The Best Boba in San Francisco
Are you in the mood for some good bubble tea in SF? Everyone says that Boba Guys is the place to go, but it’s fun to mix things up every once in awhile.
I’ve checked out 8 boba shops around the city and ranked them according to the quality of their product and the atmosphere of their store. I tried to order a classic black tea with dairy milk, 50% sweetness, and regular boba unless I was recommended something else. This way, I was able to compare apples to apples while still letting each shop put their best foot forward.
By Me Boba Tea — Chinatown
Visited April 12th, 2022
Opens at 10:30am
My Order: A1 — The original Taiwan milk tea (Large) + boba + Cheese Foam
Price: $7.25 ($5 + $0.75 for boba+ $1.5 for cheese foam)
Thoughts on the Boba: The tea is nice. They didn’t ask me for a sweetness level which I regret not asking for myself. If what they gave me is 100% sweetness, then I would probably prefer a 75% or 50% sweetness. The boba are nice- soft with a little chew. They gave me a lot of boba too which is nice to see. The cheese foam is also on the sweet side and turns this very much into a dessert. Compared to the salted cheese foam at Little Sweet on Geary, this cheese foam is a tad thinner, sweeter, and almost has a cake batter flavor.
The atmosphere: Tucked away in an alley of Chinatown, By Me Boba Tea has a nice location that is a little off the beaten path. The staff is nice. There are places to sit inside with outlets and wifi in case you want to sit down and get some work done. They do have some weird ASMR-esc cooking video playing on the TV for the tourists to look at, and there are a lot of them. This seems to be a place where ~80% of the clientele are tourist groups with parents buying their kids boba.
Overall: Next time I’m in Chinatown, I’ll come back to try a drink with 50% sweetness and no cheese foam. I wouldn’t make the trip specifically to come here.
Rating: 7.2/10 with hopes that it will be higher next time.
Tea and Others
Visited April 21st, 2022
Opens at 12pm noon
My order: Large black milk tea with boba (Fresh milk, regular ice, 75% sweetness)
Price: $6.75 ($6 for tea and $0.75 for the boba)
Thoughts on the boba: The tea is very nice and smooth. It’s a little weak, so you won’t be overpowered with any flavors, and as you drink it (and the ice melts) that becomes even more apparent. I usually order 50% sweetness, but they made a point to recommend 75% sweetness for this drink on the menu, so I went ahead and ordered that. To my surprise, it wasn’t very sweet and I thought it actually tasted very similar to most 50% sweetness teas that I’ve had. The boba had a nice amount of bite, but I felt like some of them were a little too stiff or underdone. I went around 1pm, so I don’t think you can say that they didn’t have enough time to fully finish cooking them. Given that I ordered a large, I felt like they could have given me a little more boba, but that’s ok. Their cups are also a bit weird in that I felt like I couldn’t get enough boba in each sip… maybe that’s just me though. I think the standard size costs $5 which sounds like a good deal, but their large is what other shops consider a standard size, so the cost ends up evening out.
The atmosphere: Tea and others is a nice little shop in between a few nice parks: Alamo Square, The panhandle of Golden Gate Park, and Buena Vista. I took mine to Alamo square which was a short walk away. The staff were nice and my drink came within a few minutes of ordering which is always appreciated. Due to covid, there was no place to sit and the bathrooms were not available, but I could imagine a few 2-person tables and some stools being available when they get back to normal. There are also a few food spots around with outdoor seating so you could easily take your drink to one of those places.
Overall: I walked past Boba Guys (Nopa location) on the way to Tea and Others, so next time I walk this way I will probably check that out just to see how that compares. I don’t think Tea and Others is bad, but it doesn’t have anything that makes it special. Tea and Others makes a good bubble tea, not a great one.
