What’s boba and where did it come from? Simply put, boba is just the name for the tapioca pearls that add extra texture and flavor to your favorite bubble tea. The tea itself originated from Taiwan and is interchangeable, allowing for different variations in flavor, sweetness, taste and sometimes texture — completely up to preference.
Personally, I’m from the Bay and have been blessed with amazing teahouses like Teaspoon, Happy Lemon, GongCha, PlenTea and countless others that I can’t even remember. But I can tell you what I do remember, and that’s the excitement and joy I had when my friends and I tried as many different boba places as we could find in the Bay. It’s been a long time debate amongst ourselves on which teahouse sold the best boba, and through this we finally agreed on the best Bay Area teahouse — it’s Teaspoon, they use lactose free milk and the tapioca is perfect.
Unfortunately, I no longer have the luxury of having a car while living in I.V. and L.A. is too long a drive during the quickly passing quarter for multiple L.A. boba trips. I’m a third-year transfer, and like many other students I just stuck to the most recommended teahouse, Mojos, but it wasn’t quite the same. It didn’t give me the same satisfaction as the boba back home, so I set out and made it my goal to identify the best teahouse in I.V. so that students, past, present or future, won’t be confused.
So here it is, in order of best to worst. All the places — as far as I know — in I.V. that sell boba. The criteria was just regular Milk Tea with 100 percent sweetness and no ice, and to come up with their overall rankings I added the individual scores of the tea and tapioca, divided by cost before tax.
1) Naan Stop
- I know. This shocked me too. I remember coming into this experiment, my friend joked about the odds that the meek Indian restaurant on the corner of the loop would sell the best boba in I.V. Boy did we eat our words. What sets it apart from the rest is its low cost at only $3.50 giving it a final score of 4.86. *Sidenote: it only cost 35 cents to add EXTRA boba, still giving it a final score of 4.42.
- The tea at Naan Stop was great, not too sweet and tasted like actual tea. The only thing bad about it was that it could arguably be milky, up to personal preference. 8/10.
- The boba itself was great. The texture was almost up to par with regular tapioca standards outside of I.V., but the fact that the tapioca pearls weren’t completely sweetened took away from what could’ve been another 8/10.
2) Pho Bistro
- Continuing the trend of shocking discoveries, was Pho Bistro landing at No. 2. Pho Bistro recently redid their menu, and their boba definitely came out swinging. Their overall score was a 3.37, due to the more costly total of $4.75. Honestly, if it wasn’t for both tea and tapioca being too sweet, this could’ve been number 1. Still, if you’re already there and pay with cash, you get a 10 percent discount making it absolutely worth it.
- Tea tasted a little weird in the beginning, but it kinda grows on you. Definitely too sweet, so if you order it at say 50-75 percent sweetness it could be just right. With that to consider, I think it’s a 7/10 on I.V. standards.
- Tapioca was too sweet in my personal opinion, but wow was it near perfect. The texture and chewiness was there. 9/10.
3) Mojo’s Teahouse
- Surprise, here’s everyone’s favorite teahouse. Sorry for all you die hard Mojo fans out there, but hey top three isn’t bad. The final score for Mojo was a 3.33, and that’s nothing to shy away from. It’s far and above the rest of the tea selling establishments outside of the top four, with a reasonable cost of $4.50.
- The tea at Mojo’s was pretty good. About similar in taste when it comes to the rest of the top four, but well deserving of an 8/10.
- The boba wasn’t overly spectacular. Perhaps I may have come into it with a little bit of a bias considering everyone told me Mojo’s would end up being number one. Still, it was decent. 7/10.
4) Hana Kitchen
- Hana Kitchen had an overall score of 3 due to its cost of $4.25. However, it’s important to remember that if you’re already at Hana and ordering a bowl, it only cost $2.50 to buy their boba. The final score varies between 3 and 5.2, so keep that in mind.
- Their tea was nice. Very flavorful, but it was a little milky and sweet. 6.5/10.
- Their tapioca on the other hand was a little chewy, but the sweetness was almost there so another 6.5/10.
- It’s just perfectly mediocre. Nothing to write home about. However, their regular is small and you need to buy a large to compensate for the quantity you would’ve gotten from the top four teahouses in I.V. The cost of the regular is $4, the Tea is a 5 and Boba’s a 5. It’s just mediocre. Final score of 2.5.
6 & 7) Fire & Ice or WakeCup
- Honestly last place is interchangeable between the two, but I would give the edge to WakeCup. Fire & Ice had a final score of 1.61 and cost $4.95, and WakeCup had a final score of 2.36. HOWEVER, the 2.36 awarded to WakeCup was on its $4 regular, so much like Spudnuts, you need to buy a large to make up for the quantity and that costs $4.75 relegating it to a 2.
- WakeCup undoubtedly had the best tea out of every single place in Isla Vista, seriously. The tea from WakeCup was up to par with Bay Area standards for a 9/10. Fire & Ice on the other hand sold me milk with a hint of tea for a 4/10.
- When I first tried Fire & Ice, I didn’t think I would find tapioca that’s worse than theirs. The texture of their tapioca was bad, it was chewy and wasn’t sweet. I gave them a 6/10 at the start to be nice, but quickly relegated it to a 4/10 after trying other teahouses. However, the reason why Fire & Ice and WakeCup are interchangeable in the sixth and seventh spot, was due to WakeCup’s terrible attempt to pass off rocks as tapioca pearls. I wish I was exaggerating, but when I tried their boba I swear it was like chewing softened rocks — it wasn’t even sweet to compensate for that awful texture. I felt generous and gave their tapiocas 1/10. Is that too low? See for yourself.
In my honest opinion, anything after Hana really isn’t worth it anymore. The rest are below mediocre in terms of quality, price or both. I recommend sticking to the top four, but I do have a few things you should consider:
- First, taste is subjective and someone else’s too sweet, too chewy or whatever could be completely different from mine.
- Second, Naan Stop has the best bang for your buck and would be my go to choice.
- Third, Hana Kitchen’s deal is totally worth it if you’re already planning on ordering Hana. You can’t go wrong with $2.50 Boba Tea.
- Lastly, WakeCup’s tea is still amazing, and if you’re ever just craving tea without tapioca pearls, I think it’s worth the price.
I hope this list helps past, present and future Gauchos alike, and maybe there’s a hidden teahouse somewhere in I.V. I wasn’t able to try. Teahouses seem to just pop up, and I recently read that Starbucks is starting to sell Bubble Tea, so who knows who truly holds No. 1.