Black sesame tea at Mustache Milk Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Black sesame tea at Mustache Milk Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Treat yourself to bubble tea this summer at one of SnoCo’s best boba shops

Every spot does the sweet, creamy drink a little differently. We found the five best shops to suit any mood.

When I was a kid, my idea of a journalist was a gritty, hard-boiled one. Braving forest fires and shootouts, fearlessly speaking truth to power, uncovering bombshells hidden between the black bars of redacted public records — it was hard work, but someone had to do it. And for some reason, I assumed that person would be me.

In my current job, there’s a lot less frenzied running to fires and a lot more slowly wobbling away from gut-bursting, delicious meals. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I truly love covering food, drink and the people who make them, and I love getting to read my colleagues’ hard-nosed reporting without having to fill out all the public records requests myself.

But don’t say I never put my body on the line for this job, dear readers.

With summer in the air, the perfect time of year for an icy, creamy, sweet bubble tea is upon us. Snohomish County’s cities have no shortage of shops serving up the Taiwanese-born drink, made with chewy, addictive tapioca pearls, milk and any number of fruity, sweet and decadent flavors.

I recruited my friends and colleagues, Herald reporter Kayla Dunn and photographer Annie Barker, to join me on a one-day tour of the best bubble tea spots in the county. I reasoned it would be easiest to compare each beverage and location directly if one followed right after the other, and I’m nothing if not dedicated to journalistic objectivity.

So we made our way to five spots around western SnoCo over the course of six hours one Tuesday afternoon. (I searched, I really did, but I couldn’t find any dedicated boba shops outside of the more urban areas. My condolences, east/north county folks.)

And man, did we feel weird at the end of it. No one human being is meant to take in so much sugar and dairy in the course of an afternoon.

But it was worth the sacrifice, even if all three of us are now taking a bit of a bubble tea hiatus. Read on to find out which bubble tea spots made our cut, and remember to enjoy your delicious icy beverages in moderation this summer. Learn from our mistakes.

(Kate Erickson / The Herald)

Our criteria

You can find decent bubble tea all over the place, from dedicated shops to the menus of teriyaki joints and Vietnamese restaurants (Yummy Banh Mi in Everett does a pretty delicious mango milk tea alongside a killer grilled pork sandwich). But for our definitive tour, we stuck to places specializing in bubble tea.

You might hear it called milk tea, boba tea, bubble tea, tapioca tea and anything in between, but all these names refer to roughly the same thing: a milk- or creamer-based beverage with toppings, primarily tapioca pearls, often served in a tall, plastic-sealed cup with an oversized straw perfect for sucking up every last precious pearl.

Most of the spots we visited don’t just serve milk tea in the traditional sense — brewed black tea with a generous dose of milk and/or sweetener — but feature truly expansive menus including a rainbow of milk tea flavors, smoothies, slushies and beyond. While these blended drinks may fall afoul of some milk tea purists, many shops use the same recipes and bases for their drinks across categories and so we’ve lumped them in together.

And finally, I know milk tea isn’t confined to summer-only status — you can order milk tea hot in many cases, just like you would a latte. But to me, bubble tea is at its best when the warm pearls mingle with ice cubes and cold milk to create a symphony of flavors and textures perfect for a hot summer day.

Our rankings

Kayla, Annie and I ranked each drink and location based on five points: the boba pearls/toppings themselves, the tea or beverage itself, the menu’s overall variety and creativity, the vibe of the shop, and the quality and variety of non-tea snacks available. We assigned stars out of five to each category for each stop. (Are you impressed by our scientific methodology yet?)

When several contenders came too close to call in a few of the categories, we decided it was best to categorize each spot as a winner in a category unique unto itself based on what it does best. So no, we haven’t crowned the ultimate King of Bubble Tea over the course of this project, but I hope you’ll be inspired to find the one you like best using our rankings as a jumping-off point. Happy slurping!

Sweet N Short Tapioca Tea in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Sweet N Short Tapioca Tea in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The place for a lazy afternoon lunch date: Sweet N’ Short Tapioca Tea, Everett

Toppings: 4.6/5

Tea: 4/5

Menu: 4/5

Snacks: 5/5

Vibe: 4.5/5

This strip-mall spot near the Everett Mall stays true to its name, with a to-the-point menu of classic milk tea flavors like brown sugar, taro and Thai tea. I spotted a few flavors I’d never seen before in traditional milk tea, like papaya, banana milk and watermelon, all perfect for a light and fruity summer treat. There’s a toppings bar behind the counter loaded with many flavors of boba and cubes of taro and egg pudding, but ultimately the shop “is giving purist,” as Kayla put it.

