Review: Battle of the boba shops


Sophia Puzon

Boba pearls are made of tapioca starch, and typically accompany a drink which is usually a type of tea.

Burlingame Avenue is known for four things: ice cream parlors, acai bowl spots, trendy cafes — and an abundance of boba shops. Some, like Tpumps and Happy Lemon, reside directly on the Avenue, in view of passing pedestrians whereas specialty spots like Boba Guys and Teaspoon are tucked away from the main thoroughfare.

Boba, also known as bubble tea or pearl tea is a tea-based drink originating from Taiwan in the early ‘80s, commonly known for its unique addition of chewy tapioca balls. Boba made its emergence in the United States during the ‘90s after widespread Taiwanese immgiration, and following this was the introduction and quick rise in popularity of the drink. Soon after, the Bay Area quickly became home to major bubble tea chains, and Burlingame is no exception to this popularity. 

Many students frequent these boba places after school for a refreshing, sugary beverage. The popularity of boba has only intensified a long-standing debate among enthusiasts: Which boba place on the Avenue is the best? Over the past few weeks, I sought a verdict, visiting all four boba places in the area and reviewing them on a scale from one to five. 


Tpumps is a veteran of the Ave’s boba scene. The perpetually-popular store opened its doors in 2014 and hasn’t slowed down since. Its service also remains brisk and satisfactory, thanks to the adept baristas who are used to long lines out the door. Tpumps is also the least costly boba option on the Ave, with drinks starting at $3. 

The menu doesn’t typically list the names of drinks available to order. Instead, it uses a create-your-own-adventure system, presenting a variety of flavors that you can mix to create a unique concoction. There is no flavor maximum, but I can imagine that at some point, the drink becomes a gross sugary medley. But the indecisive need not worry: If you don’t trust yourself to customize your own drink, Tpumps also provides a list of fan-favorite flavor combinations. 

I decided to order a safer option: a strawberry pomegranate green tea with honey boba, which had an appealing, nearly blood-red color. The tea itself was okay, though it had a slightly artificial taste that took away from the overall experience. 

The best part of the drink was the boba. Out of all the boba places, Tpumps had the best boba. It was soft, sweet and chewy, and enhanced the otherwise mediocre drink. 

Although the flavoring for the drink could have been better, the boba saved the drink from a poorer score.The tea makes up the majority of the drink, which makes it just as an important factor to consider in the rating as the boba itself. My rating for Tpumps was 3.5/5.


Tucked away behind Peet’s Coffee, Teaspoon is one of the more overlooked boba shops on the Avenue. The store is cramped but cozy, and most customers choose to sit outside at the tables and seats provided. Teaspoon is on the pricey side: most drinks cost upwards of $6. 

The menu presents artisan drinks that are aesthetically pleasing and clever, such as “Mango on Fire,” a drink that combines tajin, lime and chamoy into a mango smoothie. Like Tpumps, you are also free to create your own drink if none of their signature options appeal to you, with the ability to adjust the ice level and sweetness to your liking. However, the shop differentiates itself by offering cake, macarons and other treats in addition to boba drinks.

I wasn’t interested in a pastry, so I chose a drink. I got the “Ladybug,” a passion fruit drink mixed with kumquat juice and boba. I made the mistake of ordering regular sweetness, which was far too sweet for me, especially with the boba added in. However, the taste of the drink was pleasant and refreshing.

But the flavor of the tea couldn’t quite make up for how sweet the drink and boba were. My rating for Teaspoon is a measly 3/5. 

Happy Lemon 

Happy Lemon is another boba place situated in Fox Mall, directly on the Avenue. The service was excellent; the sole employee was quick to take my order and prepared my drink within moments. Happy Lemon’s environment is vibrant and polished, and there was plenty of seating throughout the shop. But, be wary, as boba prices shoot up, Happy Lemon is no exception, as many of the products cost more than $6 — even without expensive toppings.

At first, the menu comes across as intimidating, providing more choice and variety than the other boba places. The listing uniquely offers salted cheese as a topping, which I have not seen in any other boba place. The combination of cheese and tea may be off-putting to most, but it piqued my curiosity, so I had to try it.

I opted for the mango matcha smoothie with salted cheese. The salted cheese didn’t taste like any sort of cheese at all, and was more reminiscent of a salty whipped cream. Surprisingly, it complimented the mild sweetness of the matcha and the bits of mango found throughout the drink. The boba itself was nothing special. Not soft enough for my liking, and the taste of honey I usually look for in boba was lackluster. In fact, I preferred the drink alone over the boba. 

As strange as salted cheese may sound, I really enjoyed how it tasted alongside my drink. My rating for Happy Lemon is 4/5.

Boba Guys 

Boba Guys is another boba place hidden away from view on Donnelly Avenue. The shop’s interior is minimalist and spacious, a little less claustrophobic than places like Teaspoon. There was a line by the door, but it passed quickly, and before I knew it, the “Boba Guys” had received and prepared my order. An important thing to note is that Boba Guys was the most expensive out of all the boba places, with most items costing more than $6, though many say it’s worth the price. 

Boba Guys’ menu offers the least amount of options. Their drinks are on the simpler side, with just one or two ingredients. They also offer cookies and other pastries, as well as a sizable selection of merchandise right at the cash register. You can customize the sweetness and ice level of the drink per usual, but you can also customize the caffeine amount and the type of milk for those with an intolerance to either.  

I decided to order the strawberry matcha latte with boba, which came layered red, white, and green. After mixing thoroughly and taking one sip, I was hit with a strong and bitter — but not too overbearing — matcha flavor, complimented perfectly by the sweetness of the strawberry purée.

The boba itself was fresh and very chewy, and added more sweetness to the beverage. I enjoyed my drink much more with boba than without. 

The simple presentation of the drink and three flavors that worked well together left me satisfied and wanting more. My rating for Boba Guys was 4.5/5. 


Although everyone has their own boba preferences, I enjoyed Boba Guys the most because of their simple yet high-quality drinks. I tried to focus my critiques on the quality of the boba, since it’s usually the main focus of the beverage. However, the drink still serves as an important foundation of the rating, as the quality of the tea could either make or break the beverage overall. Every one of these places is worth trying out if you’ve never tasted boba before, or if you’re thirsty and want to move beyond a Starbucks frappuccino.