Boba commonly becomes a core feature in students’ experiences at UC Berkeley, whether it be part of cheerful meals with friends, an energy boost to continue studying or a customary celebration activity after a midterm or final. This is because UC Berkeley has been blessed with tea stores at almost every corner, creating a booming boba culture on campus. So for the clueless freshman — whether you’re a curious boba virgin, connoisseur or casual consumer — this list is for you.
1. Asha Tea House
In downtown Berkeley lies Asha Tea House, which was founded by David and Diana Lau. The tea house was “inspired by how Starbucks revolutionized the coffee industry by creating a ‘third home’ for coffee lovers.” The primary reason for being ranked at number one is Asha’s dedication to strengthening America’s tea culture through artisan techniques. Since the majority of its ingredients are made from scratch every harvest season, Asha obtains its tea from growers in China, India, Japan and Taiwan. This results in Asha’s boba pearls tasting healthier and more authentic than the processed junk found in most boba stores.
2. Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea
Similar to Asha Tea House, Yi Fang prohibits artificial syrups and powders, welcoming “old-fashioned Taiwanese premium tea” made from genuine ingredients. Yi Fang is conveniently located right across from Sproul Plaza on the south side of campus, and the shop is aptly named after the founders’ grandmother, Yi Fang. Yi Fang’s delightful tea, accompanied by its delicious boba, is a match made in heaven! You can even see Yi Fang’s perfect boba pearls being made from a window within the store. The only upset for this shop in Berkeley is its small venue with no seating.
Located on the west side of campus, U-Cha is unique to Berkeley. U-Cha’s signature drink, the Bomber Man, is the sweetest, most addicting drink you’ll ever have. The mixture of the fresh milk with U-Cha’s “special pearls” is by far the freshest boba drink around town. With a rowdy atmosphere at night and a mellow ambiance during the day, U-Cha’s has the best of both worlds for studying or celebrating the end of finals. It’s also a perfect choice for late night cravings, as U-Cha closes at 11 p.m.
4. Gong Cha
Located within the middle of Sather Lane, Gong Cha is a solid go-to in between classes, with comfortable seats to study on and a friendly vibe for hanging out with friends. Gong Cha’s menu boasts more diversity compared to the top two boba shops on this list but it lacks the effort and preciseness in its flavor profiling. However, it hardly disappoints. It’s one of the few places that serves egg waffles and basil seed toppings, which are very tasty with boba!
5. Happy Lemon
Happy Lemon is a mostly appetizing option, but it’s probably not worth the trip downtown. Happy Lemon is frustratingly mediocre, but if you enjoy salted cheese with your boba, it might be the boba shop for you. It’s most charming feature is that it probably has the most seating out of all boba places around Berkeley.
6. Boba Ninja
Boba Ninja is placed near the bottom of this ranking for its full-on powder and syrup drinks. Boba Ninja is never worth it when trying to satisfy your boba desires. You’ll only end up disgusted with the drink and with yourself. Perhaps Boba Ninja’s two redeeming qualities are its spicy popcorn chicken (the best midnight munchie) and close proximity to campus in the Asian Ghetto.
RareTea started in Berkeley in 2016 and now has various locations in NorCal. RareTea has two locations on campus, which are inside the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building and Cory Hall. Suffice it to say, you would fare better to stay away from this shop. RareTea’s boba just isn’t worth chewing on.
The infamous Quickly! Although it’s known for its poor quality, Quickly is the sole contender for boba on the north side of Berkeley. The only cravings Quickly could satisfy are popcorn chicken and french fries.
I wish I could cover every store, but hopefully this little teaser encourages you freshmen to explore the boba around campus, and even some places further away, with your friends. The last thing I have to say is that I challenge all of you and your friends to eventually make your own personal list of rankings. Hopefully you can all still manage to be friends afterward!
Contact Cameron Opartkiettikul at[email protected].