Not so long ago, it was a whole lot harder to find bubble tea in Seattle, so it’s refreshing to see that boba shops are popping up seemingly everywhere. Bubble tea and boba are both names for a usually tea-based drink with tapioca pearls that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. (And it was also fairly popular in Vancouver, B.C., where I grew up.) Now my twin 13-year-old boys and I bond over our bubble tea adventures. They often order milk tea with regular ice, 70% sweet with boba and lychee jelly, but can also be swayed to pick drinks that are seasonal or just really photogenic.
The three of us recently went on a quest to visit and try as many bubble tea shops as we could to find some gems. Most shops follow the same formula for ordering bubble tea: You pick a drink, choose a size, customize your ice preference and state your sweetness level in percentage form. (Who knew ordering a boba could be a math lesson too?) When my kids were younger, I would ask for drinks that were not caffeinated – usually the milks, various flavors of fruit slushes or smoothies on the menu. If I’m ever stumped about what to order, I just ask what the most popular drink is and that’s the one I get.
Bubble tea closest to the Fremont Troll
DIY Tea Lab on North 34th Street is perfect if you’re exploring the city or have out-of-town guests in tow. Find parking near the Fremont Troll and walk about 10 minutes down the hill to where there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall; DIY Tea Lab is right nearby. It is attached to a Just Poke shop, which is convenient if you need lunch, and the grueling walk back up the hill to the Troll is worth this refreshing stop. We tried the flavor Life Is Peachy on our most recent visit.
Bubble tea while you pick up groceries
At the Uwajimaya supermarket in the International District, you can grab bubble tea from Jardin Tea in the food court after you finish shopping. We tried the guava passionfruit oolong tea with pearls, and it was both beautiful and delicious. You can also wander over to Young Tea, one of the city’s most noteworthy boba places. Young Tea’s hibiscus juice is caffeine-free, and the shop often offers contests and deals on social media.
Make your own boba at home
At Uwajimaya, you can pick up ready-made frozen bubble tea to make at home. The market also has key boba ingredients like dried tapioca pearls, rainbow jellies and wide bubble tea straws. The Works, a woman-owned maker space in Seattle, has also created a DIY bubble tea kit that we’ve tried and enjoyed at home.
The Works, 151 12th Ave.; theworksseattle.com
Self-serve boba (and more)
For make-your-own bubble tea away from home, Boba Up in the University District is where you can get self-serve bubble tea buffet style, mixing and matching as many teas and ingredients as you like. You can’t miss bubble tea for sale in the U District, even if you aren’t trying to find it. In a one-mileish radius you can find bubble tea at the Oh Bear Cafe, Timeless Tea, Sharetea, Boba Smoothies, Mee Sum Pastry, Ding Tea and many others. (The standout here is Timeless Tea because of its realistic dog cakes and easy parking.)
Boba Up, 4141 University Way NE #103; bobaupseattle.com
Oh Bear Cafe, 4708 11th Ave. NE; facebook.com/ohbearcafe/
Timeless Tea, 1000 NE 50th St.; timelessteaseattle.com
Sharetea, 4730 University Way NE, Suite 109-110; 1992sharetea.com
Boba Smoothies, 1409 NE 45th St.; bobasmoothies.com
Mee Sum Pastry, 4343 University Way NE; meesum.com
Ding Tea, 4725 University Way NE; ding-tea-seattle.business.site
This article was first published on Aug. 31, 2021.
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