With the scorching heat upon us and our cravings for refreshing, iced beverages reaching an all-time high this summer, the Highlander features team thought, “Why not have our next taste test be a sampler of the best boba stations around UCR?” Overlooking the more popular tea shops linked to larger businesses such as TenRen’s and Lollicup, we decided to speculate on the boba teas offered at Boba Cafe, Boba Fiend and Boba Tea House.

Also commonly referred to as bubble tea, pearl milk tea and tapioca milk tea, boba milk tea refers to a creamy, highly versatile drink that showcases tender and chewy balls of delight as add-ons. The boba, or tapioca pearl, is a dense yet chewy sphere composed of a starch found in cassava roots. For those of you who have yet to join the hype of this Taiwanese tea-based drink, do not fret over the strange appearance and texture of the peculiar, black, squishy balls of sugar.

The Grading Basis

After being prepped on the scoring criteria, the three guest judges from the Highlander prepared for the ultimate boba taste test of their careers.

Upon blind taste testing each cup of boba, the judges ranked the boba milk tea on a scale of 1-5 in the following categories: general taste and flavor (sweetness and blandness level), texture (boba consistency and chewiness) and overall appearance. In addition to grading the drink itself, we also scored each location on the price and value based upon the size (in ounces) of the milk tea container as well as the business’ distance from UCR. In total, there were 25 possible points that each boba contestant could attain.

The Results

Boba Tea House:

Being the first boba milk tea to pass through the trial of scrutiny, our judges found it somewhat challenging to establish a basis upon which to compare its taste, texture and appearance to. Still, they were able to conclude that based upon past experiences enjoying the iced beverage, Boba Tea House’s milk tea was not refreshing enough. Although it received a high score for its close proximity to campus, the exaggerated chewiness of the boba, which caused a couple of our judge’s jaws to experience a mild pain, resulted in a low score in the texture category. Unfortunately, the milk tea was unable to compensate for the distasteful tapioca pearls as it was too heavy in milk.

Boba Fiend:

Because it was the furthest store from campus at 0.8 miles –– as opposed to Boba Tea House and Boba Cafe’s 0.6 miles –– Boba Fiend was ranked the lowest in regards to distance. Whether the distance was worth it or not was the real question though as our judges immediately pointed out the fact that this boba milk tea remained much more chilled in comparison to the first milk tea they had tested, noting its ability to resist the summer heat. The judges thus found that this beverage was much more enjoyable, excluding one who reasoned that it was much too sweet and would be unable to finish an entire cup. Still, all agreed that the texture of Boba Fiend’s tapioca pearls were much more cohesive and less clumpy, suggesting it is a boba of much higher quality.

Boba Cafe:

Perhaps as a result of the over 100-degree weather, Boba Cafe’s boba milk tasted diluted –– probably due to melted ice –– and generally bland. Although it tied in the highest rating for proximity and even received a score of five for the value, the judges reached a new depth of disappointment in all other criterias. As all three of them could barely bring themselves to drink more for the sake of the taste test, they easily came to a mutual consensus that the tapioca pearls were nauseatingly unsettling due to their indistinctive texture. The remainder of the drink was eagerly poured down the kitchen drain. 

Highlander staff embarked on the boba taste test of their lives with selections from Boba Fiend, Boba Cafe and Boba Tea House. (Jimmy Lai/Highlander)

The Verdict

Boba Cafe easily finished in last place with an average score of 15.2 out of 25 even though it scored the highest in both distance and value. Boba Tea House did not fare much better with an average of 15.8 as it fell short in regards to taste and texture, leaving us with Boba Fiend as the ultimate taste test champion at a high score of 18!

Boba Tea House and Boba Cafe simply failed much too quickly in the temperature department, which held the largest effect on taste according to our judges, as both were clearly unable to withstand Riverside’s blistering heat. Scoring high in taste, texture and appearance, Boba Fiend effortlessly made up for its miniscule loss in distance and value. Thanks to this taste test, we now know where all of our expenses will be directed to in our efforts to stay cool with a hefty, iced refreshment this summer.

Don’t agree with our boba milk tea taste test champion? Let us know what you think in the comments, on Twitter @UCRHighlander or on YouTube @HighlanderTV where our video editor, Matthew Hong, captured the taste-off. Be on the lookout for more upcoming taste tests, and send an email to features@highlandernews.org if you have any ideas for future taste-offs or interest in participating as a judge.