“Wait, what IS boba/bubble tea???!”
Boba and bubble tea are used interchangeably. Boba is the tapioca pearls (v high in starch, and often soaked in sugar/sweeteners so def not healthy btw) and it’s often put into teas and sipped from those fat straws. I think it started in Taiwan with milk teas (teas with milk added). Personally, I don’t like milk teas bc they are often made with powder and make me wanna throw up (I’m lactose-intolerant, but I also hate the taste of dairy so even if it’s lactose-free whatever added, i still don’t like the taste). In the past 5 years, boba’s been a hot hit all over the US. As you’ll see, it’s especially peaked in areas near colleges and with a high Asian-population.
My history with boba
I tried bubble tea for the first time in China over 10 years ago. I hated it, I thought the boba was disgusting and squishy and weird, and I threw my drink away. Fast-forward a couple years when I was in Gainesville and was re-introduced to bubble tea at Lollicup. Lollicup (now TeaStori) is the older sibling of Bobacup in Tampa, and I was addicted and went there ALL. THE. TIME. It was the only bubble tea place in Gainesville for several years, and I was used to their texture of boba as the standard.
Now, I probably get bubble tea on average 4 times a week (it’s slowed down because of clinical rotations!). and I have for a couple years… You could say my boba pack year history is around 4 years 😉 tehe, ok, let’s end this medical-analogy and get to the real good shit.
“OK I GET IT!! GET TO THE ACTUAL BOBA LIST LIKE YOU PROMISED IN THE TITLE!!!”
Somewhat sorted by my faves to not-so-faves. Most boba places are by USF, aka the “boba mecca” (okay, fine, so I’m the only one who calls it that… WHATEVER!). Anyway, Click here to view my instagram story highlights which has all the deets! For those of you who would prefer a text-summary, continue reading… (Titles link to the Yelp page!)
- Sweetea Cafe (Lutz, FL) is the latest bubble tea place that opened, in 2019. I LOVE IT!!! The owners are so sweet (pun intended, tehe) and i love the store decor, tea taste, topping options, and FOOD! My go-to is the green thai iced tea which I discovered there, with fig jelly as the topping, half sweet with almond milk. They have incredible food, too. I usually get the bahn mi ($5) or pho ($10) and it’s SO GOOD! The only downside is that it’s out of the way for me but I actually find myself driving there a fair amount considering how far away it is from me… Definitely worth a visit!
- Moonlight Boba (Pinellas Park, St. Pete, FL) **CAVEAT! NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MOONLIGHT TEAHOUSE which also serves bubble tea and food, and is only 10 minutes away – see below for TEAHOUSE review** is also new (albeit not as new as Sweetea) and sooo good. The ppl working are super nice and helpful. I loved the tea flavor, and my noodles were SO GOOD. I’ve been here over a dozen times now, and every time it’s been consistently good. All their teas taste fresh and the food does, too.
- Kalesia Tea Lounge (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL) is my all-time biggest addiction. They have such an expansive space to study/work/chill, which is super important to me as I’m often looking to spend at least a couple hours studying while I’m at these places. EVERY tea i’ve gotten from them has tasted great. My favorite loose leaf teas are: coconut oolong, kyoto rose, and moroccan mint. My favorite specialty drinks are: dirty chai and strawberry matcha. I LOVE that i can get boba with my dirthy chai!! My only complaints about Kaleisia is thaty they now close at 8pm daily, and they don’t have a large variety of textures (only boba, chia, and poppers). Kaleisia also offers good food that’s mostly vegan! I like their $5.50 noodles with full on spicy sauce. Fun fact: “Kaleisia” is derived from “Kaleidoscope” and “Asia”! Pro tip: Check the calendar near the tea wall to see if there’s any special deals of the day. They also have “Teas of the Month” which are $0.50 cheaper than otherwise.
- Green Island Yogurt and Tea (Brandon, FL). I have rarely seen anyone come in here for yogurt… ha! Their tea is good and just as importantly, well-priced. The tapioca pearls are okay, nothing extraordinary. I also like their food a lot, I’ve had their pork and eel bowls a lot – they’re yummy, filling, and not too pricey (<$10).
