"Bubbles, bubbles everywhere, and not a drop to drink...yet."
—Willy Wonka & the
Is there a large concentration of trypophobic folks in Orleans Parish? Perhaps there's an underlying mental aversion to tapioca? One theory might be that there's a distinct line drawn between food and drink here, but what of our love for top-heavy, food-laden Bloody Marys? Whatever the reason, it's something of a challenge to get boba in New Orleans proper, though bubble tea shops are popping up like wildflowers after a rain in the surrounding burbs. There's specialty coffee spots wherever you look, but getting a good boba tea requires cruising out of town, either towards the Crescent City Connection headed for the Westbank or hopping on I-10 W into Metairie and, eventually, Kenner (brah).
Seeing as bubble tea is a food trend which began on the West Coast way back in the 90s (it was first sold in Taiwan in the early 80s), you'd think New Orleans would've gotten the memo by now, but it just hasn't taken hold. If you're craving a tall, cold cup of tea with those sweet, chewy, filling pearls of tapioca, it's worth it to make the short trip beyond the boundaries of Orleans Parish.
It seems our suburban neighbors are hipper to the bubble, as it were. Just take the New York-based Kung Fu Tea, which opened in Metairie a few years ago. This franchise on W. Esplanade has got this drink boom down so well, they've got an ordering app! Not only do they offer a selection of tasty teas—from jujube and honey to basic black, green, and oolong—they also feature fresh fruit juices mixed with yogurt and unique flavors like mango creamsicle and sesame slush. Since we're talking bubbles here, Kung Fu certainly has that covered...and then some. In addition to the "traditional" honey-steeped tapioca pearls, they've got mango, grape, and coffee "popping" bubbles, jellies like oolong and aloe, pudding and milk caps, and sweet red beans.
The appropriately named Sharetea, which is sharing the former Morning Call space on 17th Street with Wishing Town Bakery, is another fairly recent addition to the boba tea craze. Launched in the long, locked-down summer of 2020, this tea franchise originated in the early 90s in Taipei, Taiwan. Since that time, it has spread into a worldwide phenomenon with over 300 stores in 16 different countries. Sharetea's signature drink is a virgin mojito (strawberry and peach), but the menu is filled with fruit and milk teas, along with fresh milks blended with ingredients like cocoa, winter melon, and matcha. With each beverage, you can adjust your ice level, sweetness level and, of course, add toppings such as the beautiful boba (or pearls, both regular and mini-sized), ice cream, pudding, and flavors like aiyu jelly, which is made from creeping fig seeds.
Right across from the mall on Severn Avenue next to Jeff's Haberdashery, there's another boba spot dubbed VIVI Bubble Tea, opened in May 2020, which also serves Taiwanese and Japanese snacks like popcorn chicken with pepper salt or curry, takoyaki (octopus balls), or BBQ sausage. In addition to the regular milk teas, VIVI offers some unique flavors ranging from taro and honeydew to Logan date and tiramisu. They also feature a wide range of flavored teas with jasmine, kumquat, and passion fruit. Along with those bountiful tapioca bubbles, VIVI also features toppings like tea jelly, chia seeds, yogurt "popping" bubbles, and an Oreo milk cap.
It seems the area surrounding Lakeside Mall is a hotspot for boba-lovers because yet another shop, locally-owned and operated Follow Tea, opened just this past April on Severn. Follow Tea's special-tea (couldn't resist) is the addition of cheese. Yes, you can now have cheese in your tea. We're not talking about a slice of Swiss or a blue cheese crumbles, cheese mousse tea consists of milk, whipping cream, and sweet or salty cream cheese, and it totally works! If you can't imagine the flavors in your tongue's memory banks, get on down to "Metry" for a cherry, lychee rose, or pink peach cheese tea, and be sure to add the boba! Along with the commonly-seen black and or golden tapioca pearls, Follow Tea also offers the crystal variety which are more tender (not so chewy) and readily infusable with flavor.
If we travel just a little bit farther into Kenner, you'll discover Boba Boba NOLA inches from W. Esplanade on Williams Boulevard. That lock down year seems to have launched a boba boom, because this spot also opened in late spring of 2020, touting more tapioca-loaded teas. Along with it's cool sumo logo, Boba Boba is unique in its offerings with flavors like the purple-hued coco taro (a blend of taro tea and coconut milk) and fruity infusions such as rose strawberry, green apple, and red guava. Toppings include tapioca, both black and crystal options, plus the popping, or as they call it "bursting," bubbles like pomegranate, passion fruit, and even chili!
Unlike us, sitting here in the middle with little or no boba to be found, the Westbank has gotten into the bubble tea game with Ding Tea NOLA, which opened several months ago in late July. Similar to the other boba shops, this Lapalco Boulevard gem features a menu full to the brim with milk teas, flavored teas, fruit juices, and "yakult" or tea and yogurt blends. But at Ding Tea, their shtick is an offering of tea "lattes," featuring steamed milk paired with flavors like Thai (chai), hot cocoa, taro, and matcha. In the realm of toppings, Ding Tea has golden, crystal, and monster boba (aka brown sugar), cheese mousse, and "sea cream" (salted cream), plus a far wider range of jellies from coconut and grass to star fruit.
To be totally fair, the elusive Orleans boba have popped up at spots like Le's Baguette Banh Mi Cafe, MoPho, and Mr. Bubbles Cafe, but when will we have a boba trap of our very own?