Little Sweet — Inner Richmond
Visited April 13th, 2022
Opens at 11am
My Order: Creamy High Mountain Tea with Boba 50% Sweetness
Price: $5.85 ($5.25 + $0.60 for boba)
Thoughts on Boba: If you like salted cheese foam, come here. If you like great boba, come here. If you are near this shop, come here. I’ve said this in other Little Sweet reviews and I’ll say it again- Little Sweet knows what they are doing and they make a mean bubble tea. The Creamy High Mountain Tea comes with the Salted Cheese Foam already, so you don’t need to pay extra for it. Little Sweet’s salted cheese foam is simple, but delicious. It’s a little tangy, and little sweet, and very creamy. Compared to Tea Hut’s Cheese Cream, this is a bit more stiff and has a slightly lighter flavor. It’s not overly sweet and still makes for a refreshing drink. It’s not ver dessert-like as some cheese foam/creams can be. The tea is simply delicious as well. I don’t have much else to say there… you will enjoy it. The boba are cooked very well and you can trust this to be the case when you visit. I’ve been to this location many times and I can personally say that this shop is consistent with every part of their product.
The Atmosphere: The inside is basic and their covid setup is optimized for pick-up customers. You can order ahead, or you can order in when you arrive via your phone or the kiosk inside. This location seems to always be at least mildly busy, so you can expect to wait around 5 minutes on average if you order there. The staff are very nice and I’m sure they would answer any questions you have. One of the best parts about this location is that the have outdoor seating which is a great for sitting down and enjoying your boba. The only downside is that the benches/tables are not very comfortable, so keep that in mind, but if you don’t want to sit down, don’t worry! Geary St. is full of restaurants so you could always pop into one of those for a snack. You could also walk a couple blocks to Rossi park to enjoy your boba there.
Overall: This is my “home course” of boba shops (my most frequented boba shop), so I may be biased here, but I go here often for a reason. There are many other shops in the area that I could choose instead, but this Little Sweet just makes fantastic Boba! Without knowing transportation options or time constraints, I would blindly recommend this Little Sweet to anyone looking for a good cup of bubble tea. It’s delicious, high quality, and you always count on it.
Little Sweet — Japantown
Visited April 17th, 2022
Opens at 1pm
My Order: Black Sugar Fresh Milk w/ Boba
Price: $7.35 ($6.75 + $0.60 for boba)
Thoughts on Boba: The boba looks just like the picture — a work of art. This was my first time having a black sugar boba, so I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that black sugar tastes a lot like molasses (which is a good thing in this case). The black sugar’s taste is definitely the star of the show and overpowers most (if not, all) of the tea’s flavor so I can’t say much about how the tea tastes. Looking back, I’m not sure if boba is already included with this drink since it’s part of the title, so it might be worth asking about that to avoid overpaying. Either way, the boba was cooked very well- the perfect “Al dente” which is not as common as you’d think amongst other boba shops. Interestingly, my drink seemed to have 2 different types of boba in it: about 25% normal boba and 75% mini boba. I’m not sure if this is how they always do it, but it was cool nonetheless and I liked the change of pace. This drink is definitely on the sweeter side, so only order it if you are in the mood for something like that.
The Atmosphere: This little sweet is actually in the same building as K-Box karaoke (and I think they are owned by the same people). There is no place to sit and you basically just wait outside while you drink is being made. I don’t think this is a huge problem though since you are right in the middle of Japantown and Fillmore, so you can always take your drink on the go, or sit down in the Japantown Peace Plaza which is right next to Little Sweet. The staff are nice and helpful so you can feel comfortable asking for a recommendation. They are also pretty quick, so you shouldn’t be waiting long for your drink unless they are really busy.
Overall: I’ve been to the Laurel Heights/Richmond Little Sweet as well, and this visit confirms my suspicions- Little Sweet is onto something here. They deliver delicious drinks and they are worth every penny. Even if you aren’t in the mood for an overly sweet drink, you can still come to this Little Sweet location (or any of the other ones) to find a drink that you would like. I’m sure the staff will help you make a great decision. This is definitely one of my favorite boba shops in SF.