Sweet N’ Short’s menu also features frozen yogurt-based smoothies, ice-blended “Chillin Chillers” and simple green tea options adorned only with fresh fruit — Kayla ordered a green tea with mango and boba ($7) and was pleasantly surprised to find chunks of real mango in her drink, ready to be slurped up with the mega-straw.

But the real star of the show was the snack menu, featuring options like six different varieties of banh mi ($5 for ham) alongside street food handhelds like fried rice cakes ($10), spring rolls ($4) and cheese-topped dynamite bread ($6), a charming painting of which hung above our pastel-colored booth. The baguettes for the sandwiches are made in-house, and you can buy a bag to take some of the crackly, chewy goodness home for later ($3.40 for four).

Our drinks were delicious — I got the matcha milk tea with boba ($7), which was delightfully grassy yet just sweet enough — but I could most easily see myself returning for lunch and making the snack menu my focus, with perhaps a chocolate banana smoothie for dessert. The space is sunny and relaxed, with plenty of seating at tables and comfy, clean booths, and the ceiling is painted to resemble a perfect blue sky dappled with fluffy clouds. It’s an ideal spot for luxuriating in the vibes of summer without sacrificing air conditioning.

Sweet N’ Short Tapioca Tea, 35 SE Everett Mall Way, Ste. 105, 425-265-7200. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Mustache Milk Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Mustache Milk Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The spot for adventure-seeking boba lovers: Mustache Milk Tea, Lynnwood

Toppings: 4.3/5

Tea: 4/5

Menu: 5/5

Snacks: 3/5

Vibe: 5/5

Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to bubble tea? Tried all the classics and looking for something a little more daring to be your drink of the summer? You’re bound to find something novel at Mustache, a small shop tucked between a Dollar Tree and an L.A. Fitness on Highway 99.

The menu is extensive — Kayla, Annie and I spent quite a while deciding which delicacies we’d try, but Mustache offers help in the form of pictures of their best sellers, luring us with their multi-colored layers. Kayla went for a classic available in nearly any bubble tea shop, the brown sugar milk tea, while I tried the savory-sweet black sesame milk tea (both $6). Annie, craving something crisp and refreshing, departed from tradition in ordering a watermelon mint lemonade with clear “crystal” boba ($7.50).

But between the three of us, we couldn’t even begin to cover the length and breadth of Mustache’s menu. Their milk tea menu alone features flavors from strawberry cheesecake and rose to horchata and durian, plus seasonal options like jackfruit and sakura. You can even buy popular flavors in gallon or half-gallon pouches, a throwback to the store’s humble beginnings selling milk tea in bulk out of the founders’ kitchen.

Add even more excitement by mixing and matching among their myriad topping choices. I prefer to keep it simple with plain boba and salted cheese cream, both of which come complimentary on all milk tea orders, but you can pick anything from popping lychee boba to grass jelly or whey protein to make your drink all your own.

The store offers plenty of cozy corner tables and board games to pass the time while you sip your drinks, and the supersized TV on the wall is always playing something to catch your eye, whether it be Korean reality shows or “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” There are only a couple of snack options: french fries or honey-walnut shrimp, which we didn’t try but did look delicious. That’s no matter, though — you’ll likely want to save room to sample more drink flavors.

Mustache Milk Tea, 13624 Highway 99, Unit B5, 425-582-0007. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Left to right, wintermelon milk tea, an avocado shake with chocolate and Hokkaido tea at Pochi Bubble Tea Cafe in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Left to right, wintermelon milk tea, an avocado shake with chocolate and Hokkaido tea at Pochi Bubble Tea Cafe in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The place for a late-night hang: Pochi, Lynnwood

Toppings: 4.3/5

Tea: 4.3/5

Menu: 5/5

Snacks: 5/5

Vibe: 4/5

Herald crime reporter Maya Tizon, a lifelong Seattle-area resident, tells me that Pochi is where everyone went to hang out after class in high school. I’m kind of envious, because my hometown sure didn’t have such a cool hangout spot (the closest we had was an abandoned church around the corner), but spend an hour at Pochi and you’ll understand why teens are drawn to the cheery shop.

