I still remember feeling ripped from my favorite drink as I sipped my last straw full of bubble tea before leaving home for college in August 2019.
The mix of sweet milk, bitter tea and fluffy tapioca pearls brings me back to some of my earliest memories. My mom used to walk my sister and I to the little bubble tea cart up the street when I was barely old enough to order my own drink.
Poking a hole with my green straw through the stretchy plastic seal that kept my clumsy little hands from spilling the frozen drink felt like the initial treat of the treat I held between my palms.
Those first sips of bubble tea that I enjoyed at such a young age stayed with me throughout my childhood. The creamy, fluffy drink quickly became a bonding activity for my mom and I when my older sister left for college just before my freshman year of high school. We loved trying new boba shops that started popping up around Eugene, Oregon almost as fast as bubbles squeeze through straw.
While I knew the day would come when I would have to say goodbye to bubble tea in Eugene and hello to college in McMinnville, Oregon, without bubble tea, I still dreaded it. I didn’t want to give up on the fun activity my family had created around this drink.
Coming to college, I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy bubble tea like I did before. I didn’t have a car, was busy with lessons and swimming, and didn’t even know where the nearest bubble tea shop was.
However, by the time I was in my second year, I had explored nearby towns and discovered a few stores that satisfied my craving for a drink with fluffy bubbles inside.
But now, April 9, 2022, well on my way to completing my freshman year of college, I’ve decided today is the day to test my bubble tea limits. So I persuaded a few of my friends to join me on an adventure – visiting six different bubble tea shops in the greater Portland, Oregon area to find the best place to satisfy my craving.
Now, the popularity of this tea trend that has spread around the world over the past few decades means that drinks can be quite pricey, especially if you crave this treat more than once a week. However, to help make your bubble tea experience more affordable, I’ve compared the prices and quality of different drinks in the region to find the best deal and the tastiest bubble tea.
Tea & Tea
Our first stop today was Tea & Tea. This bubble tea shop took us 57 minutes to drive from McMinnville and was located in Beaverton, Oregon in a newly developed apartment and retail complex.
When I asked the baristas at Tea & Tea what their most popular drink was, they suggested I try their Tiger Boba. This drink was $6.25, which was the most expensive of the drinks sampled that day. However, the amount of tea and toppings I was served more than made up for the price.
The Tiger Boba consisted of brown sugar stripes covering the inside of the cup, creating the effect of tiger stripes. Instead of just having the regular straw-sized boba, the drink also included a mini boba. I decided that this drink deserved a 7.5/10 grade only because the drink style does not include tea, just brown sugar syrup and milk.
Bubble N Tea
Our next stop was Bubble N Tea, which takes just under an hour to drive from Linfield. Before stopping at the boba shop, I already knew from my research that the cups used by this store were different from any other bubble tea cups I had seen. They looked almost more like bowls than cups. However, I soon realized that I didn’t prefer them to the classic tall mugs I’m used to.
My hand got so cold from the drink, and it couldn’t escape to a warmer section of the cup until I was almost done. The drink itself was okay; I had decided to have my favorite bubble tea drink – a jasmine milk tea with boba – but it was nothing special. In fact, I made a better version of the drink in my own college apartment.
This jasmine milk tea with boba is only $5, making it the cheapest drink of the day. I decided to rate this drink a 6/10 because it was good, but nothing special. Also, the straw was twice as high as it should have been for the chunky character of the cup, which made it somewhat difficult to drink from.
Milk + T
Then we made our last Beaverton stop at Milk + T before heading to the shops in town. I had tried their bubble tea about a year ago but decided to add it to my list anyway due to the popularity of Milk + T. This boba shop is about 56 minutes from campus .
I decided to try the piglet strawberry coconut milk tea with boba, rainbow jelly and condensed milk. The piglet milk tea tasted like a fancy version of strawberry milk but with coconut milk. This drink was only $5.50, even with all the extra toppings.
Milk + T operated much like a frozen yogurt shop where customers could put their own toppings in the cup and then baristas would blend the drink with the tea for you. However, Milk+T had to stop doing this due to COVID and has yet to add this feature.
Another advantage of this boba shop is that it allows customers to choose a reusable glass jar for their drink instead of a plastic cup. Overall, I decided to rate this drink a 8/10.
Next, we drove to downtown Portland to try Tea Social’s original milk tea with boba. This drink was also $5.50, but definitely not worth the price.
Before even getting into the drink, the place was cute but hard to get to. It’s on 23rd Street right next to the original Salt & Straw, so if you’ve ever gone for ice cream there, you know how hard it is to find parking in that area. It is also about an hour and 5 minutes from Linfield.
The tea tasted like a burnt protein bar and had a marshmallow and bark aftertaste. The boba disintegrated in my mouth and stuck to my tongue. Overall I gave this tea a 2/10 note – I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that unique flavor palate.
After bubble tea number four of the day, I was craving a fruity tea. Royal Tea happened to be the next stop of the day and I ordered their lemongrass orange peach tea with boba for $6.50. This drink was the most expensive of the bunch, but it was served in a big mug with real pieces of fresh fruit inside.
This fruit tea tasted like a sip of summer, and the brown sugar syrup from the boba coated my teeth like a warm embrace. This store was located 1 hour and 9 minutes from campus, and although it is a little further than some of the others I visited today, I would still give it a 8.5/10 global mark.
Finally, it was time to do our last stop on the boba outing: Tea Bar.
Tea Bar’s Tiffany blue logo always catches my eye when I search online for a new boba shop to try, but it never made it to my list of places to visit in a day. At least not before today.
Windows stretched from corner to corner of the shop, and pale wood stools lined the tables that looked out onto the cherry blossom-lined street.
I decided to ask the barista what was the most popular drink they offered, and she recommended that I try their vanilla rose milk tea with boba. Something fun about Tea Bar is that you can choose to sip your shop tea from a glass jar or have it accompanied by a bamboo boba straw.
The Tea Bar is 1 hour and 9 minutes from Linfield, but the $5.50 drink was well worth the trip. The perfect combination of sweet warm vanilla and soft floral rose paired with fluffy boba satisfied my boba addiction for at least a week. This drink easily won the competition among the six bubble tea drinks because I gave it a 10/10 note without any hesitation.
The final consensus?
If you too are a bubble tea addict or just looking for a fun place to try something new on the weekend, I’ve found the perfect place to get away from McMinnville for a bit and try a delicious new drink. .
If you’re looking for a bubble tea shop a bit closer to campus and don’t want to deal with potential Portland traffic, then Tea & Tea is calling. The extensive menu and friendly environment invite students like you and me to take a break from studying and embark on a mini road trip to get boba with your friends.
However, if you are up for a little more adventure, I encourage you to pack your backpack with your laptop and maybe a camera and take some time to experience the tea and the atmosphere of the Tea Bar . But be sure to try the Vanilla Rose milk tea with boba like I did!