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10 Chains That Serve the Best Bubble Tea

Whether you’re a boba fanatic or a bubble tea beginner, head to these top purveyors.
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Bubble tea, or boba tea, is a tea drink with tapioca pearls that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. Since its inception, boba has swept across the world, with hundreds of brands and thousands of shops.

Today, the bubble tea industry is estimated to be valued at $3 billion, according to Allied Market Research. Bubble tea now incorporates a variety of customizable options, with toppings that include jellies, taro balls, and foams, and you'll find milk teas, too. With so many brands and flavor combinations, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Whether you're a boba fanatic or a bubble tea beginner, you'll want to put these chains serving the best bubble teas on your must-try list.

7 Leaves Cafe

7 Leaves boba tea
7 Leaves Cafe

7 Leaves Cafe was started as a passion project in 2011 by a group of friends in Orange County, Calif. The founders came from the traditional Asian-American walks of life (banking, law, sales, engineering). After experimenting with different combinations of tea leaves and techniques, they created a signature 7 Leaves blend of various teas and herbs.

Today, there are 43 locations and counting in California, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas. Signature drinks include the award-winning Sea Cream Tea Jasmine, brewed from jasmine tea blended with real jasmine petals, and its assortment of Thai milk teas. Along with bubble tea, 7 Leaves Cafe also serves Vietnamese coffee and macarons made in-house.

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Tapioca Express

tapioca express bubble tea
Tapioca Express

As one of the earliest purveyors of bubble tea in America, the first Tapioca Express was opened by Taiwanese immigrants in California's San Gabriel Valley in 1999. Rapid expansion ensued, and there are now 40 locations across California, Washington, and Virginia. Some of its most popular drinks are taro milk tea, Thai tea, and Strawberry Snow Bubble.

Along with milk teas, bubble teas, and coffee, the chain serves slushies (some of which incorporate tea), Snow Bubbles (which are finely blended creamy drinks with milk or soy), and yogurt Frosts. It also serves Taiwanese street snacks such as fried potstickers and crispy chicken.

Boba Guys

boba guys
Skye P./ Yelp

Another homegrown bubble tea chain born out of a corporate worker's passion project, Boba Guys started in 2011 as a series of pop-ups in the Mission District of San Francisco, led by friends and former coworkers Bin Chen and Andrew Chau. The two opened the first storefront in 2013. There are currently more than 20 locations around California and New York City.

The chain takes an artisanal approach, sourcing all its products from local purveyors, producing its tapioca balls in a U.S. factory, and making its teas in small batches. It also offers a DIY Boba Kit with all the ingredients and online tutorials for its signature boba drinks so that you can make them at home.

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Sharetea boba tea
Sharetea USA/Facebook

Former film and TV director Cheng Kai-Lung left the Taiwanese movie industry to become a street tea vendor in 1992. Today, Sharetea has more than 300 locations across 13 countries. The brand only uses high-quality tea leaves and no artificial flavors to create its minimalist recipes. It offers a variety of bases, including milk tea and a non-alcoholic "tea mojito," that you can customize with toppings. While the chain focuses on doing just a few types of tea extremely well, it also has rotating seasonal offerings that get more creative, such as 2024's current Fluffy Fantasy series topped with nutty, salty popcorn Creama.


teaspoon bubble tea

The gorgeously crafted drinks from California-born boba chain Teaspoon are almost too pretty to slurp up. Founder Amy Lai had a longstanding dream of opening a boba shop but went the corporate route for a few years before deciding to embark on the journey. There are now 42 locations across California, Georgia, and Texas, with more states in the works.

Teaspoon stands out through its aesthetic appeal and creative flavor concepts, melding Western desserts with boba tea. Each drink is a meticulously layered work of art that plays with color, texture, and consistency. For example, in the classic Black Sugar Assam, shiny black sugar boba pearls appear to erupt from flowing veins of creamy, rich Assam black tea like the earth's crust above the lava. Along with tea drinks, the chain also serves coffee and sweets.

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The Alley

the alley bubble tea
Uber Eats

As the founder, Taiwanese graphic designer Mao-ting Chiu conceptualized The Alley to be highly Instagrammable. Everything from the distinctive logo of a majestic deer to the bright, photogenic interiors of the stores is designed to be photographed and shared on social media. Even the rounder, shorter shape of its bubble tea cups—designed to fit nicely in a photo frame—are camera-friendly.

However, The Alley didn't get to 450 locations worldwide in more than 18 countries on aesthetics alone. The chain emphasizes high-quality boba pearls and tea. Its Deerioca (sugar tapioca pearls) are made from scratch, and all the ingredients (other than fresh fruits) are imported from Taiwan, including Taiwanese brown cane sugar, as the company doesn't use artificial sweeteners.

Tiger Sugar

tiger sugar bubble tea
Tiger Sugar

Since coming onto the boba scene in Taiwan in 2017, Tiger Sugar has rapidly expanded internationally and now has hundreds of locations across Asia and the U.S. The cult brand specializes in black sugar syrup-infused drinks, such as its popular black sugar milk tea with boba and cream. Its proprietary eight-hour method of cooking syrups and tapioca pearls blends with high-quality milk teas for drinks that satisfy your sweet tooth but aren't overly sugary. Its black sugar boba pearls are also a standout.

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Kung Fu Tea

kung fu tea bubble tea
Uber Eats

Kung Fu Tea is one of the most ubiquitous bubble tea brands in the U.S., with 350-plus locations across 38 states. The Queens, N.Y.-born brand claims on its website to apply the values of 3T Kung Fu to its tea; "selecting the best tea leaves, brewing the tea at the right temperature, and steeping the tea for the perfect amount of time."

It offers eight types of drink bases (as well as rotating seasonal offerings), such as milk tea, slush, classic, and espresso, which you can customize with a variety of toppings. According to one Kung Fu Tea employee's blog, popular combinations include the Taro Slush, made with real taro and topped with egg pudding or boba, and the Oreo Wow.

Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea

yi fang taiwan bubble tea
Yi Fang Taiwan / Facebook

Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea is another Taiwanese bubble tea chain that achieved world domination in a short time. More than 1,000 shops have opened worldwide since its 2016 debut. The jam used in the brand's signature fruit drink comes from a family recipe with an interesting history.

The founder's grandmother (after whom the brand is named) had married a pineapple farmer, and she began making pineapple jam with all the extra pineapple he would bring home. As the name implies, the chain's bestseller is the fruit tea, but according to an online boba ranker, the Brown Sugar Pearl Tea Latte and Winter Melon are also very popular.

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Happy Lemon

happy lemon bubble tea
Happy Lemon

Launched in 2006 by Taiwanese tea culture company Yumm-Town Group, Happy Lemon claims to be "the first in the world to invent the Rock Salt Cheese Tea," although these claims have been disputed. Rock salt cheese tea consists of a milk tea layered with a creamy, whipped milk foam that's liberally sprinkled with salt.

The chain has more than 1,000 locations worldwide, and more than 100 in the U.S. Popular picks include jasmine green tea with salted cheese, ube milk tea with taro balls, and the mango matcha smoothie. Along with its salted cheese series and classic bubble tea options, the chain offers unique, customizable bubble waffles with boba pressed inside.

Clara Wang
Clara Wang is a freelance writer based in Austin, TX who mostly muses about food, culture, sex, and the unbearable lightness of being a 5’0” Yellow girl quicker on her feet than Borat’s lawyers. Read more about Clara
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