A Guide to Boba Tea Shop Hopping in Chinatown Chicago

Spread the love

Ready to explore some boba tea shops in Chicago’s Chinatown? If you’re a fan of bubble tea, get ready to sip on some delicious milk teas, fruit-infused refreshers, and chewy tapioca pearls. 

Chinatown is home to great Asian cuisines, including dim sum, family-fun activities, and great shopping, and it is one of the best areas to shop for Chicago souvenirs!

I visited several amazing boba cafes and tea bars that offer unique flavors you won’t find elsewhere in the city.  In this blog post, I will introduce you to my top boba tea spots in Chicago’s Chinatown, guide you on how to order your boba teas, offer tips on savoring them, and provide insights into their pricing.

What is Boba Tea

Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is a delightful Taiwanese beverage that combines tea with a variety of flavors and toppings. 

The most distinctive feature of boba tea is the chewy tapioca pearls that settle at the bottom of the cup. These pearls, often referred to as “bubbles,” are what give bubble tea its name. The tapioca pearls are naturally gluten-free, making them suitable for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

boba tea on table

A Guide to Boba Tea Shops in Chinatown

Is Boba Tea Healthy for You

Other than being a primary source of carbohydrates, boba tea drinks have minimal nutritional value. The drink is also calorie-dense, mostly because of the sweet syrups, condensed milk, and other sugary ingredients for toppings.  

I opted for oat milk in my boba tea drink, so the options to customize your drink and reduce sugars are available. 

Tea-based boba teas contain caffeine, which can be a pro or con depending on your sensitivity to caffeine. As a regular coffee drinker, I didn’t feel any side effects. However, too much caffeine late in the day leads to issues like insomnia, nervousness, and rapid heart rate.

Some boba tea recipes include fruit or fruit syrups. These can add vitamins and minerals to your drink if whole fruits are used.  

How healthy the boba tea drink is for you depends on the quality of the ingredients. 

Like other beverages, boba tea contributes to your daily fluid intake, helping to keep you hydrated while shopping in Chinatown.  

Lastly, the recipes use tea as a base, such as black tea, green tea, or oolong tea. There are many health benefits associated with these teas, including improved heart health and potential cancer-fighting properties thanks to antioxidants like catechins and flavonoids.

counter at boba tea shop

How to Order Boba Tea

The first boba shop that I tried in Chinatown was Oriental Tea. The place was buzzing with customers. I noticed that no one was using the self-checkout kiosk at the entrance, so I decided to give that a try. The boba tea menu was well organized and guided me through a series of 5 decisions:

  • Decide between dining in or opting for takeout.
  • Select the flavor of my boba tea.  
  • Select my desired level of sweetness for my drink. The choices were 0%, 30%, 50%, 80%, and 100%.  
  • Specify the temperature that suits my preference, hot or cold. For an iced drink, you could also choose the less ice, more ice, no ice, or the regular ice serving. 
  • Select drink extras like red bean, green team foam, coconut jelly, etc.  
  • Opt for a milk substitute (eg. almond milk)

My final selections were dine-in, matcha boba tea, 30% sweetness, less ice, and no extras with almond milk substitute. 

The self-checkout solution made ordering a boba tea quick and easy. After entering my name and phone number, I was automatically enrolled in a loyalty program.

After tasting my drink, I wished for a bit more sweetness. I don’t like to consume a lot of sugar. However, at 30% there was hardly a sweet taste. Next time, I will try 50%.  

Ordering at self-checkout didn’t save me much time because there were still quite a few people served ahead of me. Overall, the wait was about 10 minutes.  

Caffeine vs No Caffeine

Typically, when you order a regular milk tea (unless stated otherwise), you’re requesting black milk tea. Therefore, if you’re looking to avoid caffeine, choose something different from black milk tea or black tea. 

If you’re comfortable with a small amount of caffeine, options like green or oolong milk tea or non-milk tea are likely suitable. 

While white, red, or herbal teas (including milk teas) might not be as common at boba tea establishments, they could be great choices if they are on the menu.  

Since fresh taro root does not naturally contain caffeine, taro milk tea is caffeine-free unless another caffeinated tea like green or black tea is added to the drink.

woman holding boba tea

How to Drink Boba Tea

As you lift the giant plastic cup speckled with condensation, the sweet, milky aroma of tea rises to greet you. Placing the oversized straw between your lips, you take a long draw, the cold, creamy liquid smoothing over your tongue. 

