There’s a boba tea shop in West LA, on the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard known as Little Osaka, that makes a lychee iced tea that’s the bane of my existence. Why? Because it’s so addictive that, at one time in my not-so-distant past, I thought about it almost every day and often found myself planning my whole day around getting one.
After getting the lychee iced tea dozens of times, I finally decided to branch out and try the milk tea, since theirs is made without dairy. Boba tea (sometimes called “bubble tea”) originated in Taiwan (land of my peeps) in the 1980s. It usually contains a tea base mixed or shaken with milk. The “boba pearls” added to it are chewy tapioca balls.
Because Volcano Tea House uses non-dairy creamer instead of milk, I knew I could drink their milk tea with impunity and I was curious to see what it was like. The short answer is: weird. I tried two flavors — rose and almond — and both had a distinctly artificial taste that I’m pretty sure was due to the non-dairy creamer. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff precisely because of this artificial taste.
I’m usually into rose-flavored anything, but Volcano’s rose milk tea had a strange perfumy taste. When I made my husband try it, he grimaced and said, “It tastes like the air freshener in my grandmother’s bathroom.” I suppose that’s the danger of any floral-flavored food product.
One thing I like about Volcano is you can ask for less or no sugar in your drink. But when I ordered the almond milk tea, I asked for no sugar and the barista told me, “Then it won’t taste like almond at all.” So I got it with one-third sugar, and I could still barely taste the almond.
However, the boba pearls at Volcano are beyond reproach: wonderfully soft and chewy. I like the “tiny boba” because they’re easier to suck up the straw than the regular-sized ones. But if you’re watching your weight, opt for no boba — they’re pure starch. You don’t want to know how many calories are in those little things.
Final verdict: Volcano Tea House misses the mark with their non-dairy milk teas, but makes the best flavored tea without milk. My favorite: iced jasmine green tea with lychee, no sugar, half syrup. You can customize your drink in all sorts of ways, and what’s amazing is that, in all the years I’ve been going there, the industrious employees at Volcano have never messed up my order.
VOLCANO TEA HOUSE, 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025