Once upon a time, I was a part-time “bobarista” at Pokebowl Station  in my college town of Gainesville, Florida. For almost two years, I would whip up classics like thai tea and some experimental treats like bubble waffles and smoothies on the side. I became accustomed to the soft rings of the cash register, the array of fish, sauces, and vegetables for our pokebowls, and the alluring sugary scent of boba whenever we boiled a fresh batch. 

After shaking, stirring, and pouring out boba drinks, my love for its various flavors and creations has only grown. I wanted to not only share my recommendations, but also show how trying out new flavors can lead to your new favorite drink. Although my time as a “bobarista” has come to an end, my visits to the boba shop as a customer has definitely not. It was truly a time of trials and tribulations, but I now come to you with recommendations as someone that has been on the other side of the ordering register!

Boba Beginners

Boba originated in Taiwan during the 1980s and is made by tapioca starch. It’s essentially boiled and poured onto a brown sugar syrup mix that gives it sweetness and its signature dark brown color. Boba can be typically spotted in types of tea drinks with a milk base, fruit base, yogurt base, or more. It can even be in coffee!

For the boba novices, there are four drinks that I heard the most when taking boba orders: thai tea, taro tea, bubble milk tea, and honey green tea.

Jeannie Kwun

Thai tea and taro tea are truly the parrots of boba drinks — their vibrant colors make it fun to drink and it makes it all the better for pictures too! Thai tea is adored by caffeine-lovers, as it consists of strong black tea with hints of spices such as star anise and cardamom. It’s a persimmon-orange hue and can be added with a dollop of condensed milk for sweetness.

Taro tea is a creation of taro powder, non-dairy creamer, and a fresh cup of tea (in our case, it was green tea). I’m a sucker for the color purple, so naturally I see why many would be drawn to the lavender goodness that is taro tea. Since taro is a root vegetable, it gives this drink a slightly earthy but soothing sweetness that makes it a classic drink to order when starting out.

You also can’t go wrong with bubble milk tea! Like the name suggests, it is pretty much the “foundational” boba tea drink. It is black tea with a milky sweet taste that pairs well with the chewy texture of tapioca boba.

Lastly for the first timers, a classic tea that is lighter and has a kick of refreshment is honey green tea. I believe that a dash of sweetness — whether it’s a little honey or some fruit syrup — added to green tea guarantees a great afternoon. This drink is popular for those that want a boba drink sans cream or milkiness. If you want to add some more unique flavor to this drink, try to find a boba shop that offers flavored boba! I’m drawn to matcha boba in lighter drinks such as honey green tea, as it gives the drink a colorful twist too!

Boba Fanatics

For those that want a little bit more adventure, I’ve got a few picks for you.

Jeannie Kwun

Hear me out…I know sesame sounds like an odd ingredient to put in a drink, but it truly is one to try if you have neared the end of the boba classics. I tried a black sesame latte boba drink (left in the picture) for the first time in the Canal Street Market location of Boba Guys in New York City. Tragically, all three locations of Boba Guys in New York City have closed, but the sesame boba drink lives on in various boba shop locations throughout the United States. This drink sports a misty grey hue and gifts you with a toasted, creamy, and soothing flavor that is subtly sweet. This drink may not be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended) because the sesame is truly the star of the flavor. Just like how soy milk has its fans and foes, sesame may be favored by some and not for others. But you’ll never know until you try.

If you are an avid boba drinker, you’ve probably heard of brown sugar boba drinks. These gems are concoctions of chilled fresh milk and warm brown sugar resting at the bottom, coating the boba in syrupy goodness. This is a go-to if you’re looking to briefly step away from your usual boba order and are craving a drink that’s not fruity or nutty. But remember to mix! That’s the key to beautifully blending together the richness of the brown sugar syrup and the smooth freshness of the milk.

Jeannie Kwun

Another drink to venture is one with cheese foam! This fluffy addition to any boba drink often elicits fear in those that have never tried it before, but is loved by boba drinkers worldwide. Don’t worry, it’s not a chunk of cheese on your drink! I was able to witness my manager at Pokebowl Station meticulously create this whipped topping a couple of times, which he measured and whisked to a foamy perfection that tastes like cream cheese. It’s a well-blended mix of salty and sweet, and it’s light enough to sip along with your drink and boba. You can leave it floating at the top or stir it in — either way the layers of foam, tea, and boba together are immaculate.