I’ll admit that I epitomize newbie status when it comes to discussing boba tea. Last semester, upon hearing two friends bickering over the best tea house, I casually interjected about my similar love of “bubble” tea (you know, hoping to make friends and all), and I received blank stares. Apparently Portlanders truly are weirdos who don’t use the correct Asian tea drink terminology. So now I’ve adapted.
Actually though, the boba tea culture here in Houston puts Portland’s to shame. I can’t believe I just said that. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d consume copious cups of milk tea and tapioca in Houston. I was expecting to gorge on Tex Mex and barbecue, but I haven’t had either yet. Back home I probably drank about ten bobas a year, but as I’m reflecting on how many I’ve gulped down at Rice this past semester, the number is far, far bigger for sure. No shame though. Apparently it’s completely normal to get addicted.
I haven’t really ventured out of my comfort zone when it comes to boba tea though. Like clockwork, I order an original milk tea with boba every time. I never deviate, but I can’t help it. Original milk tea is classy—it’s not riddled with artificial flavor powders or anything and I drink hot milk tea anyway on a regular basis. So I’ve ranked the boba tea places I’ve gone to based on my opinion of their original milk tea drinks. And yes, I know that a lot of you who read this take your boba tea seriously—perhaps very seriously—so with all due respect, here is my honest confession.
1. Tapioca House: “Tap” House and I have a sailing-steady kind of relationship. The place does seem a bit dingy with its vintage menus and dim lighting, but Tap House’s version of the original boba milk tea never fails to disappoint every time. Some places’ milk teas exude this weird creamy aftertaste after each sip, but Tap House’s ratio of cream to tea is satisfactory with a subtly rich and refreshingly robust flavor. And the tapioca garners a good score with consistently good, chewy texture. It grates on my nerves when I take a long slurp and encounter tapioca that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly—it just tastes uncomfortably grainy and rough.
2. Nu Cafe: I haven’t actually stepped inside Nu before, but my roommate (bless her heart) brought me a drink one time when I was holed up in my room poring over biology for an upcoming midterm. Nu’s milk tea had a bolder, stronger flavor than other ones I’ve tasted, which I enjoyed immensely because the tea just enhanced the tapioca flavor as well.
3. Honey Bee: This place has fantastic ambiance—upbeat music, bright lights, and cozy nooks. Their drink titles are utterly marvelous as well. My favorites are “Mmhm Pineapple” (sounds sultry) and “Moo Moo Yogurt” (yogurt of cows?). I’d relish a job of thinking up names for boba drinks. Possibilities include “Durable Durian”, “Perky Passionfruit”, and “Tacky Taro”. I think I have a promising future.
Anyway, I did approve of Honey Bee’s take on the original milk tea, but only because I was advised to ask for cutting the sugar amount in half. Imagine if I hadn’t—the sugar dose would have been overwhelming. Unfortunately, the tapioca’s texture also was not consistently fresh. Yet besides all that, the hipster tubs (instead of tall cups) and the clusters of pals and couples everywhere made the place seem like it was a buzzing boba destination.
4. Kung Fu Tea: True boba connoisseurs reserve their praise for Kung Fu Tea. And I can tell that lots of other people feel the same way. I’ve gone there twice and the space is always teeming with folks. Kung Fu Tea is classy. Upscale. And a bit on the pricey side, but the boba is pretty good. Personally, I didn’t go crazy over their original tea version because the tapioca was oddly rubbery and the tea was too sweet. But I liked how the tapioca had a stronger flavor presence in the drink—at all the other places I’d explored the tea was used to enhance the tapioca taste while at Kung Fu Tea, the tapioca stood on its own.
Teahouse: Although I do champion coffee shop studying, working in Teahouse helps me be oddly productive. My routine is so predictable—I order my usual, turn up Spotify, and then stare at my laptop for about two hours until I see the dregs of my drink and all the stray tapioca are sitting forlornly at the bottom of the cup. Teahouse’s original milk tea boba is also predictable. It consistently has the same taste and flavor, and while it’s not my absolute favorite I do have a soft spot for Teahouse because it was the first place I went to when I came to Houston. At Teahouse, I was enlightened to the fact that something called egg pudding can substitute tapioca or jellies. I haven’t gathered the courage to try it, but some of my friends really enjoy it and have described it with the illustrious terms of “jiggly”, “flan-like”, and “flowy”. So I’m really intrigued.
Let’s be honest though, I love all of these places. Discovering stupendous boba teas all over Houston has definitely been a highlight of my college experience thus far.
Tapioca House–on Yelp.