Xing Fu Tang Taiwanese Boba


There’s boba everywhere in Taiwan. For a boba tea lover like me, it was both heavenly and overwhelming. When there’s a boba shop on every block, how do you decide which ones to try? Taiwanese establishments don’t have a big presence on Yelp, so I had to rely mostly on instinct.

Shopping in Ximendeng, a touristy neighborhood in Taipei, I picked the boba shop with the longest line, figuring the locals knew. Xing Fu Tang, I would later find out, is a hugely popular boba chain with at least 60 locations in Taiwan. During my trip, I would see many people carrying those pill-shaped cups.

I waited in line for 20 minutes under the scorching sun, but it was worth it. Xing Fu Tang’s signature drink, the brown sugar milk tea, was unlike any milk tea I’ve had in the United States. It had a strong tea flavor, it was creamy as hell, and the boba balls were as fresh as they come. The only reason I wouldn’t drink this more often if I lived in Taipei is because it would make me seriously fat.

Oh, and because they use real milk and I’m lactose-intolerant. But hey, I was on vacation. (Read my blog post, “When Cheating on Your Diet Is Worth It.”)

The big wok where they keep the boba balls warm.

As outstanding as that milk tea was, the grapefruit green tea I had at the Xing Fu Tang in Jioufen was even better — and dairy-free! Jioufen is another tourist area, a mountain town filled with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with street-food vendors and souvenir shops.

This grapefruit green tea was the best I’ve ever had, surpassing even my favorite from Tea Bar in Azusa. It wasn’t bitter like some grapefruit drinks can be, but it wasn’t too sweet, either. It had bits of pulp (but not an annoying amount) and it tasted super-fresh. Even without boba pearls, this drink was something to remember.

The location — at the end of the long main street in Jioufen, overlooking the lush green landscape — is a huge plus. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage.


If you find yourself in Taiwan, jonesing for boba, Xing Fu Tang is the spot. Just beware of other Xing Fu Tang locations, though. They’re not all equal. I tried a small offshoot in Ximendeng (with a much shorter line) and another in Danshui Harbor, and they were both disappointing.

XING FU TANG (Ximendeng)No. 29, Chengdu Road
萬華區, 台北市 108

XING FU TANG (Jioufen)No. 175, Jishan Street
瑞芳區, 新北市 224


Labobatory’s “50 Shades of Earl Grey” Boba Milk Tea


If you’re the kind of person who enjoys clever drink names, then you’ll love Labobatory, my favorite boba tea shop in the San Gabriel Valley. The drink in the picture above is called “50 Shades of Earl Grey.” The name alone is cool. The fact that it’s actually grey makes it that much cooler.

What makes it grey? Charcoal. I asked the boba-ista what the charcoal does, thinking that it had some health benefits, and she said, “Nothing really. We just put it in there for the color.” But then she added that some people do take charcoal supplements for detoxification purposes. I could use some detoxifying, for sure.

My go-to drink from Labobatory is the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea, which remains the best rose milk tea I’ve ever had. Like rose milk tea, Earl Grey milk teas are fairly common at boba shops. But Labobatory takes common drinks and does them to perfection. The 50 Shades of Earl Grey, though not wildly different from other boba shops’ Earl Grey teas, was the best one I’ve ever had in terms of quality.

The flavor of the tea is strong but not bitter or too heavy on the bergamot. The dairy-free milk is smooth and creamy. (They use non-dairy creamer unless you specify otherwise; they also offer regular milk, soy milk, and almond milk.) The drink comes out the perfect temperature and has just the right amount of ice.

But here’s what I like best: You can adjust the sweetness level, even to 0%. At many boba shops, if you ask them to make an Earl Grey milk tea with no sugar, they can’t do it. Why? Because they use a pre-sweetened Earl Grey powder or syrup, rather than making the drink from freshly brewed Earl Grey tea. Since I don’t like my tea sweetened, I will go out of my way to find boba shops like Labobatory.

And did I mention that my drink was grey??? This is the type of beverage that will get you a lot of views on Instagram, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.


I declined getting the boba pearls in my 50 Shades of Earl Grey because I’m trying to cut down on carbs. But even without those chewy little bombs, this drink was top-notch. I just hope that the owner of Labobatory opens a shop in L.A. again — the now-defunct Boba 7, which offered alcoholic boba drinks, was a true gem.

LABOBATORY, 819 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776 

The Best Boba Tea Shops in West L.A.

For months I was eagerly awaiting the opening of a bakery chain called 85°C Bakery Cafe at the Century City mall, and this weekend they were finally open for business. The main reason I was excited about it is that they serve boba tea. Since it’s a Taiwanese chain and Taiwan is where boba originated, I was hoping their boba drinks would rock my world.


Unfortunately, they didn’t. This might be because the place just opened and they still need to work out the kinks. I’d be willing to give them another try in a few weeks.

