Pearl milk tea.
No matter what you call it, the combination of sweet and milky tea or frosty fruit drink and perfectly chewy tapioca balls is incredibly popular. Fortunately for your cravings, Southern California has a pretty healthy share of boba shops. Orange County has some of the best… everything from favorite franchises to independent tea boutiques serving unique teas and slushies.
Bubble Tea’s Tasty History
Bubble tea first rocked the tea scene in Taiwan in the 1980s, when an innovative tea seller started adding milk to their tea in an effort to boost sales. A clever addition of QQ (tapioca) balls made the milky tea as fun to eat as it was delicious to drink. Pretty soon other shops caught on and the bubble tea craze spread past Taiwan to Hong Kong and mainland China.
Boba was introduced to America roughly ten years later; the 1990s saw its popularity skyrocket in California and by the 2000s, boba shops had popped up all over the United States.
Fun Fact: Boba and bubble tea are the same thing, but what you call it depends on where you were introduced to it. West Coasters call it boba… East Coasters call it bubble tea.
No matter what you call it, boba tea is only getting more and more popular as time goes on. And that’s good news, because one of the joys of being a boba afficionado is finding new and interesting teas to try out.
If boba isn’t already a part of your caffeine fix rotation, we’re betting that it will be after you try any of the best-sellers at one of the boba shops we’ve listed below.
So… thirsty yet?
Fun Fact: “Boba” might mean tasty chewy drink mix-ins now, but in the 1980’s it was the nickname for Amy Yip, Hong Kong sex symbol.
The Top Eleven Places to get Boba in Orange County
How To Order: Walk-in
This sleekly modern boba shop is committed to serving the highest quality drinks and providing the best service. They serve jewel-like drinks that have serious Instagram power, crafted with fresh-pressed tea leaves or fresh-brewed coffee. Quality has its price: all teas are brewed to order, so be prepared for a bit of a wait (it’ll totally be worth it!).
Loose Leaf Boba takes their drinks seriously. We’re talking organic 100% premium ceremonial grade matcha, premium loose-leaf teas, and high-quality milks. Drinks are very customizable with milk type and sweetness level (the standard sweetness level is potent!).
Must-Try: Bananas Foster Milk (order at ¾th sweetness for the perfect experience) and the Purple Roots drink, a unique taro/ube fusion.
Locations: Fountain Valley & Santa Ana
How To Order: GrubHub, Postmates, or store delivery ($2.99 fee applies)
Sharetea has been a specialist in Taiwanese bubble tea for 26 years. They make their drinks with ingredients and tea leaves shipped directly from Taiwan.
It is a franchise spot, but many stores have their own local specialties in addition to the broadly available drinks. One thing that’s consistent is their quality. Their taro drinks are made with real taro root, not powder, and their boba pearls are perfectly on point every time.
Please note: Sharetea punch cards are only honored in the store you originally get them in.
Must-Try: the decadent Red Bean with ice cream, refreshing mango and passionfruit tea with lychee jelly, or luscious taro milk boba. The silky, subtly salty cheese foam is out of this world!
Fun Fact: The OG recipe for bubble tea is black tea served hot with condensed milk and large boba. Honey is the sweetener of choice.
Locations: Lake Forest, Santa Ana, Irvine, Fullerton, Fountain Valley
How To Order: Website, walk-in
Come for the adorable, stay for the delicious.
Easily the most whimsical shop on our list, family-friendly Pengo Drink Station in Lake Forest is a unique experience, handcrafting their drinks and the customer experience they offer with equal skill.
Reusable drink containers give this boba shop an eco-friendly vibe (and let’s face it, you were going to get one because the penguin mascot is so adorable). Bring in your clean reusable container for a 10% discount on your next drink. Order through their rewards app to stack on rewards points on top of that.
Must-Try: Decadent Crème Brulee milk tea, fresh and sweet Mangonada, tongue-tickling Orange Sunshine.
Locations: Lake Forest & Laguna Hills
How To Order: Walk-in, website and app
Not strictly a boba shop, Laguna Hills’ Komi Tea and Snacks gets a spot on our list because of the unusual and unique drinks it offers. The shop itself has a relaxing zen vibe with neutral walls, comfy leather couches and roomy tables. The menu itself is written on reclaimed wooden slats and looks more like an art piece than a menu and the drinks match the aesthetic vibe. Look out, Instagram!
Must-Try: Rainbow Chia herbal tea, Blue Sky Passionfruit Yogurt, the supremely indulgent Belgian dark chocolate frappe, the gorgeous Butterfly Pea Mango Yogurt, and the signature 3 Brothers Milk Tea with boba, pudding and jelly.
Fun Fact: Bubble tea is called that because of the bubbles that form when the tea is turned upside down and shaken.
Location: Laguna Hills
How To Order: Walk-in, app. Use the app to apply points per purchase.
