It's all about the boba at Atulea in Capitol Hill. Photograph by Amber Fouts.
The squishy texture—known in Chinese as “QQ”—of the tapioca pearls. The revitalizing sweetness of the tea. Even the satisfying act of slurping it all up through a fat straw. This is the endorphin-releasing rush that comes from drinking boba tea, also known as pearl milk tea and bubble tea.
The Taiwanese beverage was invented in the 1980s and continues to evolve stateside with new flavors, toppings, and forms: milk teas, fruit teas, cheese teas, smoothies, and slushes, not to mention the boba, jelly, fruit, pudding, ice cream, and other toppings that accompany them. Herein our, by no means exhaustive, guide to the myriad boba shops in town.
Cofounded by husband and wife Vince Shi and Kathy Wang, this verdant spot prides itself on using local, natural ingredients. Cheese teas like peach jasmine and rose oolong are light and creamy with subtle fruity notes. Atulea’s white tiles, leaf-print wallpaper, pink accents, and trendy wicker chairs make for a great photo backdrop, all the better for sipping one of the many masterful matcha beverages.
University District, Capitol Hill, Bellevue
Step into Timeless for not only teas but an adjoining counter slinging mille crepe cakes, cup cakes (literal cake in cups), and adorable bulldogs made of chocolate mousse. Its execution of black sugar fresh milk tea—a cult classic among boba lovers also referred to as brown sugar milk tea—is expertly done. There’s also a strong roster of fruit teas, which includes types like crystal boba pomegranate and watermelon.
University District, Kirkland
With locations stretching from Malaysia to Hong Kong to Canada, this Taipei-based chain dispenses sea salt cheese milk foam with the best of them. The tanginess of the pink lychee smoothie, the creaminess of the foam, and the QQ of golden honey pearls all combine for a truly addictive drink. If you’re less foam inclined, the milk teas (like rose or osmanthus jasmine) or old master formula teas do the trick. The U District location’s large, white sitting area is a favorite hang.
On the cusp of Amazonia, this tiny shop wields mighty influence when it comes to traditional Taiwanese boba. The moo bar special, a black milk tea brewed with assam, is a crowd-pleaser, along with the unique Thai horchata. Decadent bubble waffles served with ice cream sundaes and chocolate syrup are also offered. Cold drinks are served in glass jars adorned with animated characters (hello, Sailor Moon) and animals.
As the name suggests, YiFang weighs in with an impressive fruit tea spread. Drinks are mixed with fresh, organic fruit—like diced pineapple, passionfruit, lychee, and orange—and the owners import their juices and teas from Taiwan. A nifty self-order machine where you can add jellies, cheese milk foam, and other classic toppings expedites the whole ordering process.
Chinatown–International District, University District, Capitol Hill, Renton
The original location in the C–ID is every bit the rollicking late-night oasis (sorry) you’ve heard about, supplying popcorn chicken, fries, and pinball until 1am on the weekends. The vibe is slightly different at other branches, but the extensive list of milk tea flavors remains the same: taro, honeydew, even chrysanthemum. Chillier, blended iterations exist as well, with an equally exhaustive flavor lineup for snow (ice, flavor, and creamer) and slush (snow sans creamer) bevs.
Boba Up is the only self-serve boba joint in Seattle and the first such one in the state. Think Menchie’s, except trade the sprinkles in for boba, jelly, pudding, and aloe toppings. Sample cups let you taste test flavors like taro, thai, and brown sugar milk tea. This is your golden chance to act like a kid in a candy store and fill a cup up with a little bit of everything, which may lead to something great.
Drip, a relative newcomer, is part cafe, part concept store. The “concept” portion carries another type of drip: high-end apparel brands like Chrome Hearts and Yeezy. Even the drinks have an irresistible aesthetic about them, especially the “designer” line, which includes out-there fruit teas like No. 5 Elixir (activated charcoal, mango lemonade, mango bits) and classic combos like Babycat (taro smoothie plus Oreos). For an extra $5, bear-shaped bottles spruce up any drink.
Chinatown–International District, Wallingford
Young Tea provides a thoughtful selection of milk teas, smoothies, and fruit teas. A couple favorites include their signature milk tea and rose green milk tea (almost too pretty to shake up), along with grapefruit plum juice, winter melon juice, and black sugar ginger fruit teas. It’s a shame that the hangout spaces are closed for now, since the display cases full of posh tea sets are lovely to look at, but Young Tea plans to expand to Bellevue soon.
Capitol Hill, Redmond, Tukwila
Sure, this local chain has the requisite assortment of milk teas, fruit teas, slushes, and smoothies. But for those who prefer to eat their boba, look no further than Meetea’s selection of beloved cheese boba toasts. Toppings like purple rice, sago, oats, and purple sweet potato—often difficult to find on the average Seattle boba menu—are worth noting as well. These ingredients feature into some of their best-sellers, like the purple rice green milk. Cheese creama with boba taro dirty milk proves to be an excellent combination, and the grapefruit slush is simple yet memorable.
Founded in 1996 by Joe Hsu and Lydia Lin, the intimate storefront is a C-ID fixture. Hsu and Lin are tea experts, particularly in the oolong department. All their top-notch leaves are imported from China and line the shelves in stately golden tins. With such a sophisticated tea base, the heavy oolong tea and the black milk tea speak for themselves. Not to mention the toppings are free.
Lower Queen Anne
Taking its inspiration from tea-making practices all over Asia, Rabbit Rabbit is conceptually driven by high-grade tea. It offers black, green, buckwheat, and oolong, as well as milk teas like Japanese buckwheat or assam. The lychee green and the pineapple golden oolong fruit teas shine, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try the Queen of Hearts mojito. Just a short walk away from the Space Needle, the checkerboard floors and rabbits decorating the walls don’t break character on the whimsical Alice in Wonderland theme.
The eponymous lemon series is what distinguishes this mammoth Taiwanese chain from the rest, providing citrusy delights like the freshly squeezed lemon jasmine and the pineapple lemon with lychee jelly. They also deserve a nod for inventing rock salt cheese tea, which is there for those who prefer creamy concoctions to tart ones. The eighth Seattle-area branch springs up in Lynwood soon.
The black milk tea and taro milk tea are easy favorites, but don’t be afraid to commit to a dessertier route with Oreo and tiramisu drinks or toppings. Boss Tea shares a space with acclaimed Banh Mi Deluxe, with many banh mi choices to go alongside your boba order.
Sporting a curated menu of mostly milk teas (customize it with regular, almond, oat, or soy milk options), 20 OZ elevates its game with ceremony-grade matcha. Other great picks include the ube milk tea, brown sugar milk tea, and the seasonal strawberry honey jasmine fruit tea. The polished flavors, balanced out with customizable levels of sweetener and topping options like charcoal and chia seeds, make for a truly elegant tea experience.
With over 300 stores internationally, Sharetea isn’t exactly local, but each of its nine area storefronts benefits from ingredients imported directly from Taiwan. Seasonal and specialty rotations, like the brulee series currently at the Bellevue location, keep things fresh, too. Menus vary across locations, but the QQ happy family milk tea is an indulgent staple where you can choose six toppings, like jellies, lychee, boba, pudding, or red bean.