My latest and greatest obsession is bubble tea. Strangely enough, I love English Breakfast tea with almond milk and Stevia, but I’ve never been a fan of iced tea of any kind. Then why bubble tea? Because it’s like nothing else I’ve ever had before, it’s fun, and I can find almond milk or non-dairy options. Combine that with my love of travel and naturally, I was going to search for bubble tea while in San Francisco.
TSG Tip: Bubble tea doesn’t refer to the bubbles or tapioca pearls, but to the bubbles that form while prepared. The process involves shaking the tea, thus producing bubbles.
But first, what is bubble tea as they call it on the East coast or boba tea on the West coast? It’s a hot or cold beverage served with boba or these tapioca pearls or balls. The tea-based drink was invented in Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980’s.Click To Tweet
TSG Tip: Did you know that the word boba is slang for “big boobs” in Taiwan? So you might not want to casually call out that you want some boba. Know what I mean?
Once the tapioca pearls or balls are cooked, they can then be added to hot or cold milk tea or fruit tea, coffee drinks, milk based drinks, or slushies. The possibilities are endless especially when you can increase or decrease the level of sweetness and how much ice to a drink as well.
If you’ve never had bubble tea then right about now I suspect you’re saying, “Absolutely not. No way.” But seriously, you’ve got to give it a try before writing it off. It’s hard to describe why bubble tea is so good, but everyone I’ve introduced it to has developed what can only be described as a bubble tea addiction.
TSG Tip: In addition to the tapioca pearls, there’s other options available such as jelly, pudding, or bean. I’ve tried the nata jelly, which reminded me of grade school lunches and fruit cups so for now I’m sticking with the tapioca pearls.
My bubble tea tour in San Francisco included four shops in Chinatown, Union Square, and the Financial District.
My first stop in San Francisco was at Plentea in Chinatown. With high ratings on Yelp and somewhat on my way back to my hotel, it seemed like an obvious choice. The line was out the door and once the gang of moms with strollers who felt I cut them off bailed after a few minutes, I was soon inside the door. The wait was a good ten minutes or so just to place my order. The menu is pretty straightforward with options for milk tea, special milk tea, fruit teas, or fruit slush/milk with toppings (taro pudding, chia seed, lychee jelly, egg pudding, grass jelly, tapioca, red bean, or aloe) extra. I decided on the Thai milk tea with bubbles ($5.25), paid, and grabbed a seat along the wall and waited. There are seats along the counter at either side of the store as well as a larger seating area on the second floor, which at the time was predominantly occupied by high school girls. My number was called and I grabbed my glass bottle of bubble tea and hit the streets again.
Overall, the tea was good and if I was in the area I might stop in to get another tea. My drink wasn’t overly sweet, which was great, but the tapioca pearls were small and not as soft as I would’ve liked. I would definitely want to give another drink a try like their Nutella Milk Tea or Sea Salt Crema Tea, both of which sound interesting and delicious.
TSG Tip: Bring your glass bottle back for 10% of your next purchase. I love that they’re green and the original glass bottle milk tea in San Francisco.
341 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Next up is Boba Guys, another option I discovered on Yelp. While I didn’t order it, I was intrigued by one of their drinks called the Dirty Horchata and knew I had to go there. Didn’t hurt that I loved the sign out front that said, “Come in and taste our Grade-A balls!” This was another bubble tea shop with a line out the door, but luckily, the line moved quickly, I hope they had an online tea shop so we can beat the lines next time.You can tell that the tea is the priority here as it was nothing short of stellar. At Boba Guys they use premium loose leaf teas, not powder.Click To Tweet
Since back home I usually order the same taro milk green tea with bubbles, for this trip I wanted to try new drinks everywhere I went. At Boba Guys I ordered the Hong Kong tea with tapioca balls ($4.50), a black tea blend with organic condensed milk. Yes I’m going to hell for that one, but it was sooooo good. You can tell that the tea is the priority here as it was nothing short of stellar. At Boba Guys they use premium loose leaf teas, not powder. I could have sucked my drink down and ordered another one immediately. Yes, it was just that good. While you won’t find fruit teas or slushies, for the tea purist who really enjoys a well made tea beverage, Boba Guys is the way to go.
TSG Tip: Their milk options include organic milk, organic soy milk, and Califia Farms Almond milk, my all time favorite almond milk.
429 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Financial District, Union Square
If you thought I was getting tired of bubble tea, you’d be wrong. Next up on my bubble tea tour of San Francisco is STEEP. The morning we visited STEEP was an oppressively hot and humid day and I wanted (needed?) something cold to drink and fast. The storefront is big and there are a few small tables out front. A group of women had come in before us and had ordered a few of their pitaya orAçai STEEP cups, which looked good, but are clearly prepared individually and on the spot, which meant we had to wait several minutes to get our beverages.
Finally our drinks were ready and they were really good. Mr. TSG had a mango green tea with bubbles while I tried a basic black milk bubble tea. You could tell that the tapioca balls were fresh and they were cold and refreshing. STEEP is probably the least expensive bubble tea I’ve ever tried ($3.50 for black milk tea and $4 for the mango green tea plus $0.50 for tapioca) and it’s a great addition to this neighborhood, but you should know that the store is only open Monday-Friday.
240 Ritch St., San Francisco, CA 94107
TSG Tip: Seems like they’re all about bubble tea, but the pitaya or Açai STEEP cups appeared to be even more popular.
If you’re out and about in San Francisco and happen to find yourself shopping inside the Metreon in Union Square, you’re go to bubble tea stop has to be ShareTea. They pride themselves in offering 100% fresh tea and you can taste it. I also happen to adore their lids.
TSG Tip: If you haven’t had bubble tea, then you might not know that many places seal the lids onto their bubble tea cups. Tip your cup back and forth to get the tapioca unstuck from the bottom, pull the wrapper off your straw, and then jab that straw into the top of your cup. Great for any pent up frustration you might be feeling.
ShareTea‘s menu includes milk, brewed, fruit, and creama tea beverages along with fresh milk and ice blended drinks. For the adventurous at heart, try the Qq Happy Family Milk Tea with pearls, grass jelly, pudding, aloe nata, and red beans.
Mr. TSG had a fruity mango and passionfruit green tea with large pearls ($6.15), which was super fresh and refreshing. I wanted something completely different so I chose the Hokkaido Pearl Milk tea ($5.80) and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. This caramel toffee milk tea with mixed pearls was so good and seriously reminded me of coffee. Since I have been off coffee again, to have a tea beverage that hit some of the same notes blew my mind. Despite that they were the most expensive option, I wish I would have found ShareTea sooner because I probably would’ve had a few of these during my trip.
TSG Tip: As in most bubble tea shops, you can customize your beverage at ShareTea. But for some odd reason if you want your drink without ice, they’ll charge you $0.25. Strange, right?
135 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Whether you’re searching for a tea based drink or a fruit slushie, you can find something new and delicious pretty much any time you walk into a bubble tea shop. Step outside your comfort zone today and give a bubble tea a try.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever had bubble tea?