By Brinley Knopf and Jewelle Trotman
I don’t like the bubbles. Someone once told me “they taste like licorice” and then ten minutes later “I’m gonna THROW UP!” (Somehow when she’d sipped, she’d sucked up a bunch of bubbles through the straw – she’d said, “I feel like I’m CONSTANTLY CHEWING.”)
She didn’t throw up; still, she’d instilled in me a no-nonsense no-never Bubble Attitude. Because of my dislike of licorice and ill-repute for public puking, I hadn’t tried the bubbles. Pearls. Tapioca Balls.
I tried it for this article, because Jewelle asked me to, but I did so begrudgingly. Even if they don’t taste like licorice, I’m still not a believer. (Read on to find out how my first experience with the bubbles was trash-tastic.)
But I like a good tea. And so? I’ve co-written a bubble tea evaluation with Jewelle, who likes the bubbles and can write from a Bubble Bro POV. After a two-week-long Tea Test across NYC, we’re here for the lowdown, the review, the scoop. Where’s the best tea in town? I’m glad you asked.
(Note: Some of these drinks were bubble tea, others just tea and once I copped-out and got a latte. Sorry, Jewelle.)
#1: Gong Cha
Honey Green Tea
My favorite. My go-to. A drink I’d walk sixteen blocks for in NYC dead-of-summer heat. I could wax poetic about how it brightens my days or how I exist inside a kaleidoscope of colors when I drink it. It’s good, guys.
Lemon Green Tea
Nice, tangy and cold. Refreshing for an afternoon so hot you think you might melt. It’s not overloaded with ice. I could drink more of this. I will drink more of this. CoCo, I’m coming back. Wait for me.
#3: Boba Guys
Strawberry Fresca Tea
On the right side of sweet, gritty from the seeds. Like a melted popsicle. If I liked strawberries more, this tea could be #1, but as it stands, the grittiness did detract from the “I’M DRINKING A POPSICLE!!1!” fun of it all.
Peach Pulp Tea (with bubbles)
What you might think. Peachy. Pulpy. But being a girl who likes pulp in her OJ, I liked this, too. The bubbles were – gasp – good. I know, I know. Me, sanctimonious Brinley, president of the Ban Bubbles campaign, ordering bubbles. The bubbles were chewable and the tea was drinkable, but I don’t know if I’m converted just yet.
(Side-note: if you’re at Vivi, get the dumplings, too.)
#5: Caffe Bene
Iced Green Tea Latte
This is a cop-out. It was the last place I went to and by the point, so far down the road, having seen some things, I couldn’t order bubble tea. I just couldn’t. The latte was good, sweet and creamy and tasted unerringly like the green tea Häagen-Dazs I eat by the pint. But because it was a latte and not tea at all, not even a little, my shame placed it at #5 on my list.
#6: V Life
Ginger Lemon Tea
When you order ginger, you get ginger. But the ginger was strong with this one. I felt the burn.
#7: Four Seasons Café – Koo Foo
Green Milk Tea (with bubbles)
Let me preface this by saying this was my first experience with bubbles. And the boba was crunchy. It crunched. And there was so much of the boba; the tea-to-bubble ratio was off. Almost as though they didn’t get many orders and used all the boba before it went bad. I can just picture someone in the back going “She ordered the boba! PUT ‘ER ALL IN!” and then filling up the cup 90% with bubbles before dousing it in a millimeter of milk tea. Cut to me laugh-crying around a mouthful of bubbles. So, to recount, there was a lot of crunchy boba. Minutes later, I felt sick. Jewelle felt sick. It was fun.
So here’s us throwing away the boba.
But what did Jewelle think? Find out!
Bubble tea (also known as boba) is my newest obsession. I’ll admit that it wasn’t an instant love connection. At first, the bubbles annoyed me. While drinking the tea, having some “bubble” thing shoot up the straw was just too much. Most of the time, the bubble would take me by surprise so I didn’t like it. It also took forever to chew and I would want to get back to drinking the actual “milk tea” part.
One day, Brinley invited me to get bubble tea and I decided to give it another try. Since we often went to get boba, I began to appreciate the bubbles I once despised. I started to see it more as a bonus to the drink, a snack, rather than a nuisance. Now I crave it a lot. When anyone asks me to get some boba, I can’t say no.
It seems like only a few years ago that bubble tea became widespread in the beverage market.
