(and milk tea. and anything that has to do with boba houses in general.) This is a personal review blog of boba/tapioca/milk tea/tea houses in my area. And I kind of started it so the next time someone asks me, "Where do I get good boba?" I can actually direct them to this blog. HA.
I’m pleasantly surprised there are more than 3 people following this blog, so hello to you all who I don’t actually know in real life! And apologies for the delay, I’ve actually been pretty proactive in getting boba, just not in writing about it…fail.
Images: 1. The sign for Cafe 70 Degrees. 2. My enormous beer tankard of boba mango milk. 3. To showcase how ginormous this cup is, I used my hand as a reference. The glass is twice as tall as my hand. 4. A bunch more glorious flavors of tea available for you to peruse at Cafe 70 Degrees.
Store: Cafe 70 Degrees (formerly Westsubs)
Location: Culver City
Drink: Boba mango milk
Located inside a plaza on Overland between Washington and Venice, Cafe 70 Degrees is a modern-looking little cafe with great food, super friendly staff, and most of all - WELL DONE BOBA.
I just have to explain - being a (now former) resident of Westwood, I was always kind of bummed that the closest boba store was actually part of a coffee shop, and therefore did not actually make good boba. Good boba, in my humble opinion, should be chewy rather than soft, but not so chewy that you feel like you’re actually chewing gum and your jaws start to ache. That is a fine line of chewiness to tread, and one that Cafe 70 Degrees handles quite adeptly.
First off, I do have to say that I was a little mislead by the menu, as my drink is listed under “Boba Iced Milk Tea,” but when I later asked what kind of tea was used in it, it turns out my mango milk had no tea in it. (The name of the drink itself is actually just “boba mango milk,” even on the menu, so I guess I should’ve noticed.) But that wasn’t really a deterrent in any sense - the mango milk tastes pretty great. If you’re a fan of mango, you’ll even appreciate that you occasionally get a whiff of mango-smell, which, on its own, borders on slightly pungent. But in this drink, the smell is light enough to just remind you that you’re drinking mango flavor mixed with non-dairy creamer (good news for the lactose intolerant! All of their milk drinks are made with non-dairy creamer, so no worries about an upset stomach, yay!!).
The aftertaste of the drink does get a little sugary, but it fades away after you’ve been sipping for a while (and judging by the size of the tankard in which your drink is served, you’ll probably be drinking for a long time. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll get the rest of your drink to go because you can’t finish it one sitting). The taste isn’t overwhelmingly mango, either, so it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking pureed fruit. The flavor is actually quite refreshing, and I’d say it falls on the lighter side of juice (not as sweet or as heavy, as mango juice sometimes can be).
Now for the boba! Cafe 70 Degrees does a great job of maintaining the chewiness of boba (what my Mandarin-speaking parents call the “q” of the boba - I may have to use that term from now on) without making it seem like the boba is made of Teflon. In some stores, in order to maintain chewiness, boba isn’t cooked for the proper amount of time, so it ends up being either inconsistently chewy or just way too hard. The boba here was consistently “q” throughout the drink and provided a great contrast to the light flavor of the actual drink.
Recommended: Yes! But only if you like mango, since, you know, the drink is completely mango-flavored. If not, get a regular milk tea, they’re also fabulous (and will also be reviewed eventually!).
Notes: Because this is located near a college town, it does get a little crowded at night. There’s enough seating indoors for about 20 people, and then outdoor seating for maybe another 15. There’s free wi-fi, and they also carry a pretty good collection of regular food (sandwiches, salads, soups, cakes).
Also, all of their drinks under “boba iced milk tea” include boba automatically, so if you don’t want boba, make sure to tell the waiters!
A note about taking your drink to go - FINISH IT THE DAY YOU GET IT. Boba doesn’t keep well in the fridge, and it’s always tempting to save your drink for some boba the next day, but your boba will harden in the refrigerator like Dr. Horrible shot it with his freeze ray. And it makes me sad whenever I do this and the Teflon boba just ruins the remainder of the drink (which is usually fine). So yeah. Don’t procrastinate on drinking your boba, no one benefits from that. (And I suppose if you simply must save some drink for the next day, just eat all the boba on the first day so there’s none left to coagulate in the freezer. Compromising works.)
For review no. 2, I actually didn’t go to a straight-up tea house (gasp!) but a little Taiwanese eatery/cafe instead!
Images: 1. The sign outside the restaurant. 2. & 3. My drink! In a simply packaged container. I don’t really know why their mascot is a drink with sunglasses. 4. Snacks consumed include the Sinbala sausage with satay sauce & fried fish cakes. 5. More snacks - spicy wontons.
Store: Sinbala (辛巴樂）
Drink: Milk Tea （奶茶）
Price: $2.25 (Disclaimer: this is from memory - I forgot to take a picture of the price, but it’s around this! /fail)
I’ve come to Sinbala a couple of times before, but I usually forgo getting any drinks because there are a lot of drink specialty places in the same plaza. However, I figured I should try a drink since they do have an extensive menu, and I was planning on eating a lot of salty Taiwanese snacks. I ordered a regular milk tea with no additional chewy things. (On their menu, the section of drinks with boba/jelly/pudding in them is actually labeled “Chewing Drinks.” My bestie and I had a good laugh at that.)
