As a self-proclaimed boba addict, I have explored various bubble tea joints. Perhaps it is an unpopular opinion, but Akihi does not quite hit the spot for me. However, I'll give credit where credit is due — its chicken bites are an absolute delight. It is easy to fall into the routine of sticking to the same campus boba spots since there are only so many options. But, thankfully, just a couple of miles off campus, a plethora of boba havens await.

When escaping the campus, there are many delicious shops without putting a dent in your wallet. Let's face it; paying more than $5 for a cup of boba feels a tad excessive. This review focuses on smaller, local businesses catering to a variety of budgets. Each establishment is evaluated based on aesthetics and the quality of its drinks, providing fellow boba enthusiasts with guidance for their next essential sip.

1. Cafe Zio

Kelly Tang

Cafe Zio, my go-to spot, has two locations — Edison and East Brunswick. With an average cost of $4-$5, it consistently offers affordable and tasty treats. The East Brunswick location stands out for its charming, spacious, and minimalistic ambiance. The vibes are light and fun, complemented by K-Pop tunes. Despite being a cafe, seating options include high tables and a large bench.

Now, for the important part — the drinks. During my visit, I tried both the white peach mango green tea with mango and tapioca and the Thai tea with tapioca. Opting for no additional sugar and less ice to emphasize the natural tea flavors, the white peach mango green tea was a refreshing delight, avoiding excessive sweetness and earning an 8/10. The Thai tea, also rated 8/10, impressed as a lactose-intolerant-friendly option with customizable sugar levels and milk. The chewy tapioca added a positive touch to both drinks. Considering the price, quality, and inviting environment, Cafe Zio received an overall rating of 8.5/10.

2. What's The Tea

Kelly Tang

In Edison, there is a charming spot known as "What's the Tea?" where drinks are priced between $5-$6. The shop's name adds a touch of cuteness to the experience. Embracing a minimalistic aesthetic, it exudes a calm vibe, complemented by quirky chairs that contribute to the overall ambiance. The staff was friendly and readily offered me drink recommendations. The first drink, a personal customization, was the dragon fruit green tea with passion fruit pearls. Taking recommendations, I decided to try the popular choice, dirty brown sugar milk tea with tapioca. I found the dragon fruit green tea to have a slightly tart yet refreshing taste, with the popping pearls balancing out the drink with bursts of sweetness, resulting in a 7.5/10 rating. The dirty brown sugar milk tea with tapioca also scored a 7.5/10. Despite being slightly milky, given that it's a milk tea, the balance of firmness, chewiness, and sweetness in the tapioca made this drink thoroughly enjoyable. Overall, "What's the Tea?" earns a solid 7.5/10, making it a noteworthy addition to the boba scene in Edison.

3. Modern China Tea Shop

Kelly Tang

If you are in the mood to indulge a little, Modern China Tea Shop is an excellent choice, even if it leans towards a higher average cost of $7-$8. The quality of ingredients justifies the expense. Beyond the drinks, the impeccable aesthetic of the shop is a standout feature. While it may seem small from the outside, a designated seating area with floral elements ties the room together, creating a clean and relaxing atmosphere, earning the ambiance a solid 8.5/10. During this visit, I chose a classic taro milk tea and the roselle strawberry lemon tea with popping passion fruit pearls. Although the fruit tea was not to my personal liking due to its tartness and potency, it contained real fruits, earning it a reasonable 6.5/10. On the other hand, the taro milk tea with tapioca was a delightful experience, being both filling and well-balanced. A tip for optimal flavor is to shake and stir it well before drinking, as the shop uses real taro paste to line the cup. With taro chunks adding texture and a not-too-sweet profile, this drink earned a 7.5/10. Overall, both beverages were refreshing, and the tapioca was cooked to perfection, making Modern China Tea Shop a worthwhile splurge for those seeking a premium boba experience.

4. Cozy Tea Loft

Kelly Tang

For those seeking a calm study spot with an extensive menu of drink customizations, including unique options from cheesy foam to Oreo slushes, Cozy Tea Loft is the go-to destination. There are plenty of comfy seats and tables, but the giant boba statue truly steals the show in terms of ambiance. Priced at $7-$8, Cozy Tea Loft is one of the more expensive options on this list, but with an experience worth every penny. Opting for the torched creme brûlée milk tea as my first choice, I found the milk tea itself to be an 8/10 — finding a balance between creaminess and sweetness. However, it was the torched creme brûlée topping that enhanced the experience with its shell-like top. With the addition of tapioca, the overall rating reached 8/10, maintaining a good balance of chewiness and sweetness. For the second drink, I ordered a lavender green tea with creme brûlée foam. Despite the mix of flavors, the potent lavender green tea dominated the drink. The creme brûlée foam, less powerful than the torched topping, added the perfect touch of sweetness to the herbal tea. With an overall rating of 8.5/10, Cozy Tea Loft proves to be a delightful treat, making it a definite revisit on the day of my next direct deposit.

5. Boba Tea Time

Kelly Tang

Exploring the Metuchen area, you will find Boba Tea Time on the charming main street. Trendy and photogenic, the shop features a delightful green floral wall and a photo booth, providing the perfect opportunity for pictures during your visit. With ample seating and free board games, it is an inviting spot to enjoy your drink. I personally customized a mango grapefruit jasmine green tea and a taro milk tea, both with tapioca pearls. The mango grapefruit jasmine green tea was a strong contender with an 8/10 rating, delivering a refreshing, fruity, and flavorful experience. The tapioca pearls earned a perfect 10/10 for the ideal mix of chewiness and sweetness. The taro milk tea, not too sweet and lactose-intolerant-friendly, received a 7.5/10, providing satisfying sweetness without being overly filling. Boba Tea Time, with an overall rating of 8.5/10, is arguably a bit pricier at $6-$7, but its one-size servings are worth every penny, providing an enjoyable experience, especially considering the quality and customization options.

When the chance arises to venture beyond campus for some boba, all of these spots are solid options. Cafe Zio stands out because of its pocket-friendly nature and consistent delivery. Meanwhile, "What's the Tea?" in Edison offers an equally budget-friendly experience with cute surroundings and tasty drinks. Modern China Tea Shop, a bit fancier, impresses with its quality without sacrificing affordability. On the pricier side, Cozy Tea Loft boasts a calm atmosphere that's perfect for studying and innovative drinks that justify the expense. And if you happen to stroll down Metuchen's Main Street, Boba Tea Time is the perfect trendy spot to fix a sugar craving. Each spot adds its unique flavor to the boba scene, creating an enjoyable and tasty adventure.