- Right across the street from one of the entrance/exits of USF leads you almost directly to Bobacup (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL). I’d heard about Bobacup long before I’d been, since I was living in Gainesville when it opened and back then, it also served food! Now they don’t serve hot food: just french macarons & mochi ice cream (along with bubble tea, duh)! My favorite things about Bobacup are: super cute seasonal decorations (February brings out so many huge cute fluffy teddy bears!!!), including a swing that often changes with tea-puns (e.g. “Love you to infini-tea”)! My second favorite thing is how many options for toppings they have, including some seasonal flavored soaked boba (NOT poppers, ugh i hate poppers, but they also have poppers…) and they had heart, dolphin, and star-shaped jellies last year!! They also started having crystal jelly (aka agar jelly) which I’ve been obsessed with!! And mini honey boba, aloe vera, lychee, etc etc etc. My third favorite thing is that the loose leaf teas are $3 for a large!!!! 😀 I get that a lot, and when I want to treat myself, I get an avocado snow (capped with a candy that looks like the avocado pit!). Pro tip: They sell reuseable mason jars, and when you bring in the Bobacup mason jar, you get a free topping! They also do promos quite often on their instagram (@mybobacup), so be sure to follow them and keep an eye out and MENTION THE PROMO IN PERSON to get the discount!!
- Kung Fu Tea (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL) has some of my favorite drinks. I’ve been addicted to their wintermelon black tea since I discovered it years ago, and last year I discovered another addiction: logan jujube tea (it comes with longan pieces in the tea!). I get the wintermelon 30% sweet and logan 0% (it’s still p sweet bc they add syrup). I like red bean and/or boba as textures in them. The ppl who work there are all nice except this one guy who isn’t so nice, but I tolerate him bc i’m addicted… seriously. ADDICTING. I’ve tried other types of teas (like their WOW milk teas) at KFT and hated them. The food is amazing tho, i’ve tried the squid, chicken, calamari, fried shrimp… All really good and you get a ton of food!
- Kung Fu Tea also has a location in Riverview called Token Ramen and KFT that also has more food options (I haven’t had their food, just the tea and it’s the same as all KFT’s, they’re pretty standardized recipes across the world!)
- Naga Tea (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL) is open until 11pm, which makes it the second-latest bubble tea place in tampa (after The Boba House). Their teas taste great & the boba is okay most of the time. I recommend coming here to treat yourself bc it can get pricey, esp since I think the mix’n’match drinks are the best (try lychee and peach, or peach and wintermelon!) The boba is flavorless (not soaked in sweetener) so I don’t like it as much as sweetened… Lately I’ve been obsessed with the black oolong tea!
- Moonlight Teahouse is 10min away from Moonlight Boba, but they are NOT associated with each other at all!!! Moonlight Teahouse also serves tea and food, but imo Moonlight Boba is better in just about everything (service, food, tea)… and since they’re so close to each other… why bother coming here when a better option is available?
- Chewy Boba (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL) is behind Bobacup but in a diff plaza. It’s decently new, and offers 10% off to students. They also have macarons. The tea and macarons are okay, I’m not a huge fan but I know lots of people LOVE it… They have arcade games and sometimes lots of ppl gather to chill. I get their regular green tea with boba, 25% sweet.
- Quickly Boba (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL). I like the food (only had one bowl) but their teas are nothing special imo. I get the rose or some flavored normal tea. I think their location in Brandon tastes better for tea.
- Zukku Sushi inside Armature Works recently started serving milk tea!! I tried it on New Year’s Eve, and it was alright. Too sweet for my taste, but the tapioca pearls themselves weren’t horrible… Seeing as it’s basically the only boba place in downtown Tampa right now, if you are craving boba with nowhere else go to, it’s an option.
- Buttermilk Provisions (Wesley Chapel, FL) serves Kaleisia tea and boba, but the boba is horrible. I’d recommend you get tea without boba, or get a coffee or something. They’re really not known for their bubble tea, so stick with their cafe-stuff.
- Close by Bobacup is a boba place that’s open until midnight (latest in all the tampa bay area) called “The Boba House” (near USF – Temple Terrace, FL). The drinks are super sweet and boba isn’t too good, but I do like the artsy/alt vibes and if you’re craving boba right before midnight, there’s only one place to go… I think they closed intermittently but they seem to be open again…
Have I missed a bubble tea place in Tampa? Let me know in the comments below!
Also let me know if you agree/disagree and your favorite bubble tea places in town!!