Tea Hut — Pacific Heights/Anza Vista
Visited April 15th, 2022
Opens at 11am
My Order: Black Milk Tea, 24Oz, light ice, 50% sweet, boba, Cheese Cream.
Price: $7.40 ($5.75 + $0.65 boba + $1.00 cheese cream)
Thoughts on Boba: This is a well made boba and everything goes well together. The tea was very smooth and brightly flavored, the boba was cooked well (although a little on the overdone side), and the cheese cream was excellent. I want to emphasize how good the cheese cream was- cheese cream is intrinsically a sweet, dessert-like topping, but Tea Hut does it in such a way that doesn’t overpower the drink or turn it into a candy bar. Compared to the Little Sweet salted cheese foam, Tea Hut’s cheese cream is a bit less firm and almost like a custard. If you’ve never had cheese cream/foam on your boba before, this is a great place to try it. Tea Hut is the first boba shop that I’ve been to that offers a “Light Ice” option for no extra charge, and since I’ve always wondered how that would be, I tried it here. Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend it. This was completely my mistake and I wouldn’t do it again. Warm boba just isn’t as good as slightly chilled boba.
The Atmosphere: I don’t remember if there was seating in the shop or not, but I don’t think it matters because of the covid restrictions. The shop was pretty small as well, so I wouldn’t go there to sit down anyways. The staff was nice and pretty fast, which is always great if you are in a rush. The pastry shop “B Patisserie” is right next door, so you could definitely grab a little snack and some boba from Tea Hut, then walk to a nearby park like Lafayette or Alta Plaza. Both are walking distance away and are awesome places to hang out.
Overall: If you are walking to Tea Hut, you will notice that the closer you get to it, the more people you will see with Tea Hut cups in their hand. This is no coincidence- Tea Hut makes a great cup of boba and I would highly recommend it. If you are considering a few different boba shops, Tea Hut is worth the extra travel time.
Mr. and Mrs. Tea House — Clement St.
Visited April 19th, 2022
Opens at 11:30am (Closed on Mondays)
My Order: High Mountain Oolong Tea Fresh Milk with Boba (50% sweetness)
Price: $4.00 ($3.50 + $0.50 boba)
Thoughts on Boba: This is an unusually cheap boba and that plays a factor here. Everything is solid here — the tea is tasty and the boba has good texture. When the rest of SF sells boba sells $6 boba, you really can’t complain about anything that Mr. and Mrs. Tea House is doing and if you are exploring Clement St., this is a great place to stop. It’s worth noting that they have a larger size as well, which is huge compared to any other boba in the city. You could easily share with one other person, and you could even get one as a group of 3–4 if you all just wanted a quick boba stop.
The Atmosphere: This is a basic shop that serves solid boba for a great price. There is nothing fancy going on here and I like it. If I remember correctly, there are a couple places to sit near a small ledge on the wall, but that’s it. Mr. and Mrs. Tea House is located in the heart of Clement St. (some call this area “SF’s second Chinatown”). There is a lot of great food to eat and there are some interesting shops to pop into all around, so I would come to this area regardless. If you happen to be in the mood for some boba while you are here, you know where to go.
Overall: Mr. and Mrs. Tea house is a no-frill boba shop that does one thing well- make bubble tea. There are no neon signs or aesthetic subway tiles, and that’s perfectly fine. At these prices, you can’t find a better way to elevate your Clement St. experience.