Pochi’s Lynnwood location, which has now spawned a second spot in Kirkland and a soon-to-open third in Marysville, is eminently Instagrammable, featuring neon signs backed by a lush green wall of foliage just begging for a pic with your pastel, layered drink. The shop’s logo, writ large on another wall, features an adorable cartoon pup that I’d love to believe is a corgi, but is almost certainly a Shiba Inu. A TV quietly plays Disney classics above stacks of board games and Jenga sets as Top 40 pop blasts from speakers overhead.

Open untill midnight on weekends, I can see myself hanging out here for ages on the cushy couches with my friends. But as it is, I’m an ancient 23-year-old and I go to bed by 11 most nights, so I’ll leave the late-night partying to the teens.

Pochi offers an impressive array of smoothies, slushies and shakes alongside their milk tea choices. During our visit, Annie ordered an avocado chocolate shake ($8) “kind of as a joke,” expecting the guacamole staple to feel out of place in a sweet treat, but it blew us all away with its rich, balanced creaminess against the syrupy chocolate drizzle.

One novelty that made the Lynnwood spot stick out from the crowd: the ability to craft your own custom drink from a near-endless variety of flavors. A few specialties, like orange dreamsicle and taro-Oreo, are listed on the menu to get the creative juices flowing, and the shop rolls out seasonal combos every few months (the White Rabbit, inspired by the classic Chinese candy, is a favorite among customers in summer).

And don’t even get me started on the snacks. Pochi knows what you want to accompany your ultra-sweet beverage: crispy fried chicken bites ($14), garlicky french fries ($9) with housemade cilantro-lime dipping sauce, or rice plates with scrambled eggs and Spam ($14). It’s your one-stop shop for those after-dark munchies.

Pochi Lynnwood, 1211 164th St. SW, #102, 425-967-3435. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Left to right, matcha strawberry milk tea, sparkling strawberry yuzu, and strawberry Assam at Tobi’s Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Left to right, matcha strawberry milk tea, sparkling strawberry yuzu, and strawberry Assam at Tobi’s Tea in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The dog-lover’s place for a minimalist menu: Tobi’s Tea, Lynnwood

Toppings: 4/5

Tea: 5/5

Menu: 5/5

Snacks: N/A

Vibe: 5/5

Tobi’s Tea, an unassuming location in a strip mall near the Alderwood mall, has a very short menu compared to most boba shops. And since it was one of our last stops of the day, we heaved a collective sigh of relief at not having to choose from a zillion options.

Named for the founder’s dog, whose likeness adorably adorns the top of each cup, the shop is a quiet, green oasis, filled with sunlight and dozens of plants. There isn’t much seating, just a handful of two-top tables, but if you wanted to hang out for an hour or two, enjoying the bustle of the kitchen and the ambient music overhead, this would be a lovely place to do it. Bring your own pup to keep you company — Tobi’s is, of course, dog-friendly.

The store keeps it beautifully simple. Milk tea — the real deal, bare-bones thing — is made with green or black tea and your choice of milk and sweetener. You can even “sample” tea varieties before ordering with the little vials of loose leaves on the counter, waiting for you to take a deep inhale of Genmaicha or Assam. Tobi’s also serves more over-the-top confections, like ube lattes and fluffy aerated Dalgona coffee drinks, but I’d make it my destination for a stripped-down version of bubble tea where the high-quality components of each beverage outweigh the novelty of slurping up chewy boba pearls.

I chose the strawberry milk tea with boba and oat milk ($7) and got a refreshingly minimalist take on the decadent versions we’d had at prior stops: Assam black tea blended with fresh berries and milk, just sweet enough to be a treat but not so much as to make your teeth ache. Kayla was also feeling the summery strawberry mood and ordered a strawberry matcha latte ($6), beautifully layered with streaks of cool green, creamy white and vibrant pink.

Tobi’s Tea, 19725 40th Ave. W, Ste. E, 425-361-7056. Open 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.

Drinks at Böba in Bothell, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Drinks at Böba in Bothell, Washington on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

The neighborhood spot for a quick treat: Böba, Bothell

Toppings: 4/5

Tea: 3/5

Menu: 4/5

Snacks: 4/5

Vibe: 4/5

The only bubble tea spot in Bothell, Böba is filling an important gap in this corner of the county: It’s the place to get yourself a little drink as a treat, a reward to yourself for finishing a sweaty workout or checking off the last errand on your to-do list or powering through your weekly grocery shop.

