A Comprehensive, Non-Scientific Ranking of Boba Tea at Yale

A couple of weeks ago, I asked myself a question: “Gee, Sophie, why is it that no one’s ever ranked the boba tea places at Yale before?” Forty dollars, eight milk teas, and one-hundred-thousand calories later, I found out the reason: like all good things, boba tea should be enjoyed sparingly. 

Or not. As I’m writing this now, I feel a strange urge to sip on a large almond milk tea with aloe and red bean jelly. Also, nothing beats boba as a late-night snack during a study break, as evidenced by the many, many people I see at ViVi’s right before 11 PM. Thus, I bring to you my Comprehensive, Non-Scientific Ranking of Boba Tea at Yale (or near Yale). Thank me, because my body sure won’t.

1. 0 Degree Thai Ice Cream

I’m usually not this happy, but that day was a good day.

Order: Thai milk tea with boba

I didn’t know 0 Degree existed until late last semester—but now my life is better, because 0 Degree is incredible. Situated next to TDHeav and Moe’s Southwest Grill, the location is a ten minute walk from Old/Cross Campus—a bit inconvenient, perhaps, except for the fact that the tea here is very much worth it. Google Reviews and Yelp have suggested that they also specialize in rolled ice cream, and the pictures I’ve seen have been very tempting. Even if you’re not a boba tea person, I definitely recommend visiting 0 Degree, if just for the adorably cozy-yet spacious atmosphere and a large variety of ice cream selections.

I was thinking classic that day—so I ordered Thai.

Wait Time: 3 minutes

Flavor: Very, very good. The black tea flavor definitely came through as I was drinking it. I forgot to order this without ice and sugar, but even at full sweetness the taste wasn’t overtly cloying—in fact, I’d call it perfect. The creaminess of the tea also wasn’t overwhelming, and juxtaposed nicely with the spice-y undertones. My experiences with 0 Degree have always been positive—they know how to make a classic boba tea, and you will never walk away disappointed. 10/10

Boba: Likewise, the boba was on point. Each boba sphere was smooth and chewy, with a slightly denser center. Unlike some of the other examples below, these bobas weren’t flavorless, but had a slight sweetness that complemented the tea itself. I never found myself having to deal with globules of smushed-together tapioca after finishing my tea—instead, I had the perfect number of boba with each sip. 10/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: The shop is adorably decorated, with a Post-It wall of images and messages left by previous patrons. The staff are pleasant and quick with the orders, and I definitely appreciate how well my past boba teas have been made. For whatever reason (probably because of its distance from Old and Cross Campuses) 0 Degree is typically not very busy, and the quiet is quite relaxing. 5/5

2. T-Swirl Crepe

I forgot to take a picture of the actual tea. Please appreciate this picture of a spicy crab crepe instead.

Order: Rose-Tieguanyin with boba, quarter sugar, no ice

I assume this place is fairly new, because there’s no other excuse for why I’ve never heard of it before. I will admit that this review may not be as thorough or objective (ha) as the other ones, primarily because I had an incredible crepe to accompany my milk tea. Imagine: 10 PM, end of a long day, ravenously hungry with a rumbling stomach—only to be comforted by the delicious scent of imitation crab and spicy mayo. I almost cried when my order came out. I’m almost crying right now, because I’m hungry and not in the presence of crepes and boba.

I decided to be adventurous—so I ordered the rose-tieguanyin flavor.

Wait Time: 13 minutes

Flavor: The menu was a bit misleading—the tea itself wasn’t the rose-tieguanyin hybrid, but rather just tieguanyin. I was a tad disappointed because I’ve always wanted to try a rose-flavored milk tea, but the oolong was still good—full-bodied, with an herbal, flowery aroma that soothed a tired mind. The milkiness was ever-so-slightly too strong and hid some of the more complex notes in the tieguanyin, but overall I give a very positive review. 8/10

Boba: This was the best part. The “rose” in the “rose-tieguanyin” label applied to the boba, which was lightly sweetened with a floral taste and of the perfect nature—chewy, rounded and smooth texture, and not stuck in a blob. Also, the rose-infused aroma wonderfully accompanied the spicy crabmeat crepe I ordered—which, yes, I know that I’m only supposed to judge boba tea but it was just so, so delicious. Terrific. 10.5/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: T-Swirl was very busy and was clearly a late-night destination for a lot of people, so my order came later than I expected. However, the service was very pleasant, and I admire the care taken to each customer even though the place was crowded. Bright lighting, great smells from the kitchen, incredible food. 5/5

3. Jojo’s Coffee and Tea

Bonus points for authenticity — I am wearing my old uniform from my middle school in Taipei.

Order: Chai milk tea with boba, half sugar, no ice

Jojo’s was the first place I got boba tea from when I arrived at New Haven. Among the people I’ve spoken to, opinion about Jojo’s boba tends to be divided—I have very fond memories of trying the toasted almond and hazelnut flavors, while others say that their orders have been inferior to the other places close to campus. Unlike ViVi’s, Jojo’s is primarily a coffee shop. Not being a coffee person myself, I can’t vouch for anything else besides the boba tea. 

