Your go-to guide for all things boba

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Natasha Carpenter-Frank/Occidental Weekly

Bubble tea, or boba, is a Taiwanese creation composed of tapioca pearls and tea that first came about in the 1980s and became a popular treat in the U.S. in the 1990s. Occidental is situated between a number of boba shops making it easy for students to get their tea and tapioca fix. Several boba shops are all relatively close — less than 15 minutes away (driving) — and can be found in Eagle Rock, Pasadena, Chinatown and San Gabriel. Here, we’ve made it easier to pick which one to go to by reviewing five shops, basing our reviews on specific boba criteria: chewiness and flavor of the tapioca balls, the sweetness of the drink, the atmosphere of the shop, the duration of wait time and the quality of service.

T Pumps

****

-Sweetness of tapioca pearls: Too sweet

-Distance from Occidental: 15 minutes

-Customer service: Excellent

-Ambiance: Crowded

-Wait time: 15–30 minutes

T Pumps is a popular social spot with a variety of flavor additions to drinks, including marshmallow, mango and vanilla. It is not uncommon for the line to go out the door. Although the choice to customize the sweetness of the tea is much appreciated, the “regular” sweetness seems to be sufficient. Not only was the milk tea cavity-inducingly sweet, the tapioca pearls were sweet as well. A redeeming quality of T Pumps was the service. The workers were very friendly, emphasizing that they would remake the order if one’s beverage was not satisfactory. Groups of friends hung around, some not even ordering anything. Despite the sweetness of their drinks, T Pumps was a good social spot.

It’s Boba Time

***

-Sweetness of tapioca pearls: None

-Distance from Occidental: 3 minutes

-Customer service: Good

-Ambiance: Not too exciting

-Wait time: 5 minutes

It’s Boba Time has various locations around L.A., but the Eagle Rock location on Colorado Boulevard makes it easy for Occidental students to sip on their sweet tea. It’s Boba Time had a couple booths inside for seating but also had seating outside, with several tables, chairs and umbrellas during those hot L.A. days. The outdoor seating was nice because the shop is small inside. The staff were friendly and addressed the customers with warm greetings, asking about one’s day. The tapioca pearls were chewy and, frankly, did not taste like anything. The tea itself was not sweet at all; it was refreshing, yet a bit tangy at times when tapioca pearls were added. The line was not frustratingly long. In fact, the drinks were made quickly. They had a large variety of drinks, like shakes, smoothies, slushies and pastries like macarons.

Lollicup

**

-Sweetness of tapioca pearls: Too sweet

-Distance from Occidental: 15 minutes

-Customer service: Good

-Ambiance: Fun and nice place to spend time

-Wait time: 5–10 minutes

Lollicup’s store was creatively decorated, and the laid-back vibes were perfect for those who want a quick drink and a place to meet with friends. The walls were adorned with bright pinks and subtle blues while red lights glowed as they hung from the ceiling, illuminating the striped blankets that sat on the couches. Despite the lovely decor, the drinks themselves were nothing exceptional when compared to the other boba shops. The tea almost tasted like powder with a lot of extra sugar. The pasty nature of the milk tea actually seemed like shreds of chalk were mixed in. The texture of the tapioca tasted similar to stale gummy bears, in the sense that it was sugary but too hard — not very enjoyable. The ambiance was great, but the drinks could taste more like authentic boba tea with more subtle flavors.

Urth Caffé

***

-Sweetness of tapioca pearls: Not sweet

-Distance from Occidental: 15 minutes

-Customer service: Excellent

-Ambiance: Cozy and enjoyable

-Wait time: 10–15 minutes

Although not only known for its boba, Urth Caffé in Pasadena had some tasty beverages. The milk tea alone was very rich in flavor but not overly sweet. It was a refreshing compliment complement to a meal from Urth Caffé. However, the tapioca pearls were quite hard to chew and did not have any notable flavor. The environment was earthy and cozy, with a bohemian tile fireplace and Spanish style steps. The drink did not take too long to prepare. Since the restaurant is not exclusively a boba place, the line can be long — it may take 15-20 minutes for an order to be ready. Overall, the tea in Urth Caffé’s milk tea had delicious flavor although it was lacking in the tapioca department due to the tough and flavorless tapioca pearls.

The Melt Spot

*****

-Sweetness of tapioca pearls: Just right

-Distance from Occidental: 5 minutes

-Customer service: Good

-Ambiance: Simple

-Wait time: 5 minutes

Both the tapioca and tea drink at The Melt Spot were impressive and satisfying. The milk tea was flavorful and not overly sweet. The boba had an enjoyable texture — not too soft or too hard.The employees were eager to prepare the drinks correctly and treat their customers as accommodatingly as they can by updating them on when they can expect their drinks to be ready. They are especially friendly and engaged in small talk as one waited even though the wait itself wasn’t very long. The Melt Spot is a great place to catch up on work and and enjoy a cup of milk tea with boba.