At our Midpeninsula Post meetings, most article pitches are fairly dull — the typical board meeting agenda items and policy changes — but every once in a while, we get a pitch exciting enough to incite a whole staff reaction. Nothing quite stands out like the idea of a boba tier list, which, as soon as it was pitched, stirred up a heated debate on what the best boba place is.
That was back in June 2022, and possibly out of fear of judgment, no one picked up the article.
But boba remains a prevalent part of the Bay Area lifestyle, so when the pitch was brought up again a year later, we — Grace and Melinda, and our photographer, Eason — boldly took on the responsibility of ranking the many stores.
With notebooks in hand and empty stomachs, we hit nine boba shops (yes, we know, it’s a lot) spread across Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We asked each shop to recommend their most popular drink and ranked them out of ten points in five categories: taste, price, drink creativity, menu variety and store vibes.
Hours of discussion and months of delay later, we bring to you our thoughtfully curated ranking. We hope that you, the reader, will find this article informational. Or if not that, then at least entertaining, and just contentious enough to start some healthy debate.
T4 (downtown Los Altos)
What we ordered: Earl Grey Milk Tea, 50% sweetness with boba
Before we even entered the shop, we found T4’s first offense: its push-in door (which, of course, Melinda pulled and failed to open). The interior of T4 had almost nothing of note. Even with a clean white and teal theme, the atmosphere inside seemed bland. Service took a while, at roughly seven minutes for just a simple milk tea.
Like the store’s interior, the drink was also a letdown. The tea was watery and tasteless, with a strange aftertaste. The honey boba was firm and hard to chew on. Overall, T4’s mediocre store vibes and taste put it at the bottom of our list.
|Taste||Price ($5.29)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Teaspoon (Los Altos)
What we ordered: House Milk Tea, 50% sweetness with boba
When it comes to first impressions, nothing particularly interesting stands out about Teaspoon. With dim lighting and neutral colors, it’s fine, and that’s about it. On the plus side, there is seating outside, so it’s a convenient place for students from Palo Alto and Los Altos to hang out after school.
Some of the drinks have original names and are creatively designed, but in comparison to other stores, the menu lacks variety. The house milk tea didn’t have a strong tea flavor and was overly sweet, even though we only ordered 50% sweetness. The boba was great, though — a perfect combination of chewy and firm — and went nicely with the otherwise plain tea.
|Taste||Price ($6.25)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Ume Tea (California Ave)
What we ordered: Surprise Me drink (Strawberry Latte with coconut pudding)
Among the picturesque streets of California Avenue, Ume’s pastel window display with adorable oversized stuffed animals was easy to spot. It’s undoubtedly the place to snap a few pictures for Instagram, if that’s part of your boba routine.
The drink cup, which felt thicker and made of higher quality material, featured charming bunny designs. The drink’s taste, unfortunately, was not as nice. While the strawberry chunks in our drink added some texture, the coconut and milk weren’t flavorful and the fruit-milk combination left a sour aftertaste.
|Taste||Price ($5.25)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Kung Fu Tea (downtown Palo Alto)
What we ordered: Kung Fu Milk Tea, 50% sweetness with boba
Best way to get sensory overload? Walk into Kung Fu Tea.
With neon fluorescent lights and shelves stocked with merch, Kung Fu Tea was the epitome of frenetic energy. The main attraction, though, was the row of brightly lit, mini claw machines on the side of the store. Even though we lost, we watched several kids excitedly shake the joystick, hoping to win prizes.
There was little to compliment about the drink itself. The warm undertones of the milk tea did little to cover up the ashy coloring. The tea was strong with minty aftertastes, and the boba was firm. Despite Kung Fu Tea’s nice aesthetics, the drink was slightly disappointing.
|Taste||Price ($5.70)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Boba Guys (downtown Los Altos)
What we ordered: Strawberry Matcha Latte with boba, no sweetness adjustment
Although small, Boba Guys, with its air conditioning and sweet aroma, drew us in. The interior was pleasantly decorated with black and white accents, but unfortunately didn’t offer any places to sit.
