The Truth About Boba
So I recently moved back to downtown Berkeley after having spent quite a bit of time away. It has been delightful to revisit my old haunts, like the gas station that had the good frozen burritos (don’t judge, I was a stoner in college) or the deli staffed by a sandwich maker who never seemed to age. Still, the neighborhood has completely changed. The reality is that most of the businesses that were there when I was growing up and well into my twenties suffered the fate of so many COVID-struck establishments. In the place of mediocre pho places and surprisingly good sushi now stand a collection of stores that are here to stay: the boba tea shop.
Well. Boba was kind of a thing growing up and certainly gained in popularity by the time that I had moved to London. Since it has not yet made it to Tel Aviv, I had quite frankly forgotten about its existence except when someone shared the article about the woman who drank nothing but boba and had hundreds of tapioca balls stuck in her digestive track. Revolting.
So being a naturally curious person and a sucker for popular haunts, I thought about going to find the best boba in the area. The place next door to my new apartment seemed too easy, it was one of the few places that survived 2020 and once served actual tea rather than the too sweet sludge that comes in a fun plastic cup. But there was one boba place that always had a mob in front of it, so the theory was that it was the best in town. My fiancé who had flown in from Tel Aviv that morning in tow, I insisted we make a pit stop though we were loaded down with new cookbooks from Moe's and edibles from a dispensary with overly friendly staff. The mob seemed slightly smaller, though by the time we had crossed the street it had naturally doubled.
I called out if anyone was in line, and as it turned out the place was entirely self-serve. As in, pick your poison from far too many options, customize the amount of sugar, ice, and shockingly addictive toppings, and wait outside for your number to be called. This was already upsetting as customer service is such an essential part of the eating experience. Perhaps that mentality is far too obsolete for these Gen Zers.
We were already there and feeling somewhat out of place, but hell. Screw it. I went through half of the menu and was frustrated. Out of fifty some odd variations on boba drinks, perhaps two sounded interesting and the rest somewhat alarming. (Cucumber melon is a lotion flavor people!) Trying to be creative, I selected a frozen rose and lychee flavored beverage with lychee jelly and waited fifteen minutes for my number to be called. Being a friendly person, I greeted the woman who handed me the drink and one of those thick straws. Her eyes went wide at the mere concept of having been acknowledged as a fellow human being.
Here goes nothing, I thought. The drink honestly wasn’t bad, with closed eyes it was even reminiscent of Turkish delight, and those bits of jelly had a fascinating texture. My fiancé hated the drink, something I was secretly pleased about. The thing of it was, when they said frozen they meant FROZEN, so four blocks later to my little apartment and half of my boba drink wasn’t really drinkable. I was losing patience.
Sacrilege-I ripped off the plastic film lid and grabbed a teaspoon with which to grab some more of that fabulous lychee jelly and bits of fruit hiding among a semi rose scented slushy. And you know what? It was absolutely disgusting. Confusing, perhaps, but it was the straw that made the boba drink as hyper-palatable as it was. In it of itself, the textures were all wrong and the flavors highly artificial. Lesson learned.