Boba Guys — Fillmore
Visited April 22nd, 2022
Opens at 11am
My Order: Large Oolong Tea with Boba (75% sweetness)
Price: $6.90( $6.25 + $0.65 for boba)
Boba review: If you are visiting SF and you can only make 1 boba stop, then you should come to Boba guys. It’s similar to visiting the original Starbucks in Seattle- I don’t know if it’s the best in the city, but that really isn’t the point. Don’t be mistaken though, the Boba Guys does a really nice job. The Oolong tea is nice and smooth, although they did add a considerably large amount of milk. The cashier recommended 100% sweetness (while saying that he likes it very sweet), so i opted for 75% which i think was a good choice. I will say that the tea isn’t super flavorful, so you may want to go for 100% just to pack a bit more flavor (or maybe try another one of their tea options). The star of the show is definitely their tapioca balls. They say they are housemade and that they are from the U.S. Boba Company which seems a little contradictory, but whatever the case is, they are delicious. They are cooked perfectly, have nice flavor, and seem mildly sweeter than most other tapioca balls in the city. In my opinion, you are paying for those tapioca balls.
The atmosphere: Boba Guys in Fillmore has a great vibe. It’s right in the middle of action on Fillmore St so you can easily find a bite to eat at one of the surrounding restaurants or even grab a snack at Jai Ho, a nearby Indian grocery store. If you are in the mood for a park, Jefferson Square is a 10 minute walk and Alamo Square or Alta Plaza are both 14 minute walks away. The staff are very nice here and they are probably some of the fastest in the city. It doesn’t seem to matter how long the line is, my drink is always ready within a couple minutes maximum.
Overall: There are 3 possible reasons to come here: you happen to be in Fillmore, you haven’t been to boba guys yet, or you just really like Boba guys tapioca balls. If none of those are true, then I personally wouldn’t bend backwards trying to come here. That being said, Boba Guys makes a solid bubble tea that you won’t be disappointed by. Rating: 8.8/10
Lilikoi — Cow Hollow
Visited April 24th, 2022
Opens at 11am
My Order: 24Oz Lilikoi Black Tea with Dairy milk, 75% sweetness, Honey Boba
Price: $8.00( $6.50 + $0.75 for boba + $0.75 for whole milk)
Boba review: Lilikoi might have some of the best tea in the city. After visiting a few different boba shops around SF, it’s become apparent that you won’t find this everywhere. I ordered the “House Blend” black tea and I would recommend it to anyone because it has really nice flavor and they make it strong enough to actually appreciate the tea itself. Don’t be confused by the different boba names — if you want regular boba, then you should order the “Honey Boba”. Weird naming aside, I think the boba are delicious. For some reason they taste a little different than that of other boba shops in the city and I really like it! They are cooked nicely although they are every so slightly on the mushy side, but I think it works perfectly. Since they made me pay an extra $0.75 for milk, I feel obligated to say that that milk tasted exactly as I expected it to 🙂. It’s worth noting that after I ordered, the person making my drink asked me if I wanted the brown sugar sweetener (which he recommended) and I went with it. I’m not sure if this is their standard sweetener, so you may need to ask for it and I would recommend doing so. It has a little bit of that classic molasses taste, but it’s not overpowering (at least with 75% sweetness).
The atmosphere: Lilikoi is in the heart of Cow Hollow, a place that tourists should come to if they have time, and locals probably pop into every once in a while. I usually pair a boba shop with a near park or 2, but in this case I would recommend taking your drink over to Chestnut St where you can do some window shopping or even pop into one of the many restaurants. It didn’t seem like they had many (or any) places to sit inside, but they did have a few standing tables outside so you could theoretically enjoy your drink on the spot, but I personally think Chestnut St is much more worth your time. The staff were super helpful answering my questions and were very eager to give me some solid recommendations (even for other boba shops in the area). One of the most unique parts about Lilikoi is that they have their tea on tap. They may just by pumping tea out of large tanks in back for all I know, but I don’t care quite frankly. It looks cool and the tea tastes great — that’s all that matters.
Overall: This is the most expensive boba that I’ve had so far, but Lilikoi has convinced me that it’s worth it. I think it’s a little weird to charge for milk… in milk tea… but other than that I couldn’t fault anything that they are doing. Lilikoi is the real deal and is a serious contender for the best boba in SF.