The Boba Phenomena

Boba has become a cultural phenomenon and nowadays you would be hard pressed to find a Bay Area downtown or mall without boba. But it begs the question, with so much competition, how are prices for a cup of tapioca and flavored milk near 7 dollars at times. Just on University Avenue in Palo Alto, there are 5 boba places. Let me give my thoughts on these 5 places before I move on to what I find the most interesting feature of today’s blog. 

Tea 4

  • The first boba place in Palo Alto, Tea 4 always brings innovative flavors like a dalgona coffee in honor of Squid Game. They also serve a variety of foods, with their specialty being takoyaki, but who goes to a boba place for food.

Share Tea

  • A staple around the Bay Area, Share Tea is a go to for many, never being too flashy but promising consistent quality ever since they first opened. 

Gong Cha

  • My personal favorite, Gong Cha in my opinion, has the best tea in all of Palo Alto. They’re premium milk teas have intense oolong flavors with a smooth quality that other places often miss the mark on. 

Kung Fu Tea

  • A relatively newer spot, Kung Fu Tea has struggled to separate itself from the other boba places, but I appreciate the fact that the two of the characters of their name 夫 and 茶 are in my mandarin name. If I had to pinpoint one thing about them, I would say the strong honey flavor syrup used to coat their boba adds a pleasant yet not overwhelming sweetness. 

Mr. Sun

  • The newest addition to Palo Alto’s boba scene, Mr. Sun radically switches up the classic boba shop formula of good tea and pearls. Established in Taiwan, Mr. Sun innovates with their flavor combinations, but more importantly hand makes all their boba, and trust me, it makes a big difference.

Speaking of hand made boba, let me talk a little bit about my own experience with boba at home. 

Recipe I Used:

My Experience:

  1. One method of making boba at home is to buy the premade tapioca pearls, and boil them at home. This gives you the nice chewy pearl found in most stores, and mixed with a good quality tea, this can replicate the boba store quality at half the price, and you can add as many pearls as you want. 
  2. The other way to do it is to make the pearls yourself, starting at scratch with a bag of tapioca powder. While it may seem complicated to some, the process is actually quite simple, and more tedious than anything. Essentially, you first turn the tapioca powder into a dough of sorts by heating it up with brown sugar and water. Then quickly began to knead that dough until smooth. You can then form that dough into little pearls, which are ready to boil whenever you want a nice cup of boba. 

Although it is a labor intensive process, the end result is absolutely worth it. Mixed in with a nice honey syrup and oolong tea, you can recreate the boba experience at home, and in many ways it’s even better. The customization is endless, going from milk teas to fruit slushies, to milkshakes. 

Tips for making the pearls:

  1. Be quick, the dough often hardens up so you may need to reheat it
  2. Patience is key, the dough starts off quiet sticky so it’s hard to handle initially, but keep on kneading
  3. When cutting the dough up into pearl shaped pieces, make sure to cut evenly as too small pearls dissolve, while pearls that are too large stay doughy in the middle
  4. Make a simple syrup to finish off the pearls cooking, just a mix of water and sugar with a honey heated up

Tips for making the tea

  1. If you ever make chai or cold brew at home, chilling the drink and adding a spoonful of pearls makes for a delightful drink during the summer
  2. When using tea leaves, quickly bring water up to a boil and steep the tea leaves for a few minutes, pour in some cream, half and half, or milk and you’ve got yourself a quick milk tea. 

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