The 20 Best Boba Tea Shops In San Francisco

Boba tea is a beverage known for its vibrant colors and layers, but it actually predates the food photography craze by a few decades. This product first became popular in Taiwan in the '80s and had a niche audience in the U.S. by the '90s, but as Bar Pa Tea founder Patrick Yeh tells Today, it didn't really hit the status of a full-blown food fad until the 20-tweens. Coincidentally (or not), this just so happened to coincide with the dawning of the Instagram era.

While boba tea shops can now be found all over the U.S., one city that has well and truly embraced this drink is San Francisco. According to numbers crunched by Towards Data Science in 2020, San Francisco has the highest density of boba shops, with 2.39 per square mile. This means if you're in the 415, there may quite literally be a boba shop on nearly every street corner. It would be impossible to list each and every single one, but the following are our picks for Fog City's best boba.

1. Aura Tea & Coffee

All of the milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls in most bubble teas make them a bit too unhealthy for daily drinking, so they're more of what Cookie Monster would call a "sometime food." Aura Tea & Coffee, though, offers a healthier boba made with low-calorie sweetener and agar pearls, agar being an algae-based type of gelatin. Healthy they may be, but these better-for-you bobas still taste like a treat.

Our favorites among Aura's drinks are "Karl The Fog," a beautiful vanilla-flavored milk tea with a blue swirl from butterfly pea flower; Purple Rain, where the swirl is taro; and the calorie-free Can-I-Bliss fruit tea with butterfly blue pea, raspberry, and CBD. All are keto-friendly, with the milk teas having just 100 calories, and available add-ins include electrolytes and turmeric. Aura offers its drinks in reusable bottles for a slight upcharge, but with one of these containers, refills are 30% off.

2. Boba Gen

Boba Gen has a cute little piggy as its logo, so you can guess right away that it's not really going in for the whole health-oriented approach. However, the shop emphasizes quality, using only cane sugar and never corn syrup for sweetening the drinks. It also offers agar boba as an alternative to tapioca and has other toppings that include grass, lychee, coffee jelly, aloe vera, red bean, and egg pudding, as well as "cloud top" teas with cream or cheese.

Only a few of the teas on Boba Gen's menu come complete with boba, but it's available as an add-in with all other milk and fruit teas. The menu includes favorites such as taro and matcha, but we're partial to the teas flavored with edible flowers such as jasmine, rose, and lavender.

3. Boba Guys

Boba Guys is a bi-coastal chain with locations in New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, and in San Francisco alone, there are five different shops. If you like, you can build your own boba on a base of black (regular or decaf), oolong, jasmine, rose, or hibiscus-mint teas with your choice of milk plus add-ins like boba, chia seeds, and grass or almond jelly. The prettiest and tastiest drinks, though, are on the specialty menu.

Boba Guys' menu varies with the seasons, but among its current winter items are peppermint matcha latte, floral yuzu hot toddy, pandan caramel matcha, and chocolatey horchata. However, the most popular drink at Boba Guys is available year-round: A pretty pink, white, and green strawberry matcha that's always ready for its close-up.

4. Brew Cha

Brew Cha has a fairly unique way of making its boba tea: It uses espresso machines to make the freshest, most flavorful tea. While those machines are also used to make coffee drinks like pumpkin spice and black sugar lattes, we're here for the tea, and yes, it has a stronger flavor than tea brewed by the standard method. Extra-flavorful, too, is the chunky bits of taro, fresh berries, and other flavorings in the blended drinks.

One special item at Brew Cha that you won't find too many other places is matcha fizzies made with sparkling water. We also like the fact that popping boba is available in both mango and lychee flavors. This is definitely the place to go if you want tea with a little bounce to it!

5. Bubble Queen

Bubble Queen is a boba shop located right outside Oracle Park, but you might not be able to take your tea into a Giants' game since the ballpark only allows beverages (non-alcoholic ones) in sealed plastic containers. Bubble Queen makes for a great pre-or-post-game pitstop, though, since it serves boba tea and has snacks, including wings, sweet potato fries, calamari, and egg puff pastries.

Bubble Queen's tea drink menu has some interesting options. It includes not one but four different types of oolong tea as well as fruit drinks made with winter melon and longan. Another specialty is tea made with Yakult, a yogurt-like Japanese probiotic. Bubble Queen also offers several different types of boba pearls: honey, crystal agar, and popping lychee.

6. By Me Boba Tea

Unlike some boba tea shops where you walk in, order at the counter, grab your drink, and go, By Me Boba Tea is where you'll want to hang out for a while. The charming shop, located in San Francisco's Chinatown, has a vibe that's both soothing and whimsical.

While the drink selection is not as extensive as at some boba shops, By Me Boba Tea certainly covers the bases. It has Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thai-style milk teas as well as ones flavored with caramel, matcha, or the ever-popular taro, which is one of the all-time top boba flavors. Specialty drinks include mango with Yakult and coconut milk with mango pudding (lots of options for mango lovers here), and the pearls available include the standard and bursting types as well as white boba.

