Bubble tea, tapioca, pearl tea, boba—whatever you want to call it, there’s no shortage of this Taiwanese treat in Houston.
Here are a few of my favorite tea shops in the 713:
Kung Fu Tea
Arguably the most popular milk tea place in Chinatown, Kung Fu Tea is rarely empty. The chain started in New York and now has about six locations in the Houston area.
I recommend going to the Montrose location because there is no $10 card charge minimum, and the service is a bit nicer, as the Chinatown location can get crowded and busy.
The secret to KFT’s popularity is definitely their boba. They soak their boba in honey to make it the perfect combination of sweet and chewy. Instead of shaking and mixing their milk tea by hand, they have a machine that does it for them, so your order tastes the same every time. You can choose the sweetness and ice levels of your drink, as well.
Try: Oolong milk tea with tapioca, no sugar (The boba is sweet enough, and you can taste the tea better.)
Another chain (originating from Taiwan), Sharetea is Kung Fu Tea’s closest competition. Sharetea is a bit cheaper and has no cash minimum, so I always pop in here if I only have my credit card, and it’s only a two-minute walk away. They’re also known for their friendly service.
This shop is also a great place to study while you sip your drink.
Try: Okinawa milk tea (made with roasted brown sugar.)
Star Snow Ice
This establishment is near and dear to my heart, as I have been coming here since I was a child. They have moved locations since, but they still serve some of the best drinks in Chinatown at the same low prices.
They also serve huge portions of cheap food, which makes it a great lunch spot.
Try: Strawberry Shake Tapioca Pearl, or if you’re feeling adventurous, the Taro Tapioca Pearl (they blend real taros instead of powders like some other places).
Honey Bee Teahouse
A cash-only establishment near Sharetea, they also serve honey boba (hence the name). This place has the most Instagrammable drinks, and they serve pretty tasty snacks, too.
However, the one downside is that their drinks are very sweet, but the good news is that you can change the standard sugar level.
Try: Honey Milk Tea is a must, but the Taro Coconut with egg pudding is also amazing.
Located in the Kim Son plaza, Bambu is surrounded by milk tea places, but still manages to be packed during peak hours.
Their “drinks” are stuffed with toppings of your choice like basil seeds, longan, lychee, jackfruit, coconut meat and grass jelly so it is much more filling than your average milk tea.
Since it is mainly a Vietnamese dessert establishment, they’re not especially known for their boba—but it is a solid choice if you’re ever in that area and feeling like a compromise between a drink and a guilt-free snack. Their main tapioca is red, and has the perfect amount of chewiness.
Try: Mix and matching your favorite “toppings” to create the perfect customizable drink.
Right next door to Bambu, TEAholic is giving every other boba place a run for their money because of their “Toppings Lover” special. For just under $10, you get three carafes of milk tea, jasmine green milk tea, and thai tea with eight containers of toppings to mix and match. This order needs at least three people to finish (or two very ambitious boba lovers.)
They’re also giving Honey Bee some competition as the most “Instagrammable boba” with their lightbulb-shaped glasses and brightly-lit space.
Try: The Toppings Lover special, duh. (Tell the cashier you want the “Toppings Ta Bi Lu”.)
Honorary Mention: Gong Cha
Newcomer Gong Cha (cha is Chinese for tea) is what everyone is talking about right now. Every time a promising new tapioca place opens up, it’s suddenly all you hear about for weeks, and it hardly lives up to the hype.
However, Gong Cha is relying on their “Mustache Series,” or their milk foam teas. Your tea comes out with the foam sitting on top, and it does not mix with the drink. Gong Cha isn’t the first or only place to serve this, but it is their main draw.
It’s not better than any of the other places mentioned above, but it is definitely worth a try, especially now that lines have died down a little bit since their grand opening.
Try: Milk Foam Green Tea with white pearls (made out of seaweed instead of tapioca.)