Originally born in Taiwan in the 1980s, “boba” has become synonymous with the chewy black pearls that sit at the bottom of our favorite milk teas and fruity bubble tea drinks. Sahana Meha SC ’20, who runs the Instagram account @boba_revolution, gave me a crash course on the background of boba. It is derived from the cassava root and has since “become part of an interesting economy of Asian goods and Asian foods in the [United States],” she said.
Though the black milk tea with boba is undoubtedly the classic iteration, bubble tea shops have expanded their menus with a range of fruit-based teas, fruit jelly, and adventurous toppings.
Having grown up in Asia as a self-proclaimed boba fiend, I went in search for the best boba in Claremont. For every store or cafe I visited, I opted for two different flavors: the black milk tea with boba, along with a student pick or staff recommendation.
Milk and Honey
First born as a pop-up, this young student-run initiative hosted its grand opening this past October. Co-founders Samuel Lin PO ’20 and Julia Wang HM ’20 has since found a permanent home for the business at Pomona College’s Sagehen Cafe. I’ll be frank: Last semester, I found that their milk tea was often too watery. But this time, I found that their black milk tea with boba — called the “Pomona” — had perfectly chewy boba, along with milk tea that had a well-rounded, perfectly sweetened flavor. You also can’t go wrong with any fruit tea combination.
Rating: 4/5 for the black milk tea with boba, 4/5 for the peach jasmine green tea with boba
Harvey Mudd Cafe
As a Scripps student, I hadn’t heard much about Harvey Mudd College’s boba from The Café. Unfortunately, that is for a valid reason. The black milk tea was actually the best of all I tried — the tea flavor was pronounced and the ratio of milk to tea was perfect. Unfortunately, the boba itself was undercooked. The staff recommended the chai tea, which was enjoyable but lacking in spice.
Rating: 3.5/5 for the black milk tea with boba (though the milk tea itself deserves a 4.5/5), 3.25/5 for the chai tea with boba
The boba at Pomona’s Coop Fountain seems like an afterthought on their extensive menu. I ordered the mango green tea with boba since they don’t offer classic black milk tea. Though the tapioca pearls were decently chewy, the flavor of the tea was artificially sweet and barely tasted of mango.
Rating: 3.5/5 for mango green tea with boba
T & Joy
This place is known as a go-to for boba at Claremont Village. The staff are kind and knowledgeable — they gave me detailed answers on the flavors and toppings. The black milk tea had a prominent tea flavor, but was noticeably thinner than the others I had tried. Fans of a flowery, rose flavor would like the rose milk tea, but be warned that it is noticeably sweeter. “Rainbow jelly” may also sound exciting on the menu, but it doesn’t offer any special texture or flavor, so stick with the classic boba.
Rating: 4/5 for the black milk tea with boba, 3.75/5 for the rose milk tea with rainbow jelly
I found this cafe’s black milk boba tea to have a strength of flavor I have rarely ever tasted from milk and tea alone. (I suspect a secret ingredient exists.) The tea and milk flavors were harmonious, though definitely untraditional, and the boba itself was delightfully chewy. I also recommend the “Purple Me,” a lychee and hibiscus drink. Light and fruity, the drink is presented with a bright purple hue. The lychee flavor is prominent, while the hibiscus is secondary. Try it with the mango or aloe vera jelly for the ultimate refreshing drink.
Rating: 4/5 for the black milk tea with boba, 4.5/5 for the “Purple Me” with aloe vera jelly
To conclude, my on-campus pick to alleviate your boba cravings has to be Milk and Honey, while both Tocaja and T & Joy are both safe bets when I’m venturing out into the Village. While some disappointed heavily (ahem, Mudd Cafe), ultimately, none of the drinks made me regret spending Flex or even real money. Drinking this many bobas within the span of one week has been a wonderfully successful adventure.
Mabel Lui SC ’21 is a media studies and art major from Hong Kong. She previously served as TSL’s managing editor, life and style editor, life and style associate and life and style writer.