7. Coco Fresh Tea & Juice

Coco Fresh Tea & Juice is an international chain. According to the website, it has 5000 stores all over the globe, but the last time the site was updated, the only U.S. locations were on the east coast. That info is a bit outdated, however, as its ongoing expansion now includes a location on San Francisco's Market Street.

Coco's menu is really too extensive to do justice to here, but if you're looking for options, this is the place to go. Milk teas, fruit teas, Yakult drinks, teas topped with Himalayan salt cream foam, and teas garnished with Oreo crumbs or sweet potato and taro balls; you could probably go in every day for over a month and order a different drink without ever having to repeat.

8. District Tea

District Tea is a family-owned small business located in the Mission District from which it takes its name. It's run by two sisters and is community-oriented, actively participating in raising funds for charitable causes. Apart from its admirable ethics, District Tea offers a great range of products.

The menu offers traditional Hong Kong-style bubble teas, Vietnamese coffee, and fruit teas in flavors such as mango, lychee, and Calpico. Trendy salt cream-topped teas are also available, along with boba ice cream floats and "sexy drinks" like mangonadas and watermelonadas. Hungry? There are snacks for sale, as well, including gochujang Chex mix, spam musubi, takoyaki, and Korean corn dogs made with mochi flour and kurobuta sausage.

9. Honeybear Boba

San Francisco's honey bears street art began as graffiti painted by an artist some call the city's answer to Banksy. By now, however, they've become such a civic symbol that a number of local businesses, including Honeybear Boba, have adopted the name.

The menu at Honeybear Boba seems to have been inspired by its namesake animal, as it goes in pretty heavily for honey-based drinks. You can get honey milk black tea, honey lemon green, black teas, and honey lemonade flavored with watermelon and strawberry. The one thing that seems to be missing is honey boba — what's up with that? But otherwise, Honeybear Boba is an excellent place to channel your inner Winnie the Pooh.

10. Little Sweet

Little Sweet is a micro-chain with several different locations throughout the city, and, as the website points out, you'd better be sure which one you're dealing with if you place a pickup order online. As it emphatically states, refunds are not offered if you choose the wrong spot.

True to its name, Little Sweet does offer some extra-sweet menu items, including boba tea made with vanilla or cookies and cream ice cream. It also sells ice cream by the scoop as well as tasty egg puff waffles. On the slightly less sweet side are milk teas flavored with ginger and winter melon, along with fruit teas infused with lemon, strawberries, winter melon, and passion fruit. Savory snacks are available, too: gyoza and chicken wings. Not a complete meal, exactly, but enough to tide you over should you need to drive across town to pick up that misplaced order.

11. Milk Tea Lab

At Milk Tea Lab the staff is called "Scien" tea" ist" and encouraged to create their own flavor combos, with a different creation being showcased each month as a drink special. Currently featured on the menu are such intriguing-sounding items as the Alien Tonic, Cupid Tonic, Star War, and Boba Crush, although the actual ingredients are not disclosed. You can, however, customize your drinks with all manner of toppings, including mango popping boba, blue or red heart jellies, honey boba, and cool balls.

Intriguing drinks aside, Milk Tea Lab is also a fun place to hang out with a collection of Asian board games you're welcome to play. If you stay long enough to get hungry, there are snacks for sale, including calamari, takoyaki, spring rolls, and potstickers.

12. Mr. and Mrs. Tea House

If you want to patronize a mom-and-pop business, how about a Mr. and Mrs. Tea House? Full disclosure: We don't actually know whether the business is run by a mom-and-pop, but if a giant conglomerate secretly owns it, it does a great job of keeping that under wraps. The shop has a neighborhood-type feel (the neighborhood being Presidio Terrace), and although the menu is small, the drinks and snacks are fresh and flavorful.

Boba drinks at Mr. and Mrs. Tea House falls into four categories: crema (available in black and jasmine), fruit tea (passionfruit and mango), regular tea (black or jasmine), and yogurt smoothies (mango or peach). Both regular and agar boba are priced the same, as are the other add-ins. At the time of writing, it's just 50 cents for boba, aloe vera, grass jelly, or egg pudding.

13. My Cup of Tea

My Cup of Tea, run by a mother-daughter duo, is more than just a boba shop as it's actually a counter-service restaurant offering pho, banh mi, rice bowls, curries, and bento boxes. The atmosphere is certainly conducive to sitting and staying a while, too, as the shop is bright, airy, and surprisingly spacious with clean, modern décor.

Even if you're just dropping by for a quick boba tea to go, though, you won't be disappointed. The drinks are generously-sized, fresh, and come in a variety of milk, fruit, and even milk/fruit combo varieties. One slightly out-of-the-ordinary offering is milk tea made with coffee, a drink tailor-made for those who can't make up their minds about which beverage they prefer.

