Iced boba milk tea is as close to a youth elixir as we may ever get. It's a simple recipe: Your choice of tea, plus milk and simple syrup shaken vigorously with ice until frothy, then poured over black tapioca globules slightly smaller than a marble known colloquially as boba. That formula has made a centuries-old drink hip, makes grown folks giddy and provides the 21-and-under set a reason to gather around with friends at length.
It's suggested in the name, but most tea houses don't automatically include boba in your beverage order. They'll ask first, giving you a chance to consider for a few seconds the possibilities of other add-ons like taro pudding and aloe vera jelly. You might be tempted to create a combo of your own, but you can't go wrong with sticking to the classic iced milk black tea with boba. We scoped out popular tea houses across San Gabriel Valley and found three versions of iced boba milk tea worth checking out. Turn the page for our selection:
Ladybug Tea House can be found at the center of a row of largely Vietnamese-owned shops, all located in a strip mall outfitted with a facade perfect for a Western film set. The original milk tea here is noticeably creamier than the well-known Ten Ren's Tea Time a few blocks away. You get the sense that either cream or half-and-half is used liberally in the recipe. One's sugar level preferences won't be asked for, but the house ratio between tea, cream, and simple syrup is well-balanced -- enough to make up for a honey boba that might be a smidge undercooked at times. 1457 East Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 316-3197.
AU79 sits in an area of Arcadia that is very familiar with boba tea: There's at least two options per half block. A scion of Ten Ren, the tea house is part of a new generation that came after Tea Time, Lollicup, and Tapioca Express. AU79 serves teas on the milder side, which is something to note as the taste of tea can easily be blunted if you're not careful to lessen the sugar. Of course, at almost every boba tea shop you can request adjustments to the sugar level, but AU79 made a standardized 1 - 5 scale, with no sugar at the bottom and double the sugar at the top. The pink boba has also gained fame here, rumored to be lower in calories than the standard black version. 815 W. Naomi Ave., Arcadia; (626) 574-7665.
Half & Half brews its tea with leaves, rather than relying on powder as some popular chains do. The difference is easily discernable, as the flavor of tea is hardly ever muted. Half & Half Tea Express quickly gained notice when it first came onto the scene in 2008 for its attention to detail, from using a higher quality tea to creating a honey boba that can now be seen at other tea houses. There are a few branches of the chain in the west San Gabriel Valley, but the location in Pasadena is preferable. You can also pinpoint Half & Half's peak hours around the time class lets out at schools nearby. And whereas you might have to contend with a line here like you do at its locations in Monterey Park and San Gabriel, Pasadena has B-Man's next door, where you can pop in for curry fries while you wait for your tea. 3007 Huntington Dr., Pasadena; (626) 844-1889.
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