According to bubbletea101.com, it all began in Taiwan during the late 1980s. Now a person is never too far from a place that offers bubble tea. So what is it, exactly? Well, the milk-tea combination is accompanied by chewy tapioca balls. The “bubbles” are the key ingredient and if they aren’t sweet or firm yet chewy, the drink is ruined. A good milk to tea ratio is also very important.
I one hundred percent blame Brinley for my boba craze. It only made sense to do an article ranking the best and the worst since we’ve tried so many places together. Consider us experts, use this as a guide while navigating the land of thousands of bubble teas. Here we take you on a tour through the most popular places in Manhattan to get some boba.
1) ViVi Bubble Tea This bubble tea is by far the best bubble tea I’ve ever had. It has the milk to tea ratio just right. It’s pretty sweet and sort of creamy. ViVi bubbles are small so they don’t take forever to chew. I also like the fact that the bubbles have a great taste, nice and sweet. The regular Milk Tea is great but the Coconut Milk Tea is my favorite!
Besides the drink, walking into ViVi Bubble Tea is like entering a world of cuteness. It has their adorable logo plastered everywhere. There are many locations scattered around Manhattan which is convenient for big fans of boba. The main color of the cafes tends to be pink. At ViVi, there are various beverages to choose from beyond the typical bubble tea like fruity teas and slushes. Their menu also consists of different food options ranging from miso soup to popcorn chicken.
2) Gong Cha The place that sparked off my bubble tea obsession. I’ve branched out since first trying this place and came to find out that there was better boba out there. Nevertheless, it is still very good. There is a nice balance between milk and tea. The last time I went, the bubbles had a nice sweet flavor but they were more slimy than firm. I like to order their Brown Sugar Milk Tea.
3) CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice My favorite part about the bubble tea at CoCo is their bubbles. It has one of the best bubbles I’ve ever tried. The bubbles are really sweet (which I love) and they’re small (which I also love) and the firm texture is good it allows one to savor the flavor. So why is it only #3 and not #1? Well, their milk to tea ratio is a little “off” and that is an important component of the drink. The tea part definitely dominates the beverage. It tastes good but where’s the milk?
4) Boba Guys The tea I had was a little bitter, as if it was brewed a bit too long. Perhaps that’s how they prefer to make it or I got a bad batch. Not only was the tea too strong, but the taste of milk wasn’t enough to balance it out. The actual bubbles were good, sweet with a nice texture- not too firm or too soft. Unfortunately, the black tea taste was a turnoff.
5) V Life Guess what, Vegans? Dairy-free bubble tea exists and it’s right near FIT!
V Life offers flavors like Passion Fruit, Honey Dew, Mango, Thai Tea, Coconut, Pina Colada, and Lychee. I’ve tried the Coconut and Pina Colada. The coconut is creamy it’s hard to believe there’s no milk in it. At the same time, it tends to be a little on the watery side. The tea taste is sort of masked as well. Overall, the drink is good and the bubbles are tasty. Did I mention that it’s vegan?
1) KooFoo (Located in the Four Seasons Cafe) I will not hold back when it comes to this place. Awful. Absolutely awful. The bubbles tasted really cheap and waxy. The texture was like a hard candy meanwhile boba is supposed to be soft and firm at the same time. When I bit into it, the bubble split directly in half. There were so many bubbles so they kept flying up the straw before I could really get a taste of the tea. What I did taste was watery tea. I was really rooting for KooFoo, too, they had such a cute sign outside the cafe.
2) Caffe Bene I got a refund for my drink and I never ask for refunds on food, ever. This is more like a 1½ ranking, it’s almost as bad as KooFoo. The tea wasn’t horrible but the bubbles were. It tasted like powder. I really wondered if they were expired or something. To be sure, I took a few sips and the taste was still bad. Caffe Bene really charged a lot for its bubble tea so to pay that money (close to $6 which is overpriced for boba) and have a bad drink is unacceptable. I really didn’t want to be “that customer” but Caffe Bene served me horrible boba so I was left with no choice, I complained and get refunded. What a shame.
3) KungFu Tea There wasn’t enough milk in this tea. The tea itself tasted like McDonald’s Sweet Tea and the bubbles didn’t compliment that taste. The bubbles weren’t bad- good texture and taste, but being combined with the “McDonald’s Sweet Tea” flavor wasn’t a good match.