It was a cold and snowy night, so I decided to go for something with a kick of spice to warm my frozen soul—chai.

Wait Time: 4 minutes

Flavor: The tea was absolutely incredible. I’d originally ordered my chai milk tea without any sugar, until I was told that the simple syrup contained cinnamon and was a pretty major flavor component in the tea, so I got half sugar instead. Jojo’s uses liquid creamer instead of powder, and the resulting flavor was rich and milky, perfectly complementing the intricate combinations of black tea and cardamom in the chai (and real tea is used, rather than powder!). The cinnamon syrup in the tea was just sweet enough without being overpowering. Loved it. 11.5/10

Boba: Based on my conversations with my friends, the top complaint about Jojo’s boba tea was the boba, and I felt disappointment in not being able to disagree with them, especially after the wonderful tea. Although I liked the mild sweetness, the texture of the boba was grainy rather than smooth, and clumped together in a dense mass as I finished my tea—in fact, I couldn’t suck up any of the boba towards the end, and had to open the lid to eat it. 6/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: The staff was very nice, and I definitely appreciated being told about the cinnamon syrup. Jojo’s is a little far away from Old Campus, not to mention the colleges closer to Science Hill, so it might be a little inconvenient to get to, especially in the winter. The decor is very classic coffee-shop-y, and the atmosphere is definitely more peaceful than the other shops. 5/5

4. ViVi’s Bubble Tea

Daniel Bernoulli discovering the mechanics of fluid dynamics (1738, colorized)

Order: Medium taro milk tea with boba, no sugar, no ice

Ah, ViVi’s. The name that always pops into mind when someone texts “wanna get boba?” Conveniently located about a hundred feet from Old Campus, this place is never not busy—Snackpass orders sometimes take upwards of 15 minutes. In addition to tea, they also serve a mouthwatering array of macarons and cheesecake, which I always want to eat but can’t, because my only salary source comes from taking surveys at SOM. Sorry, but my weekly five dollars are better repaying my textbook-incurred debt.

I decided to sample their most popular milk tea flavor—taro.

Wait Time: 8 minutes

Flavor: I’ve had ViVi’s before, and taro is one of my favorite flavors, but I was disappointed with this order. The flavor is creamy, without completely overpowering the delicate vanilla-y / floral taste of the taro; however, after I stopped drinking for twenty seconds to talk, the aftertaste left my mouth with an unpleasant chalky feeling that didn’t combine too well with the creaminess of the tea. 5/10

Boba: Smooth texture, evenly shaped, and had a chewy exterior with a firmer center. I have no complaints about the boba, aside from the fact that a few were clumped together. That was inconvenient, because it meant that I drank up half within the first several sips, and there was little-to-no boba left towards the end of the tea. Overall, still pretty good. 9/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: My order was correct, and the staff was really nice and fairly prompt. Because ViVi’s is always so busy, it tends to be slightly cramped and noisy, so that may detract a bit from my review. I love the fact that you can pay for tea with renminbi and WeChat pay, which adds an authentic atmosphere. 4.5/5

5. Basil Restaurant

Yes, I did abandon all of my belongings (e.g. laptop) as I fetched my boba tea.

Order: Original milk tea with boba, no sugar, no ice

Basil Restaurant is located between Kamal Indian Cuisine and El Amigo Felix, and approximately one hundred feet away from Tropical Smoothie Cafe—the prime location for a post-workout snack after two hours at Payne-Whitney. Granted, when I was ordering this I hadn’t worked out in several weeks, and was coming from Sterling Memorial Library rather than the gym. Eh. I was exercising my brain, so don’t judge me.

The only boba tea they served without sugar was the original flavor, so that was what I ordered.

Wait Time: 2 minutes

Flavor: It was…original? Without sugar and ice diluting the taste, I was pleased with what I got. Nonetheless, this was your basic original boba tea flavor—black tea, mixed with milk. Although it was good, I was not extraordinarily awed—I could only taste the most basic of spices (cardamom, cinnamon, dash of nutmeg). The milk did not overpower the flavor, but still the tea did not impress. Overall, this was par. 6/10

Boba: Similar to the tea, it neither repulsed nor impressed. The tapioca’s texture on the outside was nice and chewy, but the inside was like a kernel—very dense and hard. I did enjoy the delicate sweetness, although I don’t know if other boba tea enthusiasts would be as satisfied; I tend to prefer less-sweet bobas, as is probably evident by my orders without sugar. I will have to give this the same score as the tea—6/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: I ordered this on Snackpass, but my order was completed when I actually got there. This was because my original order could only be made with sugar, so I appreciated the owners telling me about the other options. Overall, Basil Restaurant is very well-lit and adorably decorated; I enjoyed the wood reliefs around the the sky-blue walls, which created a very calming atmosphere. 5/5

6. Hunan House

Light of my life.

