How to order a boba drink
For the first-timer, boba drink menus may look overwhelming since there are many options. Here’s how to order like a pro:
- Start with your base beverage. Do you want tea, coffee or smoothie?
- Pick your flavor. These include fruit-flavored teas, or other such as coconut and chocolate.
- Choose whether you want to include dairy, such as milk or a dairy-free alternative.
- Decide how sweet you want it, from zero percent to 100 percent — or higher — sugar.
- Choose any extras, such as boba, jellies and foams.
Sweet, refreshing and customizable, boba
drinks are beverages with a chewy treat
waiting for you at the bottom of the cup.
Boba are small round balls, also called
bubbles or pearls, made from gluten-free,
tapioca starch. The black bubbles are
gummy-bear-like in texture with just a hint
of sweetness. The drinks themselves,
ranging from teas and coffee to smoothies,
are sweet and mixed with milk, flavorings
and toppings, poured over the boba and
served over ice with a large straw.
Boba drinks originated in Taiwan in the
1980s, and roughly a decade later made
their way to the U.S., becoming very
popular on the shores of Hawaii. The
gummy tapioca balls were long used in
tsua bing, a Taiwanese shave ice topped
with sweetened condensed milk, fruit and
boba. Enterprising shave ice shop owners combined the chewy topping with another beloved favorite, milk tea, and an instant hit was created.
Today, there are dozens of boba shops on Oahu. Boba is a drink that unites. Local shops are filled with students doing their homework, coworkers on their lunch breaks and families getting something sweet and refreshing. Here are eight great places to get boba on Oahu.
What makes boba drinks fun are all the options. In addition to the traditional boba, you can further customize your order with sweet extras.
- Grass jelly: Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not made from grass and it doesn’t taste like it either. These cubed jellies taste minty and are a good alternative—or addition—to boba and pair well with tea and coffee.
- Lychee jelly: These light, lychee-fruit flavored jellies taste great in smoothies or ice teas.
- Foams: Sometimes it’s not just about what’s at the bottom of these drinks, but what’s on the top, too. Ranging from sea salt foam to crème brûlée, these delicate layers are blanketed on top for a sweet first sip.
1. Mr. Tea
Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd.,
Suite 1063, 808-721-9766
909 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite A, 808-593-2686
You’ve probably seen people happily
sipping from cups with a black mustache
logo in Honolulu. It’s from Mr. Tea.
Located in both Ala Moana Center and on
Kapiolani Boulevard, Mr. Tea is known for
quality. The shops make their milk teas
using loose leaf teas, such as oolong,
jasmine and Ceylon black, as well as
matcha. The boba is delightfully chewy
and is made in small batches using honey
imported from Taiwan. A favorite with
kamaaina and visitors is the taro milk tea.
Even better, the owners at Mr. Tea have
partnered with the folks at La Tour
Bakehouse for its airy French macarons,
available in green tea and red velvet.
How sweet do you want it?
With the flavorings and extras, boba drinks can get very sweet. Most shops include a sweetness option when placing your order. It’s a sliding scale of sugar added to your drink, from zero percent sugar to 100, sometimes even 125 or 150 percent.
2. Coffee or Tea?
Before there were boba drink shops on
seemingly every corner on Oahu, there
was Coffee or Tea? Opening in 1999 in the
McCully Shopping Center, the boba shop
now has six locations across the island.
Like its name implies, Coffee or Tea? offers
coffees — iced or hot — milk, and flavored teas, as well as Taiwanese shave ice. The shops get their ingredients, including teas and toppings, directly imported from Taiwan, giving each boba drink a taste of authenticity. Try the honey dew milk tea. It’s like a creamy Melona bar with a chewy finish thanks to the fresh boba.
3. Hana Tea
1111 Dillingham Blvd., Suite E-2, 808-376-8139
You know this place is doing something right when there’s a line nearly out the door. Hana Tea, located in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu and near the UH Honolulu Community College campus is bustling. Hana Tea is a bright cafe with motivational wall art. As for the boba drinks, the menu is customizable but straightforward. You can’t go wrong with the brown sugar milk tea, a creamy, caramel-ly drink. For extra sweetness, get your drink topped with brûlée cheese foam, lightly roasted with a hand torch. It’s also fun to watch them make it.
4. Taste Tea
With seven locations throughout Oahu, from Ewa Beach and Waipahu on the west side of the island to Honolulu, Kaimuki and Waikiki, Taste Tea is there to satisfy your boba drink fix. Taste Tea has a large menu of milk teas, ranging from the traditional, such as the jasmine or oolong teas, to the creative, like the Almond Joy and Fruity Pebbles.
Want a delicious boba drink, and one that’s Instagram worthy? Look no further than Teapresso. With multiple locations, Teapresso is known for their colorful ombré lemonades. There’s the Waikiki Sunset, with hues of purple at the top and transitioning into rosé reds. The drink itself is sweet and refreshing, with a bit of a pucker, and pairs well with the gummy boba. Teapresso also has traditional milk teas, flavored teas, coffees and slushes.
6. CowCow's Tea
3620 Waialae Ave A, Honolulu, HI 96816
Cowcow’s Tea is the crowd favorite of Kaimuki. From morning to night, loyal fans line out the door. One taste of the shop’s signature purple rice yogurt drinks will get you hooked, too. Just don’t sip too fast before snapping a photo of your ombre beverage in front of the shop’s floral-covered wall. You’ll be filling out a stamp card before you know it — with rewards ranging from free upgrades to branded totes and boba dolls.
7. Sun Tea Mix
400 Keawe St #107, Honolulu, HI 96817
Fruit is the focus at Sun Tea Mix, conveniently located in the hip neighborhood of Kakaako. Come here to cool off with a specialty smoothie — perhaps mango or watermelon — with konnyaku (a taro treat) and crystal jelly. Add cheese foam for a fun juxtaposition of sweet and savory. You’ll probably also want one of the signature souffle pancakes, made to order before your excited eyes.
8. Rabbit Rabbit Tea
Taiwan’s favorite boba tea brand found its way to the Islands with two popular locations on Oahu, one by the University of Hawaii and the other in Aiea. The classic fan favorite is the brown sugar boba with fresh milk, but you’ll also find Hawaii-influenced flavors here. A taro milk tea can come as a multilayered parfait drink, or you can add lychee jelly as a fun topping. For days that require a little more energy, choose from the long list of teas sourced from Asia.