Featured photo: Amelie Apostol holds up a Tiger tea from Café Gelato (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
It’s a bit unclear how it all started. Some claim it was created when a tea room’s owner added white tapioca balls to his milk tea. Others say it was concocted when a female teahouse employee experimented with tapioca balls and iced milk tea to create the first iteration. Either way, the rise in popularity worldwide of boba or bubble tea is indisputable. After being introduced from Taiwan to the United States in ’90s, boba has gained a cultlike following in large, Asian-dominated cities across the country. And in the last few years, shops in the Triad have joined in on the trend.
So what is it? Boba or bubble tea refers to a tea-based iced drink — normally made with black or green tea — that comes with any number of adornments shaken together and served with a signature fat straw. Often times, the drinks include some form of milk, creating a creamy texture. The most recognizable versions have black, chewy tapioca balls that sink to the bottom of the cups. Still, other popular versions of the drink are sans dairy and are more fruit-forward with little chunks of jellies or popping balls that have fruit juices in them.
The word “boba” is slang for big breasts in Taiwan while others say bubble tea refers to the foamy texture created when the drinks are mixed up. Another key feature of a boba drink is the vacuum-sealed plastic lid through which users will stab their thick straws through. Christopher Edwards, co-owner of Café Gelato in Winston-Salem, has some tips for boba newbies when it comes to piercing their drinks.
“Don’t hold the bottom of the straw,” Edwards advises.
Instead, he recommends holding the top third of the straw and lining it up with the center of the lid. Then, he says to use your other hand to push down on the straw. Too often, Edwards says he sees customers crack the walls of the cup because they end up smashing the edges of their drink, resulting in wasted boba.
“It took me years to figure it out,” he admits.
And as the temperatures continue to climb and summer maintains its grip on us all, here are just a few local places in which you can get your boba fix to keep you cool and hydrated throughout the season.
- 1612 S. Hawthorne Road
- Popular flavors: Mango, strawberry, Tiger tea
- Price: $4-8
- Notes: While there are two locations of this shop in Winston-Salem, only the café on Hawthorne Road sells boba. According to co-owner Christopher Edwards, they sell more boba teas than they do their homemade gelato at this location despite being named for the latter. One of the shop’s unique offerings is a milkshake-like boba float which comes with either one or two scoops of gelato inside of your boba tea for a thicker, dessert-like experience. The shop also sells fruit teas with different flavored popping pearls as well as their tiger milk tea —made with brown sugar, milk and boba — one of their most popular items on the menu.
- 508 E. Mountain St., Kernersville; 167 Jonestown Rd., W-S
- 336-992-7707; 336-331-3414
- Popular flavors: Taro, green tea
- Price: $3.99
- Notes: With a Kernersville location open since 2011, Intown Donutz is a staple for sweet treats. A few years ago, they added boba teas to their menu. While there isn’t a menu online, staff says there are more flavors available at the Winston-Salem location. For those that want an extra sweet combo they could pair the shop’s most-popular donut, the apple fritter, with the coffee boba tea. The shop also has boba options such as the classic tapioca ball, bursting fruit boba or jelly boba.
May Way Dumplings
- 113 Reynolda Village
- Popular flavors: Lavender, mango, Thai tea
- Price: $3.99
- Notes: As of publication, this location is still closed for dine-in. Customers can either order online or call to place their orders and pick up outside the shop. Besides having the most extensive boba flavors in town, May Way is known for their delicious dumplings. Our recommendation is to get a few orders of dumplings, a boba tea and then sit in the grassy area across from the shopping center and enjoy your meal under a shady tree.
Momo Ashi (coming soon)
- 1961 N. Peace Haven Road
- Popular flavors: TBD
- Price: $4.50-4.75
- Notes: While the shop isn’t open yet, once it does, it will be serving boba teas as well as a number of Asian snacks that aren’t widely available anywhere else in the area. Some notable foods on their menu include onigiri, or Japanese rice balls, as well as something the shop calls “wamochi,” a combination of waffles and mochi. The shop will also sell thick slices of toast with dessert toppings as well as sandwiches.
Rena Marie’s Coffee and Bubble Tea
- 545 Trade St. NW
- Popular flavors: Taro, coconut, honeydew, mango
- Price: $6.95
- Notes: While the shop has some of the wonkiest hours in town, it might be worth it to stop by just to try some of their unique flavors like their Vietnamese iced coffee boba or their Yuan-Yang tea, otherwise known as their Hong Kong style milk tea coffee which combines iced coffee with their house black tea.