Order: Original milk tea with boba, no sugar, no ice

First: Hunan House is, compared to the other places on this list, very far away. Second: I came here on a very cold day as a study break away from my Bass cubicle, so I wasn’t too picky and my expectations weren’t high—I just wanted boba to distract me from my essay. This restaurant is located on the outskirts of downtown and requires about twenty minutes of walking from Cross Campus; however, after truly exploring this location, I highly recommend this for even those who don’t need a study break. Why? Read the review below to find out. Spoiler alert: LIGHT BULBS.

I ordered original, because I’m boring.

Wait Time: 0 minutes—Snackpass.

Flavor: It was okay. Typical original boba tea. I won’t go too in-depth into this description, because it’s not necessary. You shouldn’t come here just for the tea, because many places are closer wherever you are on campus and has both better tea and boba. Still good, but not exceptional. 6/10

Boba: Nonexistent, at least in the spherical form. Seemed to have been blended. It’s okay. 1/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: THE BOBA TEA COMES IN A LIGHT BULB. IT. COMES. IN. A. LIGHT. BULB. I come from the wonderful, Midwestern/Southeastern city of Louisville, Kentucky, where our boba comes in plastic cups, not light bulbs. My mind was blown. I’ll admit that I didn’t care too much about the rest of the atmosphere—your boba comes in a light bulb, so that’s all you need to know. 6/5

7. Koon Thai

Image result for koon thai bubble tea
I forgot to take a picture of my order. Hence, this picture of a coconut boba tea I got from Yelp. My order looked like this, only green.

Order: Green tea milk tea with boba, no ice

I didn’t know this place existed (to Boola staff members: thank you for the introduction to this place, and offering reimbursement for more boba tea reviews!), but now I do and I think my life is better for it. Located ten feet away from the Omni, Koon Thai offers delicious smelling food at, thankfully, less-bougie-than-the-Omni prices. Unfortunately, I’m not being reimbursed for the food, so I couldn’t review that (unless…future article idea?). 

I like green tea. Ergo, I ordered the green tea-flavored milk tea.

Wait Time: 4 minutes

Flavor: I’m not sure if I liked it. Although I ordered the tea without ice, I wasn’t impressed with the fact that “no ice” apparently meant “pulverized ice à la slushy.” I did like the green tea taste, which was a clear overtone throughout the entire milk tea; nonetheless, I was disappointed by the high level of sweetness which seemed to block some of the tea’s aroma. Overall, it seemed like I had ordered a Starbucks™ Green Tea Frappuccino rather than a bubble tea. If that’s your style, go for it. Sadly, it wasn’t mine. 5/10

Boba: Again, underwhelmed. Because the entire milk tea itself was akin to an iced-up Frappuccino, much of the boba became frozen after several minutes. I ended up having to gnaw on hardened tapioca that had the appropriate level of sweetness but lacked the texture that makes chewing boba so enjoyable. 3/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: Despite the boba tea not reaching the levels of what I assume the food to taste like, my ordering experience was decent enough. I ordered on Snackpass, but my order wasn’t made until 4 minutes after I’d arrived at the restaurant and 9 minutes after Snackpass had told me my order was ready. However, the smells in the restaurant and the nice staff makes Koon Thai a not unenjoyable place. 4/5

8. Ivy Wok

My hand ft. boba tea, wallet, and much snow.

Order: Peach milk tea with boba

I know, I know—no one ever comes to Ivy Wok for the boba, because hardly anyone knows Ivy Wok has boba. One Sunday, when hardened layers of snow coated the grass and pavements like an ice rink, when the wind could pierce through the thickest of Canada Gooses (Geese?), when most intelligent people knew to stay indoors and buried under layers of blankets, I decided to take a study break and go to the closest boba place that wasn’t anyplace I’d previously tested. Thus, Ivy Wok. 

I ordered the peach flavor, because my eardrums were frozen and peach was the first flavor I heard when I asked the attendant.

Wait Time: 2 minutes

Flavor: Oh, goodness. I don’t know what to say. I expected a light, fruity flavor, similar to the other peach milk teas I’ve had in the past. What I got was pre-mixed, without even a hint of actual peach—all I tasted was sour and sugar, like an unidentified fruit tea that had been steeped for too long. Even worse, I had asked for no sugar and no ice in my tea beforehand, and got both sugar and ice. Overall, as I was walking back from the restaurant with my hands frozen, I felt extremely disappointed. 3/10

Boba: I was confused as to how little boba I was getting, until I finished the tea and saw a glob of clumpy tapioca at the bottom. The boba was nearly tasteless, without even a dash of the expected sweetness. Strangely, the texture was both slimy and rough. Like the tea, I was disappointed again. 2/10

Atmosphere/Service/Miscellaneous: The staff was quite nice, but I disliked how the tea had already been premixed and came from a carton in the fridge. The warmth of the place was a relief considering the blistering cold outside, but it was dim inside and the atmosphere was a little too quiet. I did like the smell of cooking—from now on, I’ll stick to Ivy Wok food instead of the boba. 3.5/5