I figure the milk tea is a good benchmark drink to test how a place serves their tea fusion drinks, and Sinbala’s milk tea is a decent enough drink, especially considering its price is under $3. The tea flavor isn’t very strong - most of the aftertaste is sugary, and the word that comes to mind when describing this drink is that it’s very “round” - it tastes very full in comparison to just plain tea. (I’d also consider it a heavier drink than a milk tea that used green tea, because in my experience, red/black teas taste “fuller” - hence my description of the tea tasting “round”…if that makes any sense.) Instead of being light, this is a drink that is sweet enough to balance out salty snacks, which is exactly what I needed it to do. The sugar isn’t overbearing, but it’s definitely present. On the flip side, though, it did tend to make me thirstier the more I drank it; thank goodness Sinbala provides each table with their own pitcher of ice water!
Recommended?: If you’re here and you’re eating a salty meal, then sure, why not. If you’re ordering to go…I’d say you have better options in the plaza, like Bun Bun House (which I hope to write about very soon!). I guess the reality is that this milk tea isn’t particularly memorable. I enjoyed it, but I don’t miss the taste of it, and I’m definitely not craving it anytime soon. At least it was (relatively) inexpensive!
Notes: Since I took pictures of the snacks, brief comments on those:
- the Sinbala sausage with satay sauce is just “eh”. It literally is a Taiwanese sausage sliced into pieces with satay sauce over it - nothing particularly fancy or special. I felt a little cheated by it. (Around $1.85 for one sausage.)
- the fried fish cakes are cut into thin enough pieces that the slices are crispy, which I enjoyed. Most of the time, the fish cakes I get are more chewy than crispy. There were also some basil leaves thrown in for good measure. More memorable than the sausage, but not a runaway hit. (Around $5? Dammit, self, why didn’t you take pictures of the menu.)
- the spicy wontons were very good. Not the best I’ve had, but the best snack of the three, in my opinion. The spiciness is slightly numbing, and the skin of the wontons was on the thin side, which is easier to eat and also to soak up flavor with. There is peanut powder and chopped green onion mixed up in the sauce. (Also around $5.)
First drink write-up, and already I’m not following the title of this blog! Oops. But I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while, and after picking my dad up from the airport, I knew we’d get milk tea as a “welcome back to Southern California” pick-me-up for him, so I took advantage of the trip to take pictures for blogging!
Images: 1. The tea house’s menu and stamp card. After you buy 10 drinks, you get $2.85 off your next order! 2. The separation between the shaved frozen milk and green tea. 3. The top of the cup, bearing Half & Half’s logo (and the address of a different branch, haha). 4. The top 10 most popular drinks at the Monterey Park branch.
Store: Half & Half Tea Express （伴伴堂）
Location: Monterey Park
Drink: Iced Milk Tea Green Tea with added Pudding （綠茶伴奶加布丁）
I’ve been getting this particular drink at Half & Half for nearly a year, so I’m a little biased when it comes to recommending it. (And yes, I do recommend it!) The English translation of the drink’s name is slightly redundant, but what makes this drink different from a regular milk tea drink is that it doesn’t have regular ice. Instead, the milk they put in the tea is actually frozen beforehand and then shaved into little pieces that float on top of the tea (in my case, green tea. Other variants available are black tea, oolong tea, and oolong jade tea). So as you enjoy your drink, the melting ice doesn’t dilute your drink, but adds milk instead. Ingenious. It’s a good idea to shake your drink before you enjoy it because of the dichotomy, though!
The pudding is an additional $0.50, and comes in big sliced pieces along the bottom of the cup. It’s probably more similar to flan/custard pudding than traditional pudding in consistency, but not as sweet. (If you’ve ever had the Japanese “purin”, it’s basically that.)
The flavor of the green tea is strong but not super bitter. You do get a bit of tea aftertaste, but I prefer having strong teas in my milk tea mixtures. The drink is only very lightly sweetened (the pudding also adds some sugar) so it’s pretty mild in terms of how sweet it tastes. You can also adjust your order to have more or less sugar and ice, but I always get it standard.
Recommended?: YES. If you’re not a fan of the consistency of pudding, get it with honey boba or plain, it’s just a super refreshing drink that doesn’t bog you down with too much sugar.
I should get started on trying all of those top 10 drinks…good thing my stamp card is almost filled up!
Notes: Half & Half is cash only! But they can break large bills. Also, be prepared for a wait from anywhere between 10 - 30 minutes. This location is particularly busy, especially in the evenings and weekends. I went during the afternoon and still waited about 5 minutes to order and another 15 for my drinks. Also, the Monterey Park branch has outdoor and indoor seating, but it doesn’t really work for parties larger than 4/5 people. It’s called an “express” tea house for a reason - they really do try to get you in and then get you out.