The Boba Files: TOP 5 Boba Shops in the South Bay

8:00:00 AM

Separating the Professionals from the Rookies

If you live in the South Bay, you are no stranger to the milk tea phenomenon that has swept this area for the past decade. It all started about a decade ago with boba places popping up in random places (I think one of my very first experience was from this water place that also sold ice cream and “bubble tea” inside) with their even odder menus. And now everything that was unusual is suddenly ordinary.

Quicklys. Tapioca Express. Q-Cup. Barcode. Fantasia.

You heard of them. Hell, you may have tried them all. And while the milk tea formula remain relatively unchanged, the names got more creative.

Sharetea. Black Pearl. Teasociety. Cafe LaTTea. T-Pumps.  Bobo Tea. Thirst Tea.

And the list goes on.

So, how do you find the needle in the haystack? Well, I’m all for poking around and trying new boba shops. Or you can watch the episode of Mythbusters where they figure out the most efficient way to find the needle. Or, I can give you my top 5 picks and you can go from there.

The list is in no particular order. I don’t favor one over the other. Everything really boils down to my preference that day and how far I’m willing to travel.

1.    Gong Cha (San Jose, CA) 

This is actually from the Fremont location because I realized I never got a photo from San Jose. 
Ambiance: None. Like fast food, you grab it and go. There’s no place to linger. Hell, sometimes there’s no room to stand in this extremely small store. The service is nothing to write home about. The workers work quickly and sometimes-- efficiently to fulfill the massive orders.
Consistency: Fairly consistent now after they found their footing. This place hasn’t been opened for very long. Great tasting Boba.
Size: Two sizes (Regular & Large)
What To Try: They’re well known for their crema. Herb jelly & their boba are on POINT.
What To Avoid: Wintermelon. I don’t know, it just doesn’t… sound right. Earl Grey Milk with 3J. It’s good, but there’s too much add-ons (boba, pudding & herb jelly). To save yourself a headache, go during off hours because parking is notoriously hard in this plaza.
Perks: Stamp card system + They take credit cards.
Extra Comments: Their largest pitfall is their lack of space. More often than not, I go grab milk tea to hang out with friends, but at this particular Gong Cha (not that the Fremont location is much better), it’s impossible because the only seats they have are two bar stools they have tucked into the left corner of their store. It’s a pity the stores in USA don’t value seating because the ones in South Korea are so spacious.

1701 Lundy Ave.
Ste 1705
San Jose, CA 95131

2.                The Sweet Corner (San Jose, CA)

Ambiance: Like many popular milk tea shops, they get loud. But, when it isn’t, it’s wonderful. Tucked away in the corner of Vietnam Town, it’s dimly lit inside, with a high ceiling and blackboard walls. Limited seating, but it feels intimate and warm, even when it gets noisy.  They also have outdoor seating for the warmer weather. The service varies. Sometimes they make small talk. Other times they just take your order, but they’re relatively pleasant.
Consistency: Pretty consistent, but I’ve only been here a handful of times. So, please correct me if I’m wrong. Pearls have a nice texture.
Size: One size for cold drinks (unsure about hot)
What To Try: Strawberry milk tea. Earl Grey milk tea. Macarons!
What To Avoid: Haven’t had a bad experience so far.
Perks: Five Stars Point System + They accept credit cards.
Extra Comments: Also located in Vietnam Town’s Ring of Fire  are three others milk tea spots: Soyful Desserts, Tapioca Express and the new girl, Tea Lyfe Drinks (not even a month old). If you take a stroll down the street, you’ll also run into BoBo Drinks. They also sell chè, which is a Vietnamese dessert. It’s in the same family as the Halo Halo and Patbingsoo.

