Bubble, or boba, milk tea – currently a huge culinary trend on the West Coast – originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It then spread to nearby East Asian countries, migrated to Canada and is now a beloved treat, especially here in Irvine. For those who don’t know, boba is a starch extracted from yucca root. When the stores receive them, they are hard little pellets but, after being soaked in liquid and syrup, the pearls turn into a jelly-like substance.
Although boba is not difficult to find in Irvine, there are few places that are actually worth buying from. To narrow it down, here are reviews of the four most well-known stores in Irvine: Cha for Tea, Lollicup, Tapioca Express and Tea Station.
1. Cha for Tea (Located in University Town Center)
Cha for Tea is pretty amazing, but be aware of what the prices will do to your wallet. The workers there are always friendly though, with their usual chorus of “Hi, welcome to Cha!” and they never fail to offer you a free sample.
Their boba is perfectly soft and chewy. At Cha, the milk teas are usually more milk than tea, but that’s how some people like it. If you prefer your milk tea to be sweeter and your boba to be soft and chewy, Cha is for you – and don’t forget, you can adjust the sweetness levels of any of the drinks there.
All in all, Cha is a good place to go to if you want to hang out close to campus. Don’t forget that there is a five percent discount if you use cash! Welcome to Cha!
2. Lollicup (Diamond Jamboree on Jamboree/Alton or Stonecreek Plaza on Jeffrey/Walnut)
Lollicup is likeable. The food and drinks come out quickly and the plazas where they’re located have many other cool places to check out. The milk tea here is incredibly sweet. As for the tea, there is definitely a lot more milk than tea. The boba is not too hard or soft and the pearls are decently chewy.
However, some of their drinks aren’t that fresh; they just sit in tubs waiting to be ordered and ladeled into a cup of waiting pearls. Other than that, Lollicup is in a great location, decently tasty and $2 cheaper than Cha.
3. Tapioca Express (On Jamboree/Dupont or Jeffrey/Walnut)
Like Lollicup, Tapioca Express is in a low-price range. Tapioca Express’ boba is a bit chewier than Lollicup’s and their milk teas fall in between Lollicup’s and Cha’s milk-to-tea ratio. Even with more milk, Tapioca Express is still not as sweet as Cha. On a non-boba-related note, the chicken here is probably the spiciest and cheapest out of all the boba places. Overall, Tapioca Express is liked by many and is another ideal place to relax.
4. Tea Station (Culver Plaza on Culver/Irvine Center Drive)
Tea Station is my personal favorite. The tea tastes better and the slushies and their other drinks are also delicious. If you like more tea than milk in your drink, this place could cater to those needs. Tea Station has the best milk-to-tea ratio out of all the local boba places and their drinks are not as sweet as those in Lollicup or Tapioca Express.
Another distinguishable factor of Tea Station is that their boba has an incredibly soft texture and is much chewier than that of Lollicup and Tapioca Express. So if you prefer your milk tea to be sweet – but not too sweet – and your boba extra chewy, Tea Station is the way to go.