I first fell for boba (also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea, that magical Taiwanese combination of tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca pearls) when I was in high school. Too young to visit bars, my friends and I would instead hang out at tea shops before going shopping for used CDs (an actual thing we all once did). What I always loved about boba shops—in addition to the beguiling chew of the tapioca pearls sucked through those wide straws and the hit of caffeine and sugar in the milky tea—was how welcoming those spaces were, providing a relaxing respite for playing board games or just hanging out.
In the COVID-19 era, the majority of local bubble tea shops are open for takeout only (and typically lack outdoor seating), meaning we can’t linger with our drinks over a game of Connect Four. Still, treating yourself to a delicious beverage has a way of making the whole day feel brighter—and from the sheer number of new boba shops in the Mile High City, it seems that Denverites would agree. One thing that has changed for me since high school? I now order my bubble teas at a gentle 30- to 50-percent sweet.
This independently owned and operated Glendale shop from brother-and-sister duo Patrick and Victoria Lam specializes in scratch-made boba and other beverages. The Colorado-native siblings are ethnically Chinese with Vietnamese-born parents and have spent years traveling across Asia, where they sampled countless styles of hot and cold tea beverages. The Lams bring that inspiration and a true dedication to sourcing premium quality teas and fresh ingredients (including Palisade peaches) to Tea Street, and you can taste their care in every sip.
Order: The green-tea based coconut milk tea with boba and chewy rectangles of coconut jelly, or the taro slush, made with fresh taro that’s stewed for 12-plus hours.
4090 E. Mississippi Ave., 720-863-8636
Founded in Taiwan in 2007, Denver got its first location of this global dessert chain in 2018. You could spend months working your way through the dizzying array of Taiwanese desserts on the menu, from hot and cold almond soups and silky tofu puddings to refreshing shaved ices and taro ball bowls. The milk teas are top-notch, and the sheer number of fanciful toppings (ice cream, Q mochi, lychee jelly, etc.) alone make it worth a visit.
Order: Milk tea with the delicious black sugar boba and a jiggly layer of not-too-sweet almond pudding.
1350 S. Colorado Blvd., #121, 720-389-7858
This two-year-old Littleton shop churns out perfectly cooked tapioca and not-too-sweet drinks to please even the most discerning boba seeker. This is the place to venture beyond basic tapioca balls: Try crystal boba (a lightly sweet, clear boba) or popping boba (little juice balls that explode with strawberry, mango, or passionfruit when you bite into them).
Order: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more Instagrammable and delicious drink than the purple-blue-and-white swirled butterfly lavender milk tea.
5005 Kipling Pkwy. Unit A8, Littleton, 303-990-9926
With three (soon to be four) locations across the Denver/Boulder metro area, this Queens, New York-born tea shop is expanding rapidly in the Centennial State. Its easy-to-navigate menu offers boba milk tea with the option for Lactaid milk if you happen to be lactose intolerant, slushes, “punches” (fresh lemonades with fruity teas), and seasonal specials, like a purple yam latte.
Order: Sometimes called “cheese tea,” this milky drink, called “milk cap tea” at Kung Fu, features a thick, fluffy top layer of slightly salty cream cheese above sweet green or black tea. It’s delicious. Get the winter melon tea cap, which balances the rich topping with the slightly grassy flavor of winter melon.
A Taiwanese staple since 1992, this global chain has recently arrived in Westminster and Lakewood. The boba drinks there are consistently tasty and the service is quick and hospitable. There are also plenty of lighter, fresher options here if you prefer your tea sans milk, including fresh hot ginger tea.
Order: Try the QQ Happy Family Milk tea, a classic milky black tea with a treasure trove of textures from the addition of lychee, red beans, grass jelly, and boba pearls.
Westminster: 5685 W. 88th Ave., 303-428-7971, Lakewood: 424 S. Teller St., 720-708-4354