SAN ANTONIO - True story. Last weekend, a guy fell asleep on a boat dock on Lake Austin and suffered second-degree burns to forty percent of his body. When authorities found him, his sunburn was so bad it looked like he’d been in a house fire. I tried to wake him, but I’m pretty sure he was on something, and I was too busy riding the high of my latest addiction: bubble tea.
The point is -- it’s too hot to do anything in this stifling heat. For me, that includes eating. The thought of a hot meal is torturous, so I’ve turned to bubble tea, a refreshing Asian drink with a tapioca surprise.
I’m a relatively new member to the bubble tea fan club. I hated it when I first tried one in Chicago two years ago, but my palette had a change of heart on a recent trip to China. I was a stranger in a strange land who found something familiar, and thus a love was created. I’m hooked now and putting my pocketbook and waistline on the line to find the best bubble tea in San Antonio
FYI naysayers: I don’t get paid for this blog, nor do I get free products. I like to hit places up secret-shopper style.
For those not familiar with bubble tea, my good friends at Wikipedia tell me it started in Taiwan in the 1980s, spread to East Asian countries, and eventually migrated to Chinatowns all across America. The drink is tea-based and can be a mixture of tea and cream or tea blended with fruits of your choice, like a smoothie. The best part is the boba, chewy tapioca balls that sink to the bottom. The drinks are always sealed with a plastic cover and served with a fat straw custom made to suck up a boba with each refreshing sip.
Some SALTs (acronym for San Antonio Less than Thrilled) might say that good bubble tea in S.A. is found inside the basement in the Alamo. But I’m certain good bubble tea does exist here, so I mapped out a plan of attack. After reviewing reviews, I settled on five places. I’ve tried traditional milk tea at each and brought some friends/guinea pigs along to sample other options.
First stop: Tong’s Thai Restaurant on Austin Highway. Gotta love a restaurant that sounds like “tongue tied,” and I say you gotta love the bubble tea. You can order one with your meal, or pop into the small bubble tea operation in the back for an express order. I give the traditional milk tea high marks, but can’t declare a winner so early in the game. I must also sing praise for the green tea latte. It was soooooooo good, and sooooooooo refreshing. The staff is very friendly and was glad to explain unique ingredients like taro. It’s a sweet root vegetable that’s a common snack in Southeast Asia, and you’ll see it on a lot of bubble tea menus. An added bonus, the restaurant is very clean.
Now, a logical person would assume that the best bubble tea is at a truly authentic operation. I regret to inform you that my logic failed me on my second stop in the journey. I read good reviews about the bubble tea sold at an Asian market creatively named “Asian Market” on 5712 Wurzbach in Leon Valley. The boba was pretty good, but you can’t achieve the creaminess of a good milk tea with powdered creamer, which sadly, is what was used. On the plus side, it was cheaper than its $5 counterparts. Perhaps the fruity versions are better, but if you are unaccustomed to Asian markets, explore elsewhere as the smell and order can be unexpected for a newbie.
Will the third time be the charm? Fingers crossed, I ventured out to Bobalicious at 4907 NW Loop 410. My milk tea was noticeably better than the last stop and my friend experimented with an avocado and strawberry blend. An avocado drink sounds odd, but don’t fear. It just makes the drink extra creamy and was really good. Bobalicious was busy, which can be a good sign, but lacked an inviting ambience that said “come in and sit down a while.” Depending on how you like your boba, this one was a little hard in the center.
The bubble tea train continued to stop number four, a coffee, tea and hooka bar called “Suck it San Antonio” on 6565 Babcock. If goldilocks tasted tapioca while rifling through the three bears’ home (what a nosy little snot) she would have said this tapioca is “just right.” There were thumbs up and thumbs down about drinks among my bubble tea posse. The lesson we learned is don’t get a fruity bubble tea with jasmine tea as the base, it made the drink bitter. The milk tea wasn’t too shabby and SISA had a bunch of board games for friends to have a chill night. Look for the panda bear sign in the easy to miss shopping center.
Our journey is coming to an end, and for the last stop, we head south to Bubblehead on 1035 S. Presa St. It was busy with friends catching up and customers taking advantage of the free wifi while sitting on cozy couches. They have local art on display and offer bubble tea cards to retrieve a free drink after eight stamps. I did not have friends in tow this time, so I stuck with the traditional milk tea. It was pretty good. I would definitely go back, but truth of the matter is, I don’t think I’ve found the best bubble tea just yet.
So, my search continues. While the number one slot waits to be filled, I’ll put Tong’s Thai as number two, followed by Bubblehead and Suck it San Antonio. The last two were equally good, but on complete opposite sides of town, so choose whichever is closer to you. Please share any recommendations you have so I can fill the top spot and rest easy with bubble tea filled dreams. In the meantime, easy on the SALT.