Your Guide to Berkeley's Best Boba
By Alex Jaehuk Kim and Erin Ji In Lee
noun, plural bobas
a cold, frothy drink made with iced tea, sweetened milk or other flavorings, and usually with sweet black balls or “pearls” made from tapioca. another word for bubble tea.
In Berkeley, boba goes beyond its dictionary definition. Toppings are not limited to just “pearls made from tapioca” but include aloe, pudding, ice cream, sago, grass jelly, coconut jelly, and crema. The drinks can be hot or cold and come in a variety of bases including tea, milk, juice, smoothies, and milkshakes. What really makes the experience amazing is that you can customize your boba according to tastes and what you feel like that day.
With more than ten different boba stores around campus, Berkeley offers the widest range of boba menus that we, English Columnists Erin and Alex, have ever been exposed to. Here is your guide to four of the best boba stores in Berkeley, each of which shows off its own unique color of boba.
2440 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA
#largest range of drink and topping choices #close to campus
From the most basic form of boba (milk tea with tapioca pearls) to the more special ones (ice blended drinks and ice cream topping), Sharetea has it all. If you feel like something fruity, try the yakult with aloe or coconut jelly. If you’re looking for something not as filling and sweet, we recommend getting one of the teas with ice, lower level of sugar, and no additional toppings.
We tried boba with one of the more special toppings Sharetea offers: honey milk tea with 50% sweetness, less ice, and pudding. The honey milk tea had just the right amount of sweetness. It had a thicker taste than that of regular milk tea but was not too sweet as we chose 50%. It was both of our first time trying pudding as a topping, which went surprisingly well with the drink. The texture was exactly what you would expect from regular pudding, jiggly and smooth. This boba cost $4 with the topping and was definitely worth its price.
2. Yifang Taiwanese Fruit Tea
2516 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA
#long lineups #aesthetic interior #no artificial syrups or flavoring #close to campus
Yifang is one of the newest boba places near campus. It became extremely popular as soon as it opened last fall, with long lineups of students outside the store during peak hours. Yifang is known as one of the more high-end boba places as it uses fresh Taiwanese ingredients and no artificial flavorings like many other cheaper boba places. One downside is that Yifang is slightly more expensive than average boba shops, but their exceptional quality compromises their higher prices.
We tried their signature brown sugar pearl latte, also known as “mudflip” (shown in the picture above). This drink consists of fresh milk with black pearls caramelized with brown sugar and needs to be shaken well before drinking. The large size cost $5. Personally, with our choice of 80% sugar and 25% ice the drink was a little too sweet. We recommend ordering this drink with a sweetness level of 50% or less as it was noticeably sweeter than bobas from other places possibly due to thick brown sugar caramelizing the pearls. Nonetheless, the milk was fresh, the pearls were chewy, not too soft and wonderfully caramelized, and the overall flavor was superb. Note that as popular as this menu is, only a limited amount is made a few times a day: 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, and 8pm (+10pm on Friday and Saturday).
3. Happy Lemon
2106 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Happy Lemon is a place where you would have hard time choose what to drink because the menu not only consists boba but also other drinks such as “Fresh Lemon Series” and “Lemon Slushy” which you would not be able to find in other boba places. Although this place does not focus on boba drinks, a lot of people visit here to get come decent boba drinks. The merit of this boba place is that there is not a long waiting line compared with other boba places where you would need to wait for 15~20 minutes just to get one boba. So if you don’t have enough time but need to get that boba so badly, I recommend you to go to Happy Lemon!
#no waiting #varieties of menu #cute logo
From over 40 choices of drinks, we choose to drink “Milk Green Tea”. Although this drink is not the recommended choice in the menu, we wanted to know how well this place blends in the taste of green tea and milk tea. The price was $3.45 for a cold regular size which does not show much difference from the average boba price range, and the choice we had was 50% sweetness and 50 % ice. The taste of the green tea in the drink did not tasted strong enough because of the sweetness of the milk tea. It seemed like this place uses more sugar than other regular boba places. We would like to recommend to lower the sweetness if you would like to taste a bit more of green tea in the drink.
4. U Cha
2199 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94720
This place is one of the most popular boba places in Downtown Berkeley. There will always be a long waiting line around lunch and dinner time when you would need to even step outside along the sideway. Due to the case, I would like to recommend you to visit U Cha in between those peak times. The size of the place is relatively small compared to other boba places in DT Berkeley, but the reason why people go to this place so much is because the milk tea from this place cleaner and better relatively than nearest boba places. Also the location of U Cha is just few steps away from a famous restaurant called “Great China”.
#large windows for nice view #plenty of seating #busy during evenings
From this place, we chose to drink one of the best selling milk tea: “Okinawa Milk Tea with Pearl”. The special thing about this drink is that it used a brown sugar which makes the drink look more unique and interesting. The price for this drink was $3.75 which was just in the near price of classic milk tea which is $3.25. We chose 50% sweetness and 50% ice for the drink. Unlike the visual of the drink, the taste from the first sip was very strong which was unexpected because the color of the drink was generally lighter than other milk teas. The texture of the drink itself was thicker compared to the classic boba which some people may like or dislike. The general taste of this milk tea was not much different from the classic milk tea, but its unique sweetness seems to be why people like it so much. I would like to recommend this drink to people who would like a sweeter classic boba milk tea rather than just getting a higher sweetness in the classic milk tea just by paying 50 cent more!