Katie Zhang | Sun Contributor

Kung Fu Tea

October 24, 2018

Spilling the Tea: All the Boba in Town, Ranked

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It’s no secret that we Cornellians love our bubble tea. The popular Taiwanese drink — a mixture of steeped tea, milk and often some kind of flavoring combined with tapioca pearls or jelly — has slowly come to dominate our campus and Collegetown through its presence in the hands of many a boba-loving student. And no, it’s not just Asians who are fueling the trend. Boba is hip now! Boba is cool!

It’s not uncommon for groups of friends to grab boba as a way of hanging out, and come nighttime, many spots are packed with kids drinking their fill of bubble tea goodness and playing Jenga or Uno at cafe tables and couches. But with so many options for bubble tea, which places are actually worth your money and time, and which should you steer clear from?

Don’t worry; I’ve got you covered! This past weekend I drank an embarrassingly large amount of boba from all the places that offer bubble tea near and around Cornell. I ordered the same drink (smallest portion of milk black tea with bubbles) at all the spots, and here’s the verdict:

6. Ivy Room’s Bamboo (Willard Straight Hall)
$4.09 + tax = $4.42
BRBs and CornellCard accepted

Milk Tea: 0/10
I kid you not, this straight up tasted like watered-down milk. Although I saw the employee add black tea to the cup with my own two eyes, there was absolutely no tea flavor at all when I drank it. It wasn’t sweet and bore no resemblance to any milk tea I’ve ever had before, because I felt like I was drinking diluted milk. Yikes.

Boba: 4/10
Although the boba was extremely chewy and cooked evenly, it didn’t have any real flavor of its own. It was definitely the better part of this boba atrocity, but it couldn’t redeem the drink at all.

Ambiance: 5/10
The Ivy Room is certainly not a place for a casual nighttime group hangout, as its long tables and wooden chairs are more reminiscent of a cafeteria. But when it’s not crowded with the lunchtime rush of students, it can be a quiet and productive place to get some work done, so it all really depends on what you’re looking for.

Price & Wait:
Despite only waiting about five minutes for my drink, I found this cup to be on the pricier end of the spectrum, and honestly, not worth stopping by the Ivy Room for at all. I didn’t even finish the drink, which reflects poorly on its taste despite my having paid such a high price point.

5. Jansen’s Market in Noyes (West Campus)
$4.09 + tax = $4.42
BRBs and CornellCard accepted

Milk Tea: 3/10
The drink itself was slightly grainy and very obviously powdered, but not too sweet or overwhelmingly milk tea-flavored. If I had to brand it, I’d call it “Milk Tea: Lite” because the flavoring was so subtle that I couldn’t taste any black tea. Unfortunately, it left an unpleasant, dry aftertaste in my mouth.

Boba: 0/10
I’m not sure exactly what went wrong here, but the boba was a hot mess. On top of tasting like flavorless jelly, the pearls were so mushy they stuck to each other and left a sour aftertaste that I didn’t want more of.

Ambiance: 7/10
Jansen’s itself has no seating, but the lounge area in Noyes can be a decent place to relax. There are often people doing homework at the tables during the day, while others chill with their friends on the bean bags and couches. Jansen’s is always playing anime on the TV inside the store, so you can catch up on an episode of Attack on Titan when you’re grabbing snacks.

Price & Wait:
The bubble tea at both Jansen’s and the Ivy Room cost the same amount (probably due to their being operated by Cornell Dining), and the wait time was about the same as well. Considering their similarities, it should come as no surprise that I don’t plan on returning for their boba.

4. Panda Tea Lounge (Collegetown)
Cash only

Milk Tea: 4/10
The first thing that came to mind when drinking this milk tea was that it was sweet — really sweet. There was definitely an artificial taste to the milk tea, and the amount I received was a little sad; the cup was almost 50 percent ice and didn’t leave a lot of room for the actual drink in the end.

Boba: 5/10
Not only is the boba at Panda Tea Lounge free, but the amount of pearls you are given is quite generous — I’d say that tapioca comprised 30 percent of the drink. However, it wasn’t the best boba out there, as it was cooked unevenly, with some pearls being semi-hard and others very chewy. Furthermore, the large serving meant I finished the tea long before the boba, which kind of defeats the purpose of the two being combined.

Ambiance: 8/10
Panda Tea Lounge certainly lives up to its name, as the lounge area of this place is pretty nice! With Giant Jenga and plenty of seating, this space is conducive to group hangouts. Nonetheless, I deducted a few points because the lighting is always dim and casts a weird reddish tinge over everything, making it difficult to take a picture.