989 Story Rd.
Ste 8039
San Jose, CA 95122

3.                Fantasia (Milpitas, CA)

Ambiance: Loud and cold (or hot) depending on the season. This location usually has a long line out the door, so the volume level tends to be quite high. Seating is limited inside and uncomfortable due to the layout of the store. There are two tables outside, but between the smokers and the foot traffic, I rather take it to go. Service is nonexistent. You tell them your order, hand them cash and they (usually) have your drink out before you can say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Consistency: Extremely consistent. I’ve tried out drinks from many of the Fantasia locations and they’re all super consistent. With the exception of the Taro Milk. Only Milpitas makes that drink the best. Though they DO have certain variations of drinks between stores. And Milpitas charges tax on their drinks. The Rivermark location doesn’t. Boba (for the most part) has the perfect texture.
Size: One size for cold drinks and two sizes for hot.
What To Try: Taro Milk. Green Mango tea with Ai-yu jelly. Jasmine Milk Tea.
What To Avoid: The cookies and toast. I haven’t tried it, but I’m unconvinced.
Perks: Stamp card system + Extremely fast service
Extra Comments: Much like the Vietnam Town “Ring of Fire,” Milpitas Square also has their own. Quicklys is a few stores down and there’s also Sweetheart Cafe right next to 99 Ranch. And there’s an empty storefront with a sign that says “Coco” next to Loving Hut, but I think they may have given up trying to open.

528 Barber Ln.
Milpitas, CA 95035

4.                Café LaTTea (Cupertino, CA)

Ambiance: A very chic cafe setting with large glass windows overlooking Stevens Creek Blvd. This place gets extremely loud during weekend nights, but when it’s not busy, it’s a fantastic place to study or to catch up with friends. And the majority of the people who linger around are college-aged Asians.  They also have seating outside and larger groups tend to sit outside because the layout of the cafe isn’t suited for groups bigger than 4.
Consistency: Their boba: perfect. I’ve been here many times and their boba is always great. Drinks are fairly consistent as well.
Size: One size (large). The lattes come in coffee mugs if you’re planning to drink it in the store.
What To Try: Their crema is pretty good. I also like their honey green milk tea and the rose milk tea.
What To Avoid: The honey toast is delicious, but it’s impossible to finish. Usually you end up eating the inside and leaving the skeleton of the toast left over. I suggest sharing with at least 3 people if you want to finish everything.
Perks: Five Stars System + They accept credit cards.
Extra Comments: Parking is a bit tricky, but there’s plenty of parking in the back if you can’t find any in the front residential area. They also sell cakes and macarons as well as coffee.

19501 Stevens Creeks Blvd.
Ste 101
Cupertino, CA 95014

5.                Chatime (San Jose, CA)

Ambiance: Purple. Purple. And more purple. They have funky purple seating with chairs that are too low and tables that are too high. Throw pillows are all over the seats, which are cute, but I can’t help but think about all the people who have touched it previously. It gets loud when huge groups get together to play cards and such,
Consistency: It’s gotten a lot better. Since I’ve been here so many times ever since the opening, I’ve gotten some inconsistent drinks, but they’ve gotten the hang of mixing the drinks now.
Size: 3 or 4 (regular, large and bucket)
What To Try: Roasted Milk Tea. Oolong Milk Tea.  Japanese Genmaicha. Tin Guan Yin Latte.
What To Avoid: I thought their Jasmine was just okay. Same with their Matcha Latte (but this one may be because I got it at 70% sweetness)
Perks: Five Stars System + They accept credit cards.
Extra Comments: A lot of high schoolers frequent this place and more than once have I bumped into a familiar face at Chatime. But if you don’t live around the area, that shouldn’t be a problem. Chatime is in a strip mall, which borders on the shady area.

311 N. Capitol Ave.
Ste C

San Jose, CA 95133

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  1. I like Cafe Lattea best. :3 I would also add that Sharetea is definitely getting their own fan following with their more unique drinks like Okinawa and Hokkaido milk tea. Their creama aren't the best though.

    1. I agree. Sharetea gives you so much boba though. I get tired chewing. Haha.