Here were the two drinks my husband and I ordered, the king grapefruit green tea (“king” because it contains fresh fruit) and the rose milk tea. Both were dairy-free. 85°C uses non-dairy creamer in their milk teas.


Both drinks were underwhelming. The grapefruit green tea was less flavorful than the one from Tea Bar in Azusa, which is still the gold standard in my book. The rose milk tea wasn’t horrible, but the rose flavor comes from syrup. So even though I ordered my drink unsweetened, it still came out too sweet for my liking. Labobatory in San Gabriel makes a far superior rose milk tea, flavored with rose water rather than syrup; their tea is also much stronger than the one from 85°C. I want to taste tea in my boba tea!

As a boba connoisseur, it’s clear to me that it’s much easier to find great boba tea in the San Gabriel Valley. I’ve only tried a handful of places out there, but most of them have been good to excellent. Some of my faves: Tea Bar (Azusa), Labobatory (San Gabriel), passion fruit green tea at Blackball Taiwanese Dessert (San Gabriel), and milk tea at Lady Bug Tea House (Alhambra).

But what about West L.A.? Well, believe it or not, my favorite boba milk tea comes from a place that’s in the Century City mall, just around the corner from the new 85°C. And it’s not even a boba shop, per se. It’s the dim sum restaurant Din Tai Fung.

Yes, the same Din Tai Fung that started in Taiwan and branched out to the U.S. with a couple locations in San Gabriel Valley. The one in Arcadia has been a longtime favorite of ours — and now we have one right in our own neighborhood!

The famous juicy pork dumplings from Din Tai Fung.
Din Tai Fung’s boba milk tea.

There are three things that make Din Tai Fung’s boba milk tea so good: (1) a strong tea flavor that tastes like it was brewed fresh, (2) crushed ice instead of chunks or cubes, (3) soft, chewy boba pearls.

My husband and I agreed that 85°C’s boba pearls were a little too hard. Even Volcano Tea House, which used to be my go-to boba shop on the Westside, has disappointed me enough times with hard boba that I’ve crossed them off my list.

So where can you get great boba tea on the Westside? Here’s my list, ranked in order of my preference. (Note that I judge them on the basis of their plain milk teas.)

  1. Din Tai Fung
  2. It’s Boba Time
  3. CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice

I would put Toastea on that list, but it’s in downtown L.A., too far for a Westsider to make casual drive-by. Toastea’s Earl Grey boba is definitely up there as one of my favorite boba drinks.

If you live in West L.A. and have a favorite boba shop that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments below!

Lollicup Fresh


I recently stopped by Lollicup Fresh on Sawtelle Boulevard in West LA for some boba and was thrilled to find out they’re having a special through the month of March: $2 for a 16-ounce boba milk tea. That’s half price! I love a bargain!

Even though I rarely get a plain boba milk tea and usually opt for more fanciful flavors, it’s nice to go back to basics sometimes. The boba milk tea is made with non-dairy creamer, so it’s safe for lactose-intolerant and dairy allergic folks. You can customize the sweetness level, even going for no sugar at all, like I do. To read more of my musings on boba, click here.


I’ve always thought of Lollicup as just a place to get boba, but they have a much bigger food menu than most boba shops. It’s Taiwanese comfort food, like beef noodle soup, sweet Taiwanese sausages, and popcorn chicken (little pieces of fried chicken with a spicy kick). It’s not the greatest food, but when you’re grabbing a boba tea anyway, it’s super convenient.

Here’s one of their newest offerings, the braised pork belly plate. It comes with pickled vegetables, rice, and my favorite thing of all, a seasoned boiled egg. The pork belly is very fatty, so this isn’t the kind of lunch you want to eat before heading into a business meeting or doing a Zumba class. But it’s tasty and cheap — the whole meal, including my $2 boba milk tea, cost less than $10.


Think of Lollicup as Taiwanese fast food. Not something you want to eat every day, but satisfying as a sometimes treat. And if you want to try their boba milk tea at a discount, get thee to a Lollicup before the end of this month.

LOLLICUP FRESH, 2206 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025


Homemade Dairy-Free Lebanese Rose Milk Tea


In honor of the roses we all want to get on Valentine’s Day this week, I’m making a copycat version of the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea from Labobatory, a boba tea shop that I always visit when I’m in San Gabriel. Mine doesn’t contain boba, but that’s better for me anyway, as those starchy tapioca balls are bad news for my waistline.

I love copycat recipes because every time I make one of these, I think, “I’m saving five dollars!” Not to mention, a long drive out to San Gabriel.


All you need is Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea (available at Whole Foods or online), rose water, ice, and a non-dairy creamer such as Coffeemate. The rose water is really the key — it’s what gives Labobatory’s rose milk tea that Middle Eastern flavor. You can find it at Persian or Indian grocery stores.