Price & Wait:
At $3.50, the milk tea here is definitely the most affordable one around. It took about seven minutes for me to receive my drink, which isn’t too bad, but nobody was ahead of me when I ordered, and there only seemed to be one person working at the time.

3. Cafe Pacific (Collegetown)
$6.00 credit card minimum

Milk Tea: 6/10
I was pleasantly surprised by how the milk tea here wasn’t too sweet and didn’t have an overpoweringly artificial flavor. However, it just wasn’t completely on the mark of milk tea — my friend tried some and said it tasted more like red bean-flavored milk tea rather than normal milk tea. Although I don’t know whether or not that was intended, it wasn’t bad. Plus, the size is generous, and the drink doesn’t come with any ice, which means there’s more room for tea in the cup!

Boba: 6/10
The boba here was extra chewy, if that’s your thing, but there wasn’t anything special about it besides that.

Ambiance: 4/10
I thought the shop was closed when I first entered because it was dark and there was nobody else inside, but the flashing “OPEN” neon side outside said otherwise. Because Cafe Pacific also serves sit-down meals, it’s not really a place to simply hang out and drink boba by itself, especially since the entrance is cluttered and the cafe doesn’t provide any seating for those of us who just want some bubble tea.

Price & Wait:
As the second cheapest spot for bubble tea, Cafe Pacific offers a pretty good deal considering the size and quality of its drink. The Japanese lady working behind the counter was the nicest person I encountered over the course of my bubble tea adventures; she chatted with me while she prepared my drink, making my five-minute wait pass by quickly.

2. U Tea (Collegetown)
$4.25 + tax = $4.59
Cash and card accepted, no card minimum

Milk Tea: 7/10
The flavor here was smooth, with just the right amount of sweetness that was still subtle. My friends have told me that they love the boba here, and I can definitely see that if you prefer a lighter milk tea taste. However, I love being able to taste the tea in the milk tea, and I couldn’t really find that with this drink.

Boba: 9/10
The tapioca here is much smaller than it is at the other spots I visited, but it was good. Barring size, the pearls are cooked evenly with just the right amount of chewiness and slight sweetness characteristic of good tapioca pearls.

Ambiance: 8/10
With a cute and modern interior, U Tea comes the closest to a vision of a comfortable and welcoming bubble tea hangout spot. Despite providing customers with a variety of seating options (and board games), the cafe still gets crowded, especially at night, and for some reason, U Tea’s entrance always smells of chlorine.

Price & Wait:
At $4.59 for a small drink, this is definitely the priciest place to spend your money. The wait was about eight minutes because there were so many customers, but the staff moved efficiently so it wasn’t too bad. To note: U Tea is better known for its “premium” drinks, like matcha cheese foam, so this is a good place to try if you want a different type of milk tea experience.

1. Kung Fu Tea (Collegetown)
$4.00 + tax = $4.32
$7.00 credit card minimum

Milk Tea: 9/10
While I usually customize my drink order from KFT, I went with the standard choices provided for the sake of comparison. I found that the milk tea here was just slightly too sweet for my taste, though it has a distinct flavor that distinguishes it. The drink is creamy and smooth, and has the classic hint of tea flavor underneath that cuts through and adds depth to the drink. Plus, the ease with which you can customize the drink (i.e. amount of sugar, ice and flavoring) makes it really easy for everybody to get a drink that they’ll enjoy.

Boba: 10/10
There honestly isn’t anything wrong with the boba here, which is why it’s a solid ten from me. The ratio of boba to milk tea is great, and the pearls are evenly cooked with just the right amount of chewiness. What else can I say?

Ambiance: 7/10
The actual Kung Fu Tea cafe itself is nothing special — it’s really small with limited seating that caters more toward a “to go” kind of experience. Whenever it gets busy (which is quite often), the space can get crowded while you wait for your order.

Price & Wait:
The price is average, and I think it’s worth spending an extra couple of cents for good boba and tea. The wait can last around eight minutes because there are so many people ordering, but the employees here are good at getting the drinks out in a timely manner.

These bubble tea trips have taken me on quite the journey, and after this experience, I can definitively say that I’ve had a taste of all the bubble tea in the area. These rankings have come to show me that despite the great boba revolution Cornell is experiencing, quality varies widely and not all places out there offer good boba. Bubble tea has the magical ability to bring people together and help them bond over a good drink, but mediocre boba will accomplish neither. With all these different places serving something unique, why not go out on your own boba adventure?