14. Pink Pink Tea Shop

Pink Pink Tea Shop is a food court boba micro-chain — as of now, it has just two locations, one in the Westfield San Francisco Centre and the other in the mall's San Jose branch. Pink Pink's color scheme matches its name; no surprise there, and several of the top-selling drinks have a similar rosy hue.

Feeling in the mood for a pink drink? You may enjoy the strawberry & raspberry jasmine green tea smoothie with a salty cream cheese topper or perhaps a low-sugar red grapefruit jasmine tea smoothie. Not committed to the Pink Pink color scheme? We're pretty partial to the smoky Lapsang Souchong milk tea with honey boba, but the honey pomelo peach oolong tea is another winner, as well.

15. Plentea

Plentea is a boba tea shop for true connoisseurs of this beverage, as it offers craft boba made from high-quality ingredients (some locally sourced). The beverages even come in retro-style mini-glass milk bottles rather than plastic cups.

As Plentea's focus is on doing a few things very well, their menu isn't an extensive one. With the standard black, jasmine, and oolong milk teas, you can choose your sweetness level and type of milk, while some of the fruit teas allow you to specify the amount of sweetening (the honey ones, however, do not). With the specialty teas, as well, Plentea's menu states, "We politely decline any modifications" apart from adjusting the sugar level in the matcha latte. The other drinks, however, are perfect just as they are — not too sweet and really tasty. Options include oolong with sea salt cream and a coffee/black tea blend with condensed milk, but the one that will have Nutella lovers coming back time after time is milk tea flavored with that addictive chocolate-hazelnut spread.

16. Steep Creamery & Tea

Steep Creamery & Tea is a boba shop with a mission: It's owned by an organization called Juma Ventures that provides job training to young people living in poverty. This helps to break the cycle and set formerly at-risk youth on the road to a better financial future. So yes, Steep's heart is in the right place, but so is its menu.

We're big fans of the honey lavender earl grey milk tea, but the yuzu grape lemonade is pretty amazing, as well. Dragon fruit fans may enjoy the matcha lemonade flavored with that fruit, and, for you caffeine fiends, there's even a milky matcha/espresso shot. Plus, Steep also has ice cream and bubble waffles! What's not to love about this place?

17. Tea & Others

The name Tea & Others refers to the fact that this boba shop likes to embellish its drinks with a wide range of other enhancements besides boba. The menu offers standard milk and fruit teas and several different matcha lattes, including an Oreo cookie. There are also a few "milk & others" drinks made with mango, strawberry, or taro puree, as well as a "Dirty Boba" with a brown sugar swirl. A selection of drinks also comes with a salty cheese foam topper.

Where Tea & Others really departs from the normal boba shop menu, however, is with its "tea & cake" drinks. There are three of these: Lil' Giraffe, which is black tea with butter cake batter; Camouflage, consisting of matcha tea and butter batter; and Pink Panther, combining jasmine tea with strawberry batter. Sweeter than the typical boba drinks, to be sure, but a nice twist on cake shakes.

18. Tea Hut

Tea Hut has four locations in the Bay Area, two in San Francisco proper: Pacific Heights and Lakeshore Plaza. The ambiance is kind of low-key verging on no-frills, but for grab-and-go boba, it's got you covered. The not-too-expensive drinks are nice and large and come with an extensive range of add-ins, including crystal boba, grapefruit pulp, osmanthus jelly, and coconut pudding.

Among the more interesting drink options at Tea Hut are a grape-flavored oolong milk tea, an Oreo milk tea, and an Oreo matcha latte. One drink even comes with a special bonus: The mochi soy milk tea is topped with a stick of mochi balls you can nibble as you sip. Those mochi balls aren't the only snack Tea Hut offers, though, as spam musubi, beef rice bowls, and several types of coconut pudding are also on the menu.

19. Teaspoon

Teaspoon started up in the Bay Area but is expanding throughout the Southwest with planned locations in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas. While the chain can't claim to be the Starbucks of boba just yet, it claims to have served up some 5 million drinks to date.

Teaspoon's menu is also somewhat Starbucks-like in its scope. In addition to classics like taro and brown sugar milk tea, it runs to dessert-like extravaganzas such as a strawberry colada and a honey boba-topped caramel cream drink, as well as seasonal drinks like Nutella and white chocolate/matcha lattes with candy cane crunch. Teaspoon even offers a selection of bakery items to go with its drinks, including cake slices, bar cookies, and macarons with boba-appropriate flavors such as matcha and rose lychee.

20. Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea

Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea is a cute little place that looks as if it were plucked straight from the streets of Taiwan and transported across the Pacific. That being said, it's not really the kind of place where you're expected to linger and soak in the ambiance, though you may be there for a while trying to make up your mind about what to order off the menu.

Choices, choices. Will you go for something traditional like sugar cane mountain tea? Or what about something more modern, like a brown sugar pearl cocoa tea latte or a salted cream top? Are you interested in trying something new, like an aiyu jelly lemon pearl green tea? One must-try item is the roselle lemonade — roselle, a type of hibiscus, gives the drink a vivid red hue and a flavor that's both tangy and flowery-sweet.