The rolled tapioca pearls, chewy and sweet, flow up through the straw. The texture is a delightful contrast to the smoothness of the tea. You bite down, each boba bursting to release hints of brown sugar or flavor. 

More silky tea washes over the popped pearls, washing the lingering sweetness away. 

You come up for air then dive back in, quickly getting into an easy rhythm of sipping and chewing. 

Each mouthful cools and satisfies on a hot day, the tea both richly flavored and refreshing. It’s a refreshing experience while exploring Chinatown in Chicago.

As the cup empties, you chase down the remaining boba, unwilling to miss a single gummy sphere. All too soon, the drink is gone, leaving only remnants of sweet creaminess coating your mouth. You toss the cup but the nostalgic taste remains, holding the promise of more boba tea adventures yet to come.

I found the tapioca pearls to be satiating. So I only chewed a few from the start and saved the rest for last.

peope sitting in boba tea shop

Bubble Tea Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

When enjoying boba tea, it’s essential to be mindful of bubble tea etiquette. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:


  • Shake it Up: Before sipping your boba tea, give it a good shake to mix the flavors and ensure you get a taste of everything.
  • Experiment: Don’t be afraid to try new flavors and combinations. Part of the fun of boba tea is exploring different tastes.


  • Skip the Straw: Boba tea straws are designed for a reason – to allow you to enjoy the pearls. Skipping the straw means missing out on the full experience.
  • Forget to Chew: The tapioca pearls are meant to be chewed, not swallowed whole. Take your time and enjoy the chewy texture.
kids sitting at table in boba tea shop

Boba Tea Prices

In case you are wondering how much does a boba tea cost, I’ll break it down. My matcha boba tea drink costs $6.25. I don’t recall selecting a tip amount at the self-checkout, but it was on my bill (94 cents). I am pretty sure I would have rounded this to a dollar, not cents so be aware. The tip is calculated to be 15% of the cost.

The taxes were $1.01. Yikes! That is just shy of 16%. 

My total cost was $8.20 for 700ml, or 23 ounces, of boba tea.

Is it worth the price? Yes, if you want the experience coupled with the authenticity of Chinatown in Chicago. I might think twice elsewhere. 

The add-ons range anywhere from 85 cents to a dollar. I’ve seen even higher prices so you can expect to spend anywhere from $8 to $12 for a boba tea in Chinatown with all the extras.

In the suburbs, I paid $5.95 for a boba tea (before taxes) so the price in Chinatown is not too far off base. However, food/drink taxes are higher in the City, as well as the cost of real estate and restaurant operations.

woman looking at phone in boba tea shop

FAQs on Boba Tea

What’s the difference between bubble tea and boba?

The terms refer to the same type of drink, there is no difference between them.

Is boba tea really worth it?

Boba tea is more economical if you make it from home. When purchased from a shop, you are paying for the cost of operations.

Why is boba tea so expensive?

The cost of the boba tea is high especially at boba shops because it has to cover the expense of business equipment, labor, and supplies.

Does Starbucks sell boba tea?

Starbucks does not offer boba tea, but they have been testing their own variations [source].

How healthy is boba tea?

Boba tea provides few vitamins and minerals but has high levels of sugar.

asian attire hanging on wall

Final Thoughts on Boba Tea Shop Hopping in Chinatown Chicago

I had a great time exploring the boba tea shops in Chinatown. Each establishment has its unique atmosphere, and some are more attractive than others, whether it’s because of their bright and playful interior, or the lively ambiance they offer.

Boba tea shops usually provide an array of classic flavors like taro, matcha, honeydew, strawberry, and more. The best part is the boba shops in this Chicago neighborhood use high-quality ingredients and it is authentic. So get ready to expand your palate and appreciate boba in a whole new way with some of Chinatown’s must-visit tea houses!

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Galeria Malarstwa says:

    This article is proof of your expertise and dedication to quality content. It’s thorough, well-researched, and engaging.

    1. Tanya Taylor says:

      Thank you very much!

  2. Galeria Malarstwo Polskie says:

    Your post was incredibly enlightening. I appreciate the effort you put into making complex topics clear.

    1. Tanya Taylor says:

      You’re welcome!