Labobatory uses non-dairy creamer, but you can substitute almond milk or coconut milk instead. You can also add sugar or another sweetener if you wish.


1 cup boiling water
1 tea bag of Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1 cup ice
non-dairy creamer, to taste

Steep the tea bag in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag, and let the tea cool for 20 to 30 minutes. If you like your tea strong, do this step a few hours before you plan to drink it, then refrigerate it (otherwise the warm tea will melt some of the ice and dilute your drink).

Add rose water to the tea and stir to combine. Fill a glass with the ice. Pour the tea over the ice, and add non-dairy creamer to taste. Stir and enjoy. Makes one serving.

Labobatory’s Lebanese Rose Milk Tea

No, that’s not a typo. It is, in fact, Labobatory, as in “boba.” You may have read my review of Boba 7, a boba shop in Downtown Los Angeles that served alcoholic boba drinks. Unfortunately, Boba 7 closed at the end of last year, but its owner opened a shop in San Gabriel that rocks just as hard.


The drinks at Labobatory are just as fantastic, even though they don’t contain alcohol. What makes them so good? Interesting recipes, fresh ingredients, customizable without being confusing. As a bonus, the whole shop has a cheeky attitude about it that I enjoy.

They sell funny T-shirts, too.

My favorite drink is the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea, which the boba-ista told me is their most popular offering. It’s dairy-free; they use non-dairy creamer that doesn’t taste artificial or weird. (You can ask for regular milk if you wish).

Most boba places use a nasty-tasting rose syrup to make rose milk tea, but Labobatory uses Lebanese rose water. It tastes better and doesn’t add any sweetness. And the boba balls are perfectly chewy. But even without boba, this drink is divine. Don’t let the light color fool you — this tea is strong as hell and packed with caffeine.


I’ve also sampled the Bobatella, a boba drink made with Nutella, and the Yoli, a yogurt green tea with lychee jelly. Both were delicious, but the Lebanese Rose Milk still wins. A couple of the best drinks from Boba 7 — the Horchata and the Creamsicle — have migrated to Labobatory’s menu, now made without alcohol.

Once a month, Labobatory does an alcoholic boba pop-up in Downtown LA at Seven Bar & Lounge, close to the original Boba 7 location. I haven’t had a chance to go yet, but it’s on my must-do list.


By the way, I hear you can get your boba drink in an Erlenmeyer flask at Labobatory, unless you’re getting it to go. Just another fun scientific touch, along with the microscope on the counter. I won’t tell you what you’ll see when you look into the eyepiece — you’ll just have to find out for yourself.


LABOBATORY, 819 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776



MALK Almond Milk


I already have a favorite almond milk, Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Almond Beverage, which I first bought because the box looked cute. Well, I fell for cool packaging again. Walking through the dairy section of Ralphs on my way to the eggs, I saw this futuristic-looking bottle of MALK Cold-Pressed Pure Almond Milk. It looked like a prop from a sci-fi movie. Can’t you just see Dave Bowman and Frank Poole sipping this stuff on board the ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The ingredients list was also appealingly short and sounded healthy. I know, “Himalayan salt” is probably not much different from regular salt. It’s one of those marketing tools to get hippies like me to buy stuff. Guess what? It worked.


When I brought my MALK home, I still had some Trader Joe’s almond milk in the fridge, so I did a head-to-head taste test. The difference: Trader Joe’s has a subtle nutty flavor, while MALK has a strong almond-extract flavor.

I happen to like that flavor in certain contexts. It’s a staple in many Taiwanese desserts, for instance. At BlackBall in San Gabriel (yeah, that’s really its name), I had a hot almond soup with mochi balls in it that was weird and pretty awesome.

Dairy-free, despite its milky appearance.

But I digress. Back to MALK, almond milk of the future. After tasting its strong flavor, I decided the best use of MALK was in an almond milk tea. This is another Taiwanese classic you’ll see at most boba tea shops. It’s iced black tea with a non-dairy milk, almond-flavored syrup, and optional boba pearls. I usually find almond syrup to be overpowering and too sweet, but by using MALK, I achieved a more balanced almond-extract flavor without adding syrup.

Homemade almond milk tea

My experiment turned out well, but for most of my almond milk needs, I still prefer a subtler flavor. So even though MALK has the best packaging, I’ll be sticking to Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage.

But I can’t bring myself to toss this bottle in the recycling bin. I’m saving it for my next space mission, where all food comes in tubes and all drinks come in cool bottles like this.

Lee’s Sandwiches


Last week I wrote about how happy I am when I find dairy-free sandwiches that taste good, and how nice it is to not have to say, “Hold the cheese.” Well, that’s why I was so excited about Lee’s Sandwiches, an Asian sandwich chain that specializes in bahn mi.


Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich filled with flavorful meats such as grilled pork, beef, or lemongrass chicken and vegetables like pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, jalapeños, and cilantro. Reflecting the French colonization of Vietnam, bahn mi is served on a baguette and sometimes contains paté and a mayo-based spread like aioli.

What bahn mi sandwiches never have is cheese!

Sometimes I pick the seeds out of my jalapeños. Yep, I’m a pussy.


I’ve been to the Lee’s in Van Nuys twice, since it’s near the pool where I go swimming. I have to say their bahn mi isn’t the best I’ve ever had — not even close. It’s more the idea of Lee’s that I’m in favor of. You walk in and there’s a whole section of the menu labeled “Asian Sandwiches” with almost as many choices as their “European Sandwiches” menu.

It’s like the Subway of bahn mi.

They also have boba tea, coffee drinks, smoothies, and even house-made Italian sodas. I had the lychee iced tea and I had to ask them to adjust my drink to make it less sweet. However, I found an actual lychee fruit in my cup, so that was cool. I wouldn’t recommend a special trip to Lee’s for boba tea, but I do like that I can get one when I order a bahn mi. One stop shopping is always a plus.


Are there better places to get a bahn mi and boba tea? Absolutely. But in this section of Van Nuys, Lee’s is temptingly convenient and cheap takeout. Most of their 10-inch bahn mi sandwiches are only $4.49 — a steal compared to Nong La, my go-to Vietnamese place on Sawtelle, where an 8-inch pork bahn mi costs $7.

Know of a good bahn mi place in Van Nuys? Or in West LA? Let me know in the comments section!

LEE’S SANDWICHES, 16900 Sherman Way, Lake Balboa, CA 91406

The Loose Teas Café and Gifts


One day, looking for a boba place in Monrovia, I came across The Loose Teas Café and Gifts in a strip mall on Huntington Drive. This is not your typical boba place. It’s more of a traditional tea shop, specializing in a large selection of fine loose teas. I ordered my usual — lychee iced tea — and had to send it back because it was too sweet (this happens a lot with me). But the barista adjusted it until I was happy. And I was thrilled by the boba: super fresh with just the right amount of chewiness.

Since then, I have become a big fan of The Loose Teas Café. They make tea the right way: by brewing each cup fresh to order. And for those of us who don’t eat dairy, they offer soy and almond milk, rather than the non-dairy creamer that most boba shops use (yuck).



Last week I ordered an unsweetened iced tea latte made with rose black tea and almond milk.  It was totally on point. Most boba shops that make rose iced tea use rose-flavored syrup that tastes artificial and sickly sweet, instead of tea that’s flavored naturally with rose petals. This makes a huge difference.


Iced tea latte with rose black tea and almond milk

Most boba shops have snacks like popcorn chicken, Taiwanese sausage, and spicy fried fish balls. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some spicy fried fish balls, but they’re a sometimes treat. The Loose Teas Café makes super fresh, healthy sandwiches. They have a turkey sandwich called the “Flaming Bird” that doesn’t come with cheese and yet still tastes great, thanks to their seasoned mayo and house-made hot garlic chili flakes.

I don’t know about you, but I love not having to say, “Hold the cheese.”

Look at those chili flakes! Sprouts, cukes, avocado… heaven!

THE LOOSE TEAS CAFE AND GIFTS, 666 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, CA 91016

Tea Bar’s Rose Grapefruit Green Tea


Over the past three months since my mom’s stroke, she’s been in a transitional care facility in Glendora. She’s going home soon — yay! — which means I won’t be patronizing restaurants in the area much longer. This is no big tragedy, as most of them aren’t great. But there’s one I will definitely go out of my way to hit, and that’s Tea Bar, an easy-to-miss boba tea shop in a strip mall near Azusa Pacific University.

What makes Tea Bar stand out in this college town filled with boba? Well, the first time I walked in, I ordered the rose grapefruit green tea because I love the flavors of rose and red grapefruit. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tea Bar uses freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

The secret to awesomeness: freshly squeezed juice made to order.

This makes all the difference between a run-of-the-mill iced tea and a superb one. Seriously, every time I’m about to visit my mom, I start thinking about getting a rose grapefruit green tea. Does this make me an addict? Probably.

But I try not to feel guilty about this treat because fresh grapefruit juice is filled with vitamin C, and green tea has antioxidants. I always ask for no sugar. (At Tea Bar, like most boba shops, you can specify the sweetness level of any drink.) The grapefruit juice gives this iced tea a tartness that some people may find too intense, but I personally love it. I always say the American diet needs less sweet, more sour.

You can also add boba to all their drinks, of course. Tea Bar’s boba pearls are made in-house, which makes them good but also means they tend to run out often. No problem — the tea is so fantastic that adding boba to it is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

TEA BAR, 954 E. Alosta Ave, Azusa, CA 91702