The best boba in the East Bay

Kenzi Hilario,

Sweet chewy tapioca pearls and your choice of milk or fruit-based tea. These ingredients come together to make one of the most popular Asian drinks to hit the Bay Area. Depending on where you are, the drink has several names such as bubble tea or tapioca. Boba, as it’s known locally, is a chilled, tea-based drink that originated from Taiwan in the early 1980s. Since then, many boba spots have opened and reached cities worldwide.

Bubble tea can come with many different flavors and types of teas like jasmine, black and green tea. If you’re feeling something light and fresh, then you can try out a fruit-infused tea. The classic pairing for boba is milk tea which is milk combined with flavored tea.

The toppings that come with the tea aren’t just tapioca pearls; many boba shops offer a range of sweet little bites to add to your tea. People can substitute their boba for pudding, jellies or red bean to name a few. The great thing about bubble tea is that it is completely customizable for your taste and preference.

In my experience, growing up in the Bay Area and being an Asian American, I have had my fair share of trying out different boba places in the East Bay. Some places are better than others, and it all depends on the quality of the tea, their menu options and if their price matches the quality of their drinks. On average, a regular-sized milk tea can cost around $4.

Want to know which boba spots I recommend? Here’s a list of my top five favorite bubble tea shops in the East Bay Area.

Sharetea – San Leandro & Union City

Although a bit pricier than others, Share Tea offers my favorite milk tea of all time: Okinawa. Very few places offer Okinawa milk tea, which is flavored with roasted brown sugar. It has a touch of sweetness, but also has a deep bold flavor because of the brown sugar. The only negative notes I have for Share Tea is its lack of other sizing options, thus the higher price, and a snack menu which most boba shops offer to pair with the drinks. However, whenever I’m craving some quality boba, Sharetea is my go-to spot.

Gong Cha – Newark

This place is one of the few boba shops where you can taste really great quality tea and choose from a unique assortment of drinks. Gong Cha also offers different combinations of toppings and tea which you can find on their menu under the “Creative Mix Series.” They offer more than the typical mix-ins you can find at any boba shop. Some of their toppings include milk foam and white pearl, a lighter version of regular tapioca pearls. I don’t normally order pudding with my drinks, but Gong Cha is the one place where I like to substitute my tapioca pearls for their sweet, creamy chunks of pudding. It’s a great alternative if you’re tired of chewing on tapioca pearls.

T4 – Hayward & Castro Valley

Much like Gong Cha, T4 also has a pretty large selection of drinks and offers good quality boba and tea. They are especially popular for their “royal teas,” which are their fresh fruit flavored teas. My favorite drink to order here is their honey peach royal tea. It’s a nice drink to order during the summer time if you’re feeling something light and fruity. T4 also has the best egg puffs I’ve ever tasted. I know that the main star of boba shops are, of course, the drinks, but a boba drink is really incomplete without a yummy snack to munch on.

Tapioca Express – Union City

If you’ve been to Tapioca Express in Union City before, you know that this spot is more than just a place to grab your boba and go. This small little joint is always packed with groups of friends hanging out over a drink and their delicious popcorn chicken. I had my very first boba drink from this place 10 years ago, and up to this day, it’s still just as popular and the prices have stayed the same. Tapioca Express keeps their prices low at around $3 for a regular sized drink, and although their drinks aren’t the best quality it is a great place to satisfy your craving while being surrounded with a positive community.

i-Tea – Newark & Castro Valley

I love this place for their happy hour, which is at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends, when all their drinks and snacks are 50 percent off. It’s a rarity for boba shops to offer discounts on their products so I like to take advantage of i-Tea’s happy hour deal. If you’re a fan of matcha, then i-Tea also offers my favorite matcha milk tea which surprisingly not many boba shops offer in their menu. Their matcha milk tea is very unique because it comes with red bean and matcha pudding. But if matcha isn’t your cup of tea, no pun intended, there are plenty of options you can choose from their menu.

Every boba spot has a different atmosphere and different kinds of drinks and snacks you can choose from, and that’s the wonderful thing about it. No matter who you are, how old you are or where you came from there’s probably something you can order that will satisfy your taste buds.