Friendly, fresh and fun, with airy décor and comfy seating, you won’t mistake Boba R Us for any other boba shop inside or outside of Rancho Santa Margarita.
There’s a full line of tea drinks, from classic to fruit, milk and crema teas and sugar free options are available (taro can’t be customized, sorry!).
Boba R Us doesn’t serve smoothies or slushies. They do serve incredibly tasty wings and croiyaki sandwiches.
That’s right… croiyaki. This addictive tayaki-styled treat comes in sweet and savory options and makes a fantastic lunch or snack, especially alongside one of their signature drinks.
Must-Try: Refreshing Passionfruit tea with lychee jelly, Dark Brown Sugar crema, and luscious Strawberries and Cream crema.
Location: Rancho Santa Margarita
How To Order: Online or at the pickup window
Mission Viejo’s Harmony Tea Bar lives up to its name by providing patrons a serious dose of zen serenity. Their menu is seasonal to take full advantage of their mission statement of using only fresh fruit, local ingredients, and premium loose-leaf teas to create their unique drinks.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, they have a nice-sized caffeine-free menu.
Must-Try: Fruity and floral Strawberry jasmine, smooth Matcha Creamsicle, elegant Lavender Earl Grey.
Fun Fact: White pearl boba has less calories than black pearl.
Location: Mission Viejo
How To Order: Yelp, UberEats, GrubHub, Postmates, DoorDash. No phone orders.
One Zo is an OC fixture that specializes in specialty boba. They were the first bubble tea shop to make their boba in-house, and they’ve been providing tea lovers with unusual drinks and perfectly chewy boba since 2015.
Their shop is friendly, with neutral-toned décor that gives off a relaxing vibe… and gives you a great place to take that Instagram photo (look for the rabbit!).
Must-Try: Sesame milk tea with sesame boba, Oreo matcha brulee, strawberry green tea with snowcap foam, or fruity wintermelon latte.
Locations: Garden Grove & Cypress
How To Order: Walk-in orders only.
Omomo specializes in elegant recipes crafted from superior ingredients. Their décor focuses on relaxing neutral colors so you can zen out while waiting for your Instagram-worthy beverage. In fact, the drinks are an art-form of their own and look almost too perfect to drink… almost.
As tasty as Omomo’s premium quality drinks are, they’re usually pretty crowded. Long wait times are common, but the boba is worth it.
Must-Try: Bright and fresh Mango Tornado, refreshing Grapefruit Smash slush, the decadent Oreo Brulee green tea, the bold Black Jade Milk tea.
Fun Fact: Black and white boba pearls are made from the same tapioca starch, but the white pearls have no flavor of their own. They’ll absorb the flavor of whatever drink you put them in. Black boba are slightly sweet and add their own layer of flavor to the drink.
Locations: Two Irvine Locations
How To Order: Walk-in, no phone orders yet.
Orobae is another staple in the boba shop crown of Orange County. Walk into their sleekly minimalist store to order a refreshing tea. The staff is super knowledgeable and they’re dedicated to using the best ingredients. Their tea-based drinks typically have a strong tea flavor and their slushy drinks are blended with real (and delicious) fruit.
Must-Try: The specialty Rising Phoenix (a sophisticated milkless Formosa oolong), white peach oolong with lychee jelly, or toasty roasted oolong milk tea.
Independent small business Dragonfly Tea Bar, with its mellow vibe and plenty of outdoor seating, is popular with the local student crowd for delicious drinks, perfectly chewy boba and fantastic popcorn chicken. It’s also popular because it’s open late; this is the place to go if you’re in Garden Grove and need a late night boba fix.
Must-Try: The (truly) Legendary Oreo, Mango Macchiato, the Aloha (jasmine tea with peach, raspberry, lychee, and passionfruit).
Location: Garden Grove
How To Order: Online (no ordering before noon.)
Sunright Tea Studio puts cheer in your day from the moment you step into the store to the first sip of your drink. Sunright believes in bold colors, bright décor and a deeply personalized experience and they deliver on all three.
Let’s be real, though… you really want their drinks. They serve fantastic frosties and delicious teas, and you can add their honey boba to pretty much anything (please do! It’s awesome!). Be aware, 100% sweet is really sweet, so adjust accordingly if that’s not your jam.
Must Try: Oreo Brulee boba milk tea, Sunright fruit tea (tea, fresh OJ, passionfruit and topped with fresh orange slices), strawberry frosty and matcha red bean frosty.
Locations: Costa Mesa and two Irvine locations
No matter what kind of bubble tea you’re craving, we’re pretty sure you can find it in Orange County. Whether you’re looking for a creamy indulgence, a cooling refresher, or a new twist on healthy hydration, there’s a friendly neighborhood tea shop that can give you exactly what you need.
The only problem you’ll have is choosing where to go first.
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.