Do you have the balls to drink this tea?: Boba shops in Ames


Mikayla Alt

A display of boba tea toppings at 1+1 Tea and Restaurant.

Imagine grabbing an ice-cold cup to go. Light brown milky liquid sits in the cup with a caramel drizzle on the inside that makes it look striped, like a tiger. Though this sounds like a coffee drink you may order at Starbucks, it is actually a tiger milk tea boba.

Boba tea is a relatively new drink, but its popularity has grown in the past few years. Through social media, boba has become increasingly popular because of drinks like the tiger milk tea.

The tiger milk tea has a base of black tea with dark brown sugar syrup forming stripes on the cup to sweeten the drink. It also features milk and honey-soaked tapioca balls to create a drink with a rich toffee flavor.

What distinguishes boba from other drinks are the soft, black tapioca balls at the bottom of the drink.

A dirty brown sugar boba drink, commonly referred to as a tiger milk tea boba, from 1+1 Restaurant and Tea. (Mikayla Alt)

Every boba shop in Ames soaks its black tapioca balls in a syrup or honey to sweeten and soften the tapioca balls. There are also white cassava root pearls that have more of a jelly consistency than the chewy texture of the black tapioca balls.

The boba shops in Ames each sell tiger milk teas along with several other varieties of boba teas.

Tea Time on Welch Avenue sells a drink called the Matcha Milk Tea Snow. This drink has a base of matcha milk tea and is a frozen blended drink that comes with red beans. The red beans in any boba are beans that have been soaked and preserved in sugar.

Other toppings that are commonly found at Ames boba shops include a variety of small jellies and poppers.

Jellies have a consistency close to Jell-O and come in various flavors ranging from strawberry and peach to lychee and coffee. Poppers, also known as juice-poppers, are small balls of flavored juice with membranes made of seaweed extract.

There are also toppings customers can order that are not used as commonly as tapioca pearls or jellies, such as grass jelly, red beans and aloe vera.

Grass jelly and aloe vera are both gelatin in texture.

“You have to be adventurous [to try them],” said Ryan Casson, the manager at 1+1 Restaurant and Tea.

If someone has never had boba before, Casson recommends trying a signature or house milk tea with honey pearls or an herbal green tea with strawberry flavoring and poppers.

Casson has worked with the owner, Fannie Feng, for around six to seven years.

Feng opened a shop on Welch called TJ Cups in 2016, making it the first boba shop in Ames. In 2018, Feng started 1+1 Restaurant and Tea on West Street to begin serving food in addition to boba. She currently still works at 1+1 Restaurant and Tea, which is a Hong Kong to-go restaurant and boba tea shop.

TJ Cups was reopened in 2018 as Tea Time under the new owners’ Sherry Xu and Ken Leung.

Tea Time, another popular boba shop next to campus, can see anywhere from 30 to 100 people a day. Most of the boba frequenters are college students, but many families with kids also come in to get boba every day.

Cassidy Cook works as a barista at Tea Time; she just graduated from Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology.

“When I lived on campus, right across the street, I would come here like maybe once or twice a week,” Cook said. “I really like boba tea, and I always wanted to work here.”

Pho and Tea, located in north Ames, makes anywhere from 100 to 150 bobas every day. They cater more toward families, according to the business.

Pho and Tea is the farthest boba location from campus, but they are close to many housing communities in north Ames.

“We’re all friends here; it’s a really great environment,” said My Tran, a manager at Pho Tea and a senior studying biology. “We’ve got a lot of regulars. We get a lot of families and locals around here, but I would really like it if students came in more often to kind of liven things up.”

There are many toppings and flavor combinations for boba lovers to enjoy, which allows people to customize their drinks to their personal tastes.

“My favorite is like a taro milk tea, and that one’s made of the taro root,” Casson said. “It’s like a sweet potato drink. I’m more likely to drink a fruit tea just because it is lighter and refreshing, kind of like a Snapple.”

Cook’s favorite milk tea is butterscotch milk tea, and her favorite fruit tea is lychee black tea.

Tran does not like sweet drinks, so she prefers the Thai Tea to other classical milk teas like the signature boba most people order.

Tea Time is located at 107 Welch Ave., and 1+1 Restaurant and Tea is at 2814 West St. They are both within walking distance of campus.

Pho tea is located at 725 24th St. Suite 102 by the North Grand Mall.