Boba Fab! Best Bubble Tea In NYC
New York is a mecca for legit Asian food—Cantonese dim sum, Thai Isaan cuisine, Korean gopchang (intestines) barbecue, the list is endless—and as of late, a boom of that sippable takeaway Taiwanese treat, boba.
Taking its name from the chewy, typically black or dark brown tapioca pearls that are the critical ingredient of what we know as “bubble tea,” boba was founded during the 1980s in Taiwan (specifically, Tainan or Taichung city depending on who you ask—it’s a beef we won’t step into). These days bubble tea can be found all over the world, albeit not always good or remotely authentic, with “it’ll do in a pinch” to “meh” widespread chains like Coco, Gong Cha, Kung Fu, and Vivi.
During the past five years or so, some Taiwan’s best brands have opened flagships in Manhattan, while domestic boba aficionados/addicts have created their own boutique, inventive brands and shops like the San Francisco-born Boba Guys and Brooklyn’s Mudflow. Bear in mind that some beverages can be tweaked as far as sugar and ice levels—I recommend 50% on the former—and the boba itself, made from cassava plant starch, is often an optional but compulsory topping (others can include flavored jellies, flan-like puddings, and foamy “cheese”).
Below you’ll find Grandlife’s top picks for where to get your boba on in NYC. And remember to ram that sharp end of the thick straw hard into the cup’s membrane-like top!
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Founded in 1994, the Tainan-based 50 Lan is distinguished by its amber-hued “golden” boba pearls. Their beverages include some fruity seasonal selections like yuzu, and this summer, mango, plus an assortment of teas ranging from low caffeine and floral (jasmine green tea) to high and intensely flavored (the Ceylon black tea, which boasts a pleasant bite). The indecisive can consider one of their displayed “top five most popular,” but I personally angle for the Ceylon black tea latte with boba for its balance of actual tea flavor, lacking in some overly milky drinks, and toothsome pearls.
32 Union Square East
A Taiwanese chain beloved for its “black sugar” variety, and perfectly sweet, soft, chewy boba (boba should NOT be al dente or flavorless), finally opened a NYC flagship in Chinatown in 2019. Another distinction entails its petite-sized tapioca pearls—in some drinks you can order a combination of plump, regular size and tiny—rarely found stateside. Tiger Sugar has since spread to Koreatown (hot tip: order in advance of your arrival via Chowhound app or risk a long wait if peak boba hours!) and midtown east on 45th Street, where you’ll also find Chunky Boss’ Taiwanese night market-style crispy, flat chicken cutlets, a toothsome companion indeed.
197 Canal St.
Biao Sugar (Devil’s Egg)
When it comes to Instagrammable boba spots, Koreatown’s Biao Sugar—founded in 2018 in China – is high up the list thanks to the golden tiger’s head through which you retrieve colorful drink creations like the viral “Devil’s Egg” and “Angels Egg” (these reusable egg-shaped “cups” have since been replicated at another nearby social media-bait chain, I’Milky) plus crazy colorful fruit teas (e.g. fresh watermelon lemon, which come with different adorable little rubber ducks on top. Gotta get ‘em all!
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Founded in San Francisco when owners Andrew Chau and Bin Chen’s favorite boba spot in the Mission district shuttered circa 2011, Boba Guys caused their NYC fans heartbreak when the pandemic saw them shutter their NY storefront and Canal St. Market stall. Happily, 2022 saw a comeback with three new locations: Nolita, Soho (145 Greene St.), and Penn Plaza. Besides the signature, cross-cultural takes on boba, including a decaf black tea, Korean banana milk, and horchata, expect seasonal specials like this summer’s matcha Arnold Palmer, Thai tea and coffee foam-topped “Sawadee cloud,” and NY exclusive Passionfruit jasmine tea “fresca.”
35 Spring Street
Xing Fu Tang
Billing itself as “Taiwan’s #1 Boba,” with at least 100 locations worldwide, Xing Fu Tang opened its first U.S. location in Flushing, Queens in 2020. Two in Manhattan followed, including a cool, glowing white shop at Hudson Yards just this past Spring. Pushing the envelope with a pink, strawberry-flavored pearl as well as brown sugar, drinks are also creative and outside the boba box. To wit, dalgona, the airy honeycomb candy popularized in Squid Game infused with coffee, milk and boba; Damascus rose tea with lime slices; and brown sugar boba topped with milk tea soft serve ice cream.
133 2nd Avenue
Yifang Fruit Tea
While “brown sugar boba” has been quite the trend—often with a thick, tar-like smudge around the inside of the cup, then shaken until it dissipates and the milk turns toasty brown—Yifang was first to make it old school authentic style by slowly boiling the boba with actual brown sugar (as opposed to far cheaper simple syrup) in a metal pot until caramelized, then sold in several timed batches that people lined up for at their Flushing flagship (it’s worth noting that brown sugar boba is traditionally served only with milk, not tea). Now with demand for brown sugar boba enough that it’s available all day, Yifang has also spread across Manhattan, and true to its name offers many unique fruit-based beverages including a hibiscus (roselle) lemonade, grapefruit lemon tea with pulp, and pineapple green tea with pineapple jam.
33 St. Marks Place
Teazzi arrived in New York in 2018, opening its first location in Union Square (since then, others have cropped up in Flushing, LIC, and as of July 2023, Jersey City). While there is boba available – and a brown sugar latte – the spotlight is actually on tea and its flavor, from light to dark roast, which is steeped from loose leaves rather than powdered mixes like many chains use. You can even buy boxes of its signature Four Seasons blend and Golden Oolong in store and online. There are plenty of fruit and caffeine-free drinks, plus “healthier” toppings like oats, grass jelly, aloe, and purple rice and red beans.
47 W. 14th St.
Tea and Milk
A local success story, T&M was founded in Astoria, Queens by longtime friends Matthew Wong, Wilson Ng and Kenny Ng in 2015. Now with a location within the buzzy Chelsea Market (and, as of 2023, Bay Ridge, Queens), their signature “concept drink menu” includes a signature taro root milk tea made with freshly pureed taro root which they chop and cook daily, in both dairy and vegan coconut milk versions; brown sugar boba Thai tea with lychee juice (a bestseller!); and either a Vietnamese or cold brew coffee made with New Orleans’ famed Cafe du Monde chicory coffee.
75 9th Avenue, Lower Level
WORDS Lawrence Ferber