We started this as a fun side project in May 2019 after seeing a South Bay boba tier list someone else had put together. We wanted to confirm the placements of the cafes on their list, so we spent a weekend visiting and rating every place. Though we had entirely too much boba for one weekend, we were able to come up with a few categories to judge each café by. The Atmosphere, Service, Options, Boba (Pearls), and Tea criteria were all decided at the list's inception. Cost was added in later, hence some missing fields from early entries. More info on each category can be found below. We do our best to rate on a bell curve, with 3 being the average and 4 being a standard deviation above. We're no statistics experts, so we probably did this wrong. A rating of a 3/5 is a decent rating, not a bad one.
Originally, we decided to rate each café's most popular drink so each café could put their best foot forward. However, we quickly realized we would be comparing apples to oranges, so we settled on rating some sort of milk tea with boba pearls at each. David generally orders an oolong milk tea, while Christina is a bit more adventurous in her tea order. Both of us prefer reduced sweetness with more firm pearls. David orders without ice, Christina occasionally reduces her ice level. So a word of caution: if you see a café with a low rating in a category, like boba, it may be because the boba falls outside of our preferences, rather than being of poor quality. If soft pearls are your jam, that's great, just know that we prefer firmer pearls and that your favorite café’s score will reflect our preference. Anyhow, enjoy the list, and good luck on your own boba hunting!
We’ve broken down our ratings into the categories of Atmosphere, Service, Options, Boba (Pearls), Tea, Cost, and Bonus. Each one plays a role in determining the overall score of a café.
The atmosphere category rates how comfortable we felt the café was. Was it quiet? Was there seating? Was it newly-remodeled? Did it fit our aesthetic? Because most cafés are on the smaller side (and therefore fewer seats), they usually earn points here based on the interior decorations.
The service category rates a combination of how quickly were we served after we ordered (can’t help if there’s a long line ahead of us) and the attitudes of the service staff. Admittedly, the latter not our most objective measure, but a positive attitude can go a long way in our first impression of a café.
The options category rates how many options are available on the menu. For the most part, the more options, the higher the score. Pretty straightforward. That said, the highest scores are generally given for the availability of alternate milks, ice and sugar adjustments, multiple sizing options, and other heavy drink customizability.
The boba category rates the taste and texture of the boba pearls. The ideal boba pearls have a QQ texture, which (for lack of a proper translation) is a slightly firm but still soft and chewy texture. Think Swedish Fish but warm and with a soft exterior.
The tea category rates the quality of the drink. In milk teas, we tend to prefer stronger teas made with more milk, which are often thicker and heartier than those with more water. In fruit teas, we’re not as picky. Admittedly, we do not do a great job distinguishing between low quality teas that suit our tastes better, and high quality teas that do not.
The cost category rates the cost of drinks at the café. This is not scored on a scale of 1-5, but just recorded as-is. We generally record the cost of the largest single-person drink available. If we were truly scientific people and wanted an objective measure of cost to the consumer, we would measure the size of each drink and calculate a cost/ounce for each drink. However, most cafés use different cup sizes and have different cup shapes from each other, making cross-café measurement difficult. Additionally, many of the cafés Christina and I visit are not near home, so properly measuring the sizes of each drink would involve dragging around our dirty, empty cups all day until we get home, and we do not particularly care to do that. Sorry.
This category awards bonus points to any café we find that does something notable which is not covered by our existing categories. For instance, bonus points may be awarded if a café offers a party-sized container or a catering service, if a café has a wide selection of food options alongside their drinks, or if we receive free things or perks when we visit (beyond a regular loyalty or rewards program).
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