                      Honestly though, a chain is a chain and they're one in a million in Asia. Gongcha, Comebuy, 50 Lan, Chingshin ... At the rate chains are popping up here will anyone even be able to tell the difference? I just want my drinks made fresh - not premade - and from good ingredients - not powder - because I spend so much money on them LOL!

                      1. re: JonasApproved

                        歇脚亨Share Tea flagship store is on Nanyang street in Taipei which if I am not mistaken, is also known for a ton of cheap affordable eats with lots of boba milk tea completion and chain shops, because all the afterschool tutoring centers 補習班are concentrated around there, along with college bookstores.