Remember the ’90s? The JNCO era may be best remembered culinarily for its love of pesto and molten chocolate cake, but it was also the decade that Taiwanese bubble tea vendors started arriving in North America. Once a hard-to-find ethnic specialty, boba (referring to the bouncy tapioca balls that fill the bottom of the cup) has long since expanded to the suburbs.
You can get basics like taro milk teas and honeydew slushies just about anywhere these days. Here, we break down some of the refreshing drinks with a chew and the specialties that make our favorites stand out. The only business that’s not locally owned here is Yomie’s Rice X Yogurt, an international chain with only one DMV location that’s too novel to ignore.
Differentiators: Fruit milk teas feature purées and matching popping boba in flavors like pineapple and passion fruit; even plain black milk tea can be accented with pudding
1005 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg
Differentiators: Artichoke Refresher, an artichoke tea with grass jelly; a full menu of banh mi, pho, and other savory Vietnamese classics
2442 N. Harrison St., Arlington
Differentiators: The Rose Imperial, a milk tea with rose petals and strawberry popping boba; foamy sea salt specials
Differentiators: Horchata matcha and pistachio milk teas; the Taiwanese chicken sandwich — one of the region’s best fried chicken sandwiches
8032 Leesburg Pk., Vienna
Differentiators: Unusual flavors like the Galaxy Series’ layered Lychee Lemon Lightyear; cotton candy, Oreo crumble, and mochi toppers
737 E. Main St., Purcellville
Differentiators: Fixings include brûléed tops, sago, tiramisu foam, and sakura boba; a variety of base teas, including jasmine, Ceylon, and Assam
22621 Amendola Terr., Ste. 185, Ashburn
Differentiators: Probiotic yogurt-based smoothies, chewy purple rice, mochi doughnuts, and Korean rice hot dogs from collaborator Mochinut
4367 John Marr Dr., Annandale
Feature photo courtesy The Empress Pearl Tea