How does Purple Kow live up to our boba expectations?

Eunice Choi/Staff

Purple Kow has “moooooo”ved in (the pun was irresistible), and Eating Berkeley has finally found the time to stop by this relatively new boba craze in town before its ridiculous “temporary” close time at 6 p.m. — 6 p.m.!!! — Monday through Thursday and the slightly more reasonable 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Previously, the Clog covered Sheng Kee Bakery (SKB) and emphasized its excellent milk teas and boba, but Eating Berkeley is aptly taking over in terms of boba expertise and, unsurprisingly, we are now zooming on to Purple Kow. This popular San Francisco boba store opened up a branch in Berkeley around late July — and one near campus, at that. We know you are all out there grabbing boba straws by the handful and toting chubby cups left and right, and we’re here to provide our takes while consuming our own massive amounts of Purple Kow Black Milk Tea with pearls and egg pudding.

What are our conclusions? Well …

Quality of tea: The two teas we tried were the “Purple Kow Milk Black Tea” (a classic) and the “Purple Kow Mango Yokalt Milk Tea” (an exotic). We were half pleased, half disappointed. On one hand, the milk tea could compare to Sheng Kee’s in terms of taste and perhaps quality, although we are reluctant to easily switch from SKB to PK just like that. The milk tea is similar to SKB’s milk tea: sweet, creamy and not bubble tea (powdered tea) — quite honestly, not much to report on for the milk tea, but we did enjoy it and found nothing to complain about. The mango Yokalt tea, on the other hand, is … interesting, and not something we are thinking of revisiting. It is too artificially sweet, nearly plastic in taste while also slightly tangy. It is liquidy and not milky because of the Yokalt base. The aftertaste was disconcerting — again, a combination of mildly sour and plastic. Although we can’t recommend the mango Yokalt tea, we encourage you to sample other Yokalt flavors. Using Yokalt is certainly an interesting idea.

Boba texture: Excellent job, Purple Kow. The pearls were wonderfully chewy. They might have been a bit bland, but that is better than being too sweet on top of the already sugary drink. If we were to compare to Sheng Kee, we would draw a close tie.

Egg pudding: For a while, boba pearls were the only things that entered our cups. However, we thought #YOLO and requested egg pudding this time around. The best way we can describe the flavor is a mild maple-syrupy sort of taste. It is sweet, almost oaky. The egg pudding is almost self-explanatory, with its slippery texture and softness. It’s worth trying, but it’s nothing spectacular.

Drink options: The menu is so long and extensive that one might wonder whether every single flavor and offered item legitimately exists in Purple Kow’s kitchens or if the menu is just there to give the illusion of being able to suit every possible boba drinker’s needs. A statistician would prove useful in this case to discover exactly how many permutations of drink combinations can be made. The categories of drinks were:
Fresh Tea
Yummy Milk Tea
Fresh Fruit Blend Flavored Tea
Yakult Blend Flavored Tea (Yakult is a sweet, yogurtlike Asian drink)
Purplekow Iced Milk Drink
Tea Crema
Oriental Pop Tea … etc.
Yes, the list is, without exaggeration, extensive. The sheer number of options alone may challenge Sheng Kee’s reign as Boba King in the vicinity.

Topping options: Like its tea list, Purple Kow has perhaps the most impressive number of drink toppings around. Ten options are available: boba, grass jelly, egg pudding, brown sugar jelly, green tea jelly, lychee jelly, aloe vera, boba noodle (what?!), red beans and amber tea jelly. Staggering, no? This extensive list does not necessarily mean Purple Kow is the best boba shop, but it’s certainly intriguing.

Snacks: The shop has a small array of snacks: salt and pepper chicken nuggets, fried zucchini sticks, mozzarella cheese sticks and sweet potato fries. They are expensive for fried tidbits, with a snack or two nearing $5. We don’t recommend spending your money this way.

Pricing: The teas range anywhere from $3.04 to $4.50. Each addition costs 50 cents. The price certainly cannot beat Sheng Kee’s pricing of $2.99 for drinks. Then again, PK can justify its high prices through the quality, the numerous options, its popularity in San Francisco and its devotion solely to boba drinks, whereas Sheng Kee is mainly a bakery.

Purple Kow decor. Image by Eunice Choi.

Purple Kow decor. Image by Eunice Choi.

Store ambiance/decor: Artsy. The store imitates an art gallery. There is an upstairs location with more tables and chairs. The decor is chic and perhaps a bit comedic, with hipster photos of boba on the walls, and it’s also both cute and slightly awkward, somehow. Right next door — literally opening up to it — is Top Dog.

Location: Far from ideal. Oxford is at a disadvantage compared to Telegraph locations. However, true fans certainly should not mind the walk.

Last note: There is one option called “Purple Kow Milk Tea” and another called “Purple Kow Fresh Milk Tea”. There is no description on the menu, and you need to speak with the cashier to learn the difference. Here’s our inside scoop: “Milk Tea” is made with a soy creamer base, and “Fresh Milk Tea” is made with whole milk, thus being richer than the former. Who would have guessed? Frankly, the difference seems negligible.

Purple Kow was nothing spectacular, except for its tremendously huge list of options. The boba is decent, the teas are either a hit or a miss and the snacks are typical. Nevertheless, it is worth trying. The only thing we would like to plead Purple Kow to change ASAP is its temporary hours of operation. Many fans, especially students with last classes on the west side of campus, would undoubtedly be pleased.