Double the Bubble: Boba Tea in Marin

Emma Peters

Bubble tea, also known as boba tea or pearl milk tea, has quickly become a popular beverage in Marin due to the fun-to-eat tapioca pearls, or bobas, at the bottom of the drink. While boba tea can initially look unpleasant, the boba’s subtle caramel taste and chewy texture prove addicting, especially when slurped through a large straw.

 The most common drinks associated with these precious pearls are bubble milk tea, or tea with milk and sweetener, and fruit-flavored drinks like strawberry boba tea. For this review, the Bark compared a milk tea, a strawberry-flavored drink, and another unique flavored drink at four locations based on the quality and amount of tapioca, the flavor of the drink, and the price.

Cocoyo (2 stars)

GET YOUR FIX for chewy bubble tea drinks from Mauna Loa Hawaiin BBQ, which offers boba drinks like strawberry, black tea, and mango.
GET YOUR FIX for chewy bubble tea drinks from Mauna Loa Hawaiin BBQ, which offers boba drinks like strawberry, black tea, and mango.

Cocoyo is better known for its gelato and frozen yogurt, and it should stay that way. Located in downtown San Rafael, this shop’s boba drinks were a let-down, as their drinks contained the least amount of tapioca pearls—all of which were undercooked with a hard, starchy core—and the cups were filled with too much ice.

The strawberry milk tea had a bland, artificial strawberry flavor, which contrasted poorly with its bright bubble gum pink coloring. Their unique drink, chai bubble tea, had a slightly metallic aftertaste and only faint notes of spice.  The only redeeming drink of Cocoyo’s was their classic bubble milk tea, which was the best out of all of the locations. Not too sweet, the tea had a complex, smooth taste. But for $4.50 each? I’ll pass.

Marin Coffee Roasters (3 stars)

Nestled in Marin’s coffee shop haven known as San Anselmo, this café stands out by being the only coffee shop in the neighborhood to sell bubble tea. It is also unique in that their bubble drinks are blended with ice, like a frappuccino. While I was initially worried that the icy temperature would change the texture of the tapioca pearls, such thoughts were put aside after tasting their blended Thai iced tea, which had the perfect frosty consistency that didn’t interfere with the boba. The strawberry and green tea blended drinks were also wonderful, tasting similar to a Starbucks’ frappuccino. The drinks quickly sell out, which is frustrating when you have a hankering for one. I don’t want to play hard to get with my drinks, even if they are decently priced at $3.75 each.

Mauna Loa Hawaiian BBQ (3.5 stars)

Often unnoticed, this little gem is located next to the popular restaurant Sol Food in San Rafael. Mauna Loa’s bubble milk tea has a light black tea flavor, with the perfect ratio of liquid to ice. Much to my delight, it was abundant with tapioca pearls, but they were overcooked and clumped together.

The strawberry milk tea looked and tasted very similar to the regular milk tea, except for the nice surprise of fresh strawberry chunks at the bottom of the cup. The real hit at Mauna Loa was their mango bubble tea, which had a pleasantly sweet mango taste. With ten flavors of milk tea offered, it is a quick and easy pit stop for decent boba. Each drink is $3.75.

Thailand Restaurant (4 stars)

Located next to a bustling Whole Foods in Mill Valley, Thailand Restaurant offers some of the best bubble drinks in Marin. As their alternative for bubble milk tea, Thailand Restaurant offers a stellar Thai iced tea, which had a gorgeous gradient of black, orange and white colors due to the addition of cream to the tea. The highlight was their strawberry bubble drink: a tea-less, cranberry-colored refreshment that was slightly sour, and included chewy aloe vera chunks in addition to the plentiful and perfectly cooked tapioca pearls. The other star was their Thai iced coffee bubble drink, which tasted like normal coffee swirled with creamy condensed milk. Each drink is $3.75, and worth every penny.