Boba has been around in Sarasota for years, but the drink, often called a "bubble tea," seems to be undergoing a renaissance, with a handful of newish cafés offering the beverage. If you've never had one, boba is typically made with some combination of tea, milk, ice and small balls, or "pearls," made out of tapioca starch.
According to Leslie Nguyen-Okwu of Eater, "tapioca pearls start white, hard, and rather tasteless, and then are boiled inside huge, bubbling vats and steeped in sugary caramelized syrup for hours" until they become black and chewy. The drink is served with an extra-wide straw. As you sip, you suck in tapioca pearls and then chew on them as you savor the liquid.
While that may be the basic outline of boba, the combinations of flavors are almost limitless. Some have a strong tea flavor, while others are more fruit-forward, and even the pearls themselves can be made to pop in different ways, gushing forth a variety of flavors.
Intrigued? Here are seven local shops that make a great boba.
4462 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, (941) 761-8886, facebook.com/dingteabradenton
This buzzing Bradenton café is part of a chain based in Taiwan that boasts hundreds of locations around Asia and beyond. The menu includes a huge selection of tea drinks that can be customized with all kinds of teas, fruit juices and both plain and flavored pearls. Try a Hokkaido black milk tea boba ($4.50) if you like a strong, refreshing tea flavor. A taro latte ($4.55), meanwhile, is sweet and starchy, with a gorgeous lavender color streaked with milk.
1926 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 373-1800, elixirteahouse.wordpress.com
A cozy mid-Sarasota hangout, Elixir offers dozens of varieties of tea, as well as a high tea service, food, beer and wine, plus bobas. Their bubble tea selection is more limited than others, with just taro, green tea, matcha, milk tea, Thai tea and lavender on offer ($5.50).
265 S. Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, (941) 587-1170, funkyfreshboba.com
This cool shop opened in a Nokomis strip earlier this year, offering rich beverages stocked with tapioca pearls or "popping bobas," pearls that pop in your mouth and release flavors like lychee, rose or dragon fruit. The "Purple Tiger" ($6) is made with taro and sweetened with sugar and honey—definitely a highlight. Funky Fresh also makes coffee drinks; try a nitro cold brew ($5.50) studded with bobas and sweetened with caramel or even Nutella.
1813 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 960-1610, facebook.com/kamsbubbleteasushi
Kam's has been a fixture of the local boba scene for years, making tea drinks as well as smoothies flavored with fruits like lychee, peach, mango and strawberry. A mango green tea boba ($4.75) has the power to chill you out on a hot afternoon, or you could opt for a green bubble tea topped with fresh fruit like papaya or pineapple ($5.99).
8404 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 260-7868, kungfutea.com
Part of Chi Chop, a restaurant that specializes in hibachi-style grilled meats and fried chicken, Kung Fu Tea serves a big mix of bobas, with both liquid milk teas and thicker "slushes." Pick your specific sweetness level (from "zero" to "extra") and go nuts. Try a strawberry and lemonade tea mixed with aloe-flavored jelly pearls ($3.75-$4.65), or a taro "slush" thickened with crushed Oreos ($4.50-$5.15). The shop has hundreds of locations around the country for a reason.
11581 E. State Road 70, #109, Bradenton, (941) 739-8039, pacificcounter.com
If you haven't tried one of Pacific Counter's sushi burritos yet, we highly recommend them. For a sweet finish to your meal, pick a 24-ounce bubble tea ($5.99) made with either iced tea or milk tea, plus fruit flavors and a mix of pearl flavors that can be combined however you like.
6517 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 312-5192, thebestboba.com
This fun Gulf Gate shop, which opened in 2019, hosts live music sessions, as well as impromptu karaoke contests, in addition to serving a mean boba. Consider a matcha milk tea ($6.50) paired with a lychee-flavored "bursting boba." The dry flavor of the green tea tastes great on its own, but the pop of fruit flavor takes the whole package to another level.