Best Spots for Boba Tea in Minneapolis
From artisanal boba stops to international chains, the tea shops of Minneapolis have your cravings for this Taiwanese treat covered.
From Dinkytown to Uptown, Minneapolis is home to a thriving boba tea culture. Whether you call it bubble tea, milk tea, boba tea, pearl tea, or tapioca tea, one thing’s for sure—once you try the blissfully chewy, sweet, and creamy combination of one of Taiwan’s most popular culinary exports, you’ll be hooked.
Where did boba tea come from?
Created in Taiwan in the late ‘80s, boba culture stems from Taiwan’s rich history of tea cultivation and appreciation. Teas from the island (especially oolong and black cultivars) are prized as some of the best in the world, and in Taiwan and many parts of East Asia, social gatherings at home and in traditional tea houses have made tea drinking an integral part of life. Traditionally, tea drinking could stretch into hours-long affairs where the conversation and community was valued as much as the drink itself.
Around the globe and right here in Minneapolis, boba tea has become a modern tea culture of its own. Especially popular among the university crowd, you can still find tea lovers treating a trip for boba as a chance to connect over a cup.
How to order Boba Tea
Another key to boba tea’s popularity lies in the choose-your-own-adventure vibe the drink offers. With all the variations available on tea shop menus, from different tea bases and flavor syrups to milks and add-in ingredients, there are literally endless ways to customize your cup. For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on the choices you may have to wade through before you order.
Every cup of boba begins with a scoop of some chewy delight:
- Tapioca pearls: Unmistakably chewy with a hard to describe texture all their own—in Chinese the springy consistency is known as QQ—tapioca balls are a true delight. Boba tea will typically be served with a straw wide enough to let you sip the pearls along with the tea and chew the pearls to your heart’s content.
- Popping pearls/popping boba: Similar in shape to tapioca pearls, “popping” boba are spherical flavored juice contained within a delightfully squishy shell that pops in your mouth when you bite down on them. If you’ve ever watched a chef experiment with molecular gastronomy on the Food Network, the idea is the same here. It’s science! Delicious science.
- Flavored jellies: Many tea shops give you the option of swapping boba pearls for softer flavored jellies. Made with coconut meat (which gives a texture slightly thicker than the gelatin used in jell-o desserts) these jellies come in a wide range of flavors, like coffee, green apple, mango, lychee, or rainbow. You’ll even see some jellies in shapes like hearts, stars, or dolphins!
- Red bean: Made from sweetened adzuki beans, this sweet, earthy topping is typically added in addition to tapioca pearls or blended into the milk base for a textural treat.
- Egg pudding/custard: Sweet and lusciously creamy, several shops offer egg custard as a textural add-in instead of (or in addition to) boba pearls. You may also see other pudding flavors, like mango.
Then comes the tea! Many boba shops offer different tea bases (think black, green, Thai, jasmine, oolong, and chai) as well as a whole host of flavors. Some popular flavors include coconut, avocado, taro, jackfruit, mango, kiwi, honeydew, strawberry, guava, passion fruit.
You’re not done with choices quite yet, because you’ll also need to choose between milk and fruit tea, level of sweetness, and at many tea shops, temperature! Classic boba tea is cold (served with lots of ice), but you can also find hot and blended varieties. (And though it’s often referred to as milk tea, many tea shops actually use non-dairy cream options, like soy or oat milk.)
Ready to order? Here are a few locally owned tea houses in Minneapolis for your boba tea cravings.
Two blocks from the UMN campus, this minimalist Dinkytown tea shop specializes in traditional bubble milk tea, tea macchiatos, and made-to-order Taiwaneese wheel cakes, delicious round cakes loaded with a variety of fillings from matcha red bean to peanut mochi.
This Uptown dessert and tea shop has been shaking up fruit teas, milk teas, smoothies, and specialty drinks like the Coco Loco with basil seeds, crystal pearls, aloe vera, and lychee since 2018. To go with your sip, dig into Hong Kong-style bubble waffles topped with sweet or savory toppings (think ice cream and chocolate chip cookies or fried chicken with spicy harissa BBQ).
With three locations in the Twin Cities (including a shop inside the Mall of America), this tea shop specializes in loose leaf teas from around the world along with a loooong list of “Flavor it Your Way” options—brewed, iced, or blended tea shakes with a variety of flavors and additions. Tapioca pearls are made fresh every day, and seasonal specials can help avoid that too-many-choices panic.
Offering a taste of Taiwan beyond the typical boba menu, this spot also specializes in bing—flavored shaved ice desserts topped with a variety of fruit, mochi, cookies, and more—and Taiwanese street food like bubble waffles and fried tofu, chicken, or calamari. Can’t decide on one combination from all the boba options? Tii Cup’s Yin Yang cups mean you don’t have to—you can have two totally divided boba concoctions at once.
While Ichigo’s boba tea menu isn’t as wildly expansive as others on this list, it’s the only place you can pair a refreshing milk tea with handheld, Tokyo-style crepes and Japanese souffle pancakes. (Fun fact: this colorful spot began as a weekly two-person pop-up inside a coffee shop in North Minneapolis.)
This boba stop is located inside of University Food Court, a new food court just steps away from the University of Minnesota campus (you’ll also find poké bowls, Korean food, and sushi). Unique to Mi Tea’s menu is a long list of cheese tea—green or black tea topped with a foam made with cream cheese and cream that’s wildly popular in Malaysia, Taiwan, and China.
Beyond the local tea shops, you’ll also find a few tried-and-true international chains noted for popularizing boba in the states.
The largest teahouse franchise in the world—selling over 100 million cups of bubble tea every year—Chatime has several locations in the Twin Cities, including in Dinkytown and local malls (including the Mall of America). You’ll find boba teas like Salted Caramel Hojicha and Nutella plus fruit teas, tea lattes, and Fruit QQs with a chewy topping combo of boba pearls and coconut jelly.
This global boba chain knows its audience: Kung Fu Tea has not one but two locations near the UMN campus (and another coming soon to Nicollet Ave a.k.a. Minneapolis’s Eat Street). The massive menu includes brewed teas, milk and fruit teas, lemonade-tea blends, yakult yogurt drinks, and milk caps featuring a thick layer of salty milk.
Consider yourself an early adopter? Machi Machi might be the place for you. The Taiwanese franchise’s first US location opened in NYC in October 2020, followed by their second in Minneapolis in early December of the same year (as if we needed more proof that MPLS is internationally cool). Located inside United Noodles, this spot is noted for its cream cheese foam, fruit flavors made with 100% fresh fruit, and artisan milk tea flavors.
Founded in NYC’s Chinatown in 2013, this chain offers cheese foam-topped teas, smoothies topped with red beans, hot tea by the pot, plus Hong Kong-style hot and cold dessert soups, ice creams, crepes, and waffles.
Other chains of note: Feng Cha (reopening in Minneapolis June 2021), Chicago-based Uni Uni located inside Legendary Spice Chinese Restaurant, and Bambu Dessert & Drinks offering Chè—Vietnamese dessert drinks made with coconut cut by hand daily.
Want a full meal with your milk tea? These restaurants have you covered.
At Quang, Vietnamese fare from phở and bun vermicelli noodle salads to lunchtime banh mi sandwiches is served up alongside milk pearl iced teas with boba pearls and fruit jellies or Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
In addition to a full menu of Vietnamese plates (fan favorites include the super-fresh spring rolls, lemongrass chicken banh mi, and vegan noodle soup), this popular family-owned spot combines boba pearls with real fruit smoothies.