Tucked in a corner of a shopping complex with a QFC at the center, the shop is unassuming but perfectly convenient to stop by once you’ve finished some more pressing task. Inside, teenage employees laugh among themselves as you settle into the row of booths against a wall plastered in posters. It’s like your favorite college bar, only less sticky.

The milk tea menu lists the classics, like taro and Thai tea (both $7), which Kayla and I ordered, plus some flavors I hadn’t seen before, like caramel and pomegranate. Annie, ever a fan of blended drinks, found a wide variety of slushies on the menu and chose the cantaloupe flavor ($7.50) — a real novelty, but a little too sweet for our liking.

Should you really want to treat yourself after your latest round of errands, Böba also has snacks on hand like acai bowls and manju, an Asian pastry filled with red bean or sweet potato custard. We got a bubble waffle ($5.50) to share. Made fresh to order, it was still steaming when it reached us, and the chewy, soft center paired with the crispy outer crust hit the spot after a long day of sipping cold drinks.

Böba, 22833 Bothell-Everett Highway, 425-483-9131. Open 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192;; Twitter: @RHaunID.

Talk to us

More in Food & Drink

Patrick Russell, left, Jill Russell and their son Jackson Russell of Lake Stevens enjoy Dick’s burgers on their way home from Seattle on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. The family said the announcement of the Dick’s location in Everett “is amazing” and they will be stopping by whenever it opens in 2025. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dick’s Drive-In announces new south Everett location

The local burger legend announced Friday it plans to open the south Everett location on Center Road in 2025.

Chanterelle’s sign hangs above the front door during the restaurant’s final day of business Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, in downtown Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
As Chanterelle closes in Edmonds, another mainstay opens a new chapter

The Edmonds bistro, open since 1986, closed this month. Seattle Italian institution Ristorante Machiavelli is stepping up to fill its shoes.

Quil Ceda Creek Casino's Double Cheeseburger with Bacon. (Quil Ceda Creek Casino)
A cheeseburger fit for paradise

Quil Ceda Creek Casino chef shares recipe for a burger that would have delighted Jimmy Buffett.

Beef birria tacos at El Mariachi in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Signature Dish: El Mariachi’s birria simmers in tradition and innovation

The Everett restaurant’s slow-cooked beef tacos have earned a cult following — and it’s not just about the cheese.

Recently-opened 16Eleven on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
16Eleven shines as downtown Everett’s new dining destination

Part steakhouse, part museum and part event center, the former Club Broadway aims to offer fine dining without the price tag.

Scout Mint with seasonal strawberry covered marshmallows at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Molly Moon’s wants to be your sweetest neighbor

The Seattle ice cream chain brings local ingredients, homemade recipes and delicious smells to Edmonds’ Main Street Commons.

A car drives into the Soper Hill Center past construction on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Marysville’s second Chick-fil-A planned in new Soper Hill development

Groundbreaking is proposed for February 2024, in a new shopping center across the street from Lake Stevens city limits.

A previous year's Djangofest NW ends in an all-instruments-on-deck jam session dedicated to its late festival founder, Nick Lehr. The first event in 2001 featured two bands over nights. It’s grown to a 5-day event attracting about 3,000 people and includes seven concerts, 20 workshops and spontaneous sparks of music around Langley’s outdoor venues. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/South Whidbey Record)
At Langley’s annual DjangoFest Northwest, celebrate the granddaddy of Manouche jazz

Djoin a djam on a street corner or catch a performance in honor of Belgian jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt during the five-day festival.

Lines of cars form at the newly opened Shake Shack drive-thru location in Lynnwood, Washington on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Shake Shack sizzles into the burger scene in Lynnwood by the mall

The first Snohomish County site for the eatery with a cult following has a drive-thru and desserts for humans and dogs.

(Getty Images)
Hops and Sips: Camano’s first-ever cider festival is this weekend

Taste some of what local cideries have to offer and find a new favorite — plus, sample dozens more at Cider Summit Seattle.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.

Guam Grub owner and head chef Julita Atoigue-Javier, center left, stands behind the counter with her brother-in-law Angelo Javier, left, and sons Timothy, 13, and John, 21, right, on Thursday, August 10, 2023, at the Everett Mall in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Say hello — or ‘Hafa Adai’ — to Guam Grub at Everett Mall

Chamorro cuisine is a heaping melting pot of cultures and tastes. For some in Everett, it brings back tastes of home.