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Boba tea, also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea, is named after the signature chewy balls of tapioca that bob near the bottom of the cup. The sugary drink originated in Taiwan, where boba is as ubiquitous as coffee in the United States. In South Florida, bubble tea is gaining fame as a refreshing and playful shaken beverage that fans can customize to their tastes.
Nothing quite compares to the experience of consuming the Instagrammable drinks: A gigantic brightly colored straw, wide enough to slurp up tapioca balls, gets stabbed into an airtight cup lid. Iced tea flows, and a sickeningly sweet boba pearl floats. Then another and another.
These local boba tea shops will have you clutching your (tapioca) pearls with delight.
Rice and Roll, Pembroke Pines
The new fast-casual restaurant Rice and Roll pairs sushi, Thai cuisine and ramen with a boba-filled drink of choice.
Almost every drink on the menu can have boba added to it, including fizzy Italian strawberry, mango, green apple and peach sodas ($5) and ice cream floats ($7), which come in Thai tea, coffee and matcha tea flavors. Customers can also take the traditional route by ordering fruity green or black teas ($5.50) or milk teas ($6).
The idea to offer boba came from co-owner Pharis Mongkolsindhu, who fell in love with the drink after visiting Taiwan with her family.
“I [first] tried it maybe a year or two ago,” she says.
Mongkolsindhu sampled many different flavors to choose the right ones for the restaurant, co-owner Tammi Walters says.
Walters especially likes crystal boba, which is sweeter than black tapioca pearls, and popping boba, a type of boba that releases juice when chewed.
“When you suck in the boba, it’s bursting in your mouth,” Walters says. “It’s just a different texture, and I love that.”
Aunt Jenn’s Tea & Spice Shop, Fort Lauderdale
At Aunt Jenn’s, boba is served with an herbal twist.
While the shop is best known for its take-home teas and spice blends, its tea bar prepares a variety of boba drinks, says owner and self-proclaimed “teatender” Jennifer Malone Fidel.
The main bubble tea flavors are blueberry pie, strawberry fields and paradiso peach. There is also purple rain, made with butterfly pea flowers, green tea and lemonade. None of Aunt Jenn’s drinks have artificial flavoring, colors or syrups.
Before Fidel opened her first storefront this year, she sold tea bags at pop-up markets, craft shows and farmers’ markets in beachy cities across Florida. She’s been a vendor at Yellow Green Farmers Market since 2013.
Hanji Snow Cream & Boba, Davie
The owner of Hanji Snow Cream & Boba, formerly Sweet Tooth Shavery, says the store serves the most authentic boba teas possible.
The sweets shop features brewed and milk teas such as black, oolong and jasmine, strawberry, mango, passion fruit and honey lime teas ranging from $4.50 to $5.50.
“There are a lot of hardcore customers [who], if we run out of the boba for the day, they will actually wait for it and … come back the next day,” Di Ai says.
The tea at Hanji is freshly brewed multiple times each day, and the sugars, syrups and fruit-based purees are refined in-house, Ai says. The tea leaves and tapioca pearls are imported from Taiwan.
Each drink can be infused with and shaken to a customer’s desired level of sugar, ice, milk and toppings.
Boba Street Cafe, Boca Raton
The beverage possibilities at Boba Street Cafe seem endless: The store has nine different flavors of boba pearls and six different jellies.
Its menu boasts rarer finds like avocado and Frooty Tooty milk teas, as well as cucumber passion and pineberry fruit teas.
For non-tea drinkers, the cafe offers coffees, sodas, refreshers, shakes and lemonades — all customizable with boba pearls.
The Shark Bite Boba, a blue ocean soda (lemon-lime soda and non-alcoholic blue curacao) with strawberry boba, lychee jellies and gummy sharks, is available through July 17 for Shark Week. The beverage comes in two sizes: 16 oz. ($5.74) and 24 oz. ($6.24).