The drink was aesthetically pleasing — composed of three distinct layers — and refreshing. The flavor, especially the strawberry jam, was admittedly very sweet, but not enough to bother us. There’s room for improvement regarding the cup design, which lacks a proper seal. But overall, matcha lattes are a crowd favorite, and Boba Guys do it right.
|Taste||Price ($7.10)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Happy Lemon (downtown Mountain View)
What we ordered: Dragon Fruit Lychee Juice, 50% sweetness with boba and salted cheese
Happy Lemon in one word: yellow. Happy Lemon in a second word: cheese.
The store — infused with the overwhelming sweet scent of bubble waffles — had yellow walls, a formidable statue of their lemon mascot, lemon lights everywhere and best yet, cheese chairs: bright yellow chairs with iconic cheese holes. Unlike other stores, Happy Lemon was oddly spacious and had tables lining just the back of the store.
The drink itself, unlike the store decor, seemed to be suffering through an identity crisis. The dragon fruit flavor clashed with the white cheese foam that piled on the top, and the drink tasted sweet, sour and salty all at once — which admittedly didn’t make a great combination. Ignoring the unusual fruit-salted-cheese combo, the boba was firm and didn’t redeem the taste from being — to put it lightly — a dumpster fire.
|Taste||Price ($6.75)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Tong Sui (downtown Palo Alto)
What we ordered: Coconut Ice Bomb with Mango, 50% sweetness with boba
Tong Sui is the spot for all coconut-themed drinks (and coconut pudding, which is their specialty). And aesthetic-wise, it checks all the boxes.
The store offers plenty of seating options, with the design making effective use of the limited space. While dimly lit, the store was bustling and full of people, and we appreciated the intuitive interior design.
The cup design was classy, made with thick plastic and wrapped with the Tong Sui logo printed on a green cup sleeve. The drink contained fresh mango chunks and had a soft coconut flavor. The milk added an extra layer of sophistication, making the drink uniquely refreshing. But if you aren’t a coconut person, maybe consider avoiding this drink.
|Taste||Price ($8.95)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Tea Era (downtown Mountain View)
What we ordered: Roasted Barley Milk Tea, 25% sweetness with boba
Walking into Tea Era felt like walking into an old memory. The store was cluttered, dimly lit and loud, creating a homey kind of feeling. Miscellaneous flyers covered the walls, piles of tables lined up against the wall and only two chairs separated the store from the one beside it. It was a refreshing change to the artificially aesthetic stores we visited before.
Its menu variety, at a balking number of 94 drinks, plus other options for bento, deserves to be complimented. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it at Tea Era. As for the barley milk tea we ordered, the barley taste was pronounced and slightly sweeter than coffee, which gave it an authentic yet pure taste.
The drink itself didn’t particularly stand out, but sometimes, a simple and affordable drink is just what you’re looking for.
|Taste||Price ($4.20)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|
Boba Bliss (Mountain View)
What we ordered: Crème Brûlée Pearl Latte with boba, no sweetness adjustment
Boba Bliss’s sophisticated interior and quality drinks, combined with relatively affordable prices, put the store in the number one spot. Decorated with plants in ceramic pots, industrial-style lamps and minimalistic furniture, the shop felt like a sanctuary for conversations and studying.
Even though there were long lines that crowded the entire store, we received our drink almost immediately after ordering.
The Crème Brûlée Pearl Latte was by far our favorite drink — creamy, but not overbearingly so. The combination of caramelized sugar and silky custard gave it a rich flavor. As for the honey boba, its chewiness and sweetness made it a crowd favorite. While not made to be indulged in every day, this dessert gave us unparalleled bliss.
|Taste||Price ($6.25)||Drink creativity||Menu variety||Store vibes||Overall|