- 332 Tate St.
- Popular flavors: Mango, passionfruit, taro, Thai tea
- Price: $4.68
- Notes: Open since 2003, Boba House is likely the oldest shop in the Triad that has been offering boba. As such, they are a known staple around the community and also the only fully-vegetarian restaurant in Greensboro, for now. Boba enthusiasts might want to order a few options from this location and then compare to the drinks at May Way across the street.
Gong Cha (Inside Super G Mart)
- 4927 W. Market St. #3
- Popular flavors: Earl grey, pearl milk, brown sugar milk tea
- Price: $3.75-5.95
- Notes: A franchise location like Kung Fu tea in High Point, this shop located inside of Super G Mart is the newest addition to Greensboro’s boba scene. In addition to classic milk teas, the shop also has milk foam teas, slushies and yogurt drinks. Because of its location, it’s recommended for while you’re shopping for groceries or as a pick-me-up afterwards.
MasterTea Café and Bites
- 5103 W. Market St. Suite D
- Popular flavors: Classic, strawberry, taro
- Price: $4.50-5.75
- Notes: Since opening in 2018, this shop has increased in popularity for their extensive drink menu which features everything from milk teas to fruit teas to frozen coffee drinks. The shop also sells Asian snacks and lunchy items like fried tofu, chicken wings, and banh mi. For our full article on MasterTea, visit here. The same owners also run Tik Tok Snow and Tea further down this list.
May Way Dumplings
- 948 Walker Ave.
- Popular flavors: Taro, mango, honeydew, lychee, lavender, vanilla
- Price: $3.99
- Notes: Newer than the Winston-Salem location, the Greensboro outfit offers a larger dine-in space, although at the time of publication it was take-out only. It also has more food options than its sister location. Like Boba House, this spot is conveniently located next to UNCG’s campus.
Moshi Moshi Boba Café
- 2418 Spring Garden St.
- Popular flavors: Purple cloud, Oreo twister, ichigo (strawberry), Drop it like it’s hot
- Price: $4-5.50
- Notes: Like MasterTea, Moshi Moshi is one of the most Instagrammable locations on this list because of its neon signs and selfie wall complete with a wooden swing for customers to sit and take pictures on. They even have a recently completed anime mural next to their back patio with characters from One Piece, My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan and Sailor Moon, to name a few.
- 1611 Stanley Road
- Popular flavors: Brown sugar milk tea, taro
- Price: $5.50-6
- Notes: The thing that sets this shop aside from the others on this list would have to be its signaturemilk swirl drinks, particularly the strawberry yogurt latte. The shop also serves macaroons and flan cake.
Tik Tok Snow and Tea
- 3808 W. Gate City Blvd.
- Popular flavors: Brown sugar milk, strawberry, Tik Tok signature which is a Black milk tea with crème brulee
- Price: $4.25-5.50
- Notes: Open since June 2020, this shop has the same owners as MasterTea. Because of the that, the interior aesthetic of the shop is trendy and airy with neon signs and small succulents gracing a wall. The shop also features multiple colorful desserts, many of which feature grass and pandon flour jellies.
- 2401 Penny Road #103
- Flavors: Thai tea, milk tea, green tea, coffee, mocha, strawberry, watermelon, honeydew, avocado, taro, coconut, mango, lychee
- Price: $3.99
- Notes: Open since 2016, this small shop sells boba teas as well as small cakes and desserts.
Ninja Café – Kung Fu Tea
- 5815 Samet Drive #111-113
- Popular flavors: Classic Black tea
- Price: $3-5
- Notes: While this location is technically a chain, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it because of its popularity and significance as a national brand. Started in 2010 in Queens, NY, Kung Fu Tea is the country’s largest bubble tea brand with more than 250 locations across the US In 2018, they founded National Bubble Tea Day — now on April 30 every year. The shop’s main appeal is likely the fact that customers can build and choose their own teas, starting with the base and adding all kinds of toppings from the classic tapioca beads to different flavors of jelly to red bean.
Tea Time Lounge
- 1800 N. Main St. #116
- Popular flavors: Taro, original black milk tea, brown sugar milk tea
- Price: $3.50-5.25
- Notes: This shop offers more than 30 flavors of boba including unique ones like cookies n’ cream, chocolate, guava and jackfruit.In addition to their extensive menu, the shop also offers rolled iced cream, mangonadas and sweet crepes.