I am the first to say that I have a boba tea obsession. At one point in high school, I regularly had boba four times a week.
Luckily, just down El Camino from my work is the bubble tea mecca: Castro Street.
I went to each one and tried their jasmine milk tea 50% sweetness with pearls (my go-to order) to give you all an idea of the best boba places in downtown Mountain View.
Each are ranked on a 5 point scale against each other in certain categories, using a survey of three adventurers (including yours truly) on a mission to find the best of the Castro quintuplets.
Sun-Thurs (closed Tuesdays) 11:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-12pm // 271 Castro St.
I’m not going to lie, I have a severe Tea Era bias. I knew this before even starting. My best friend who grew up drinking boba showed me this place four years ago and it’s my go-to. They have easily the cheapest boba without sacrificing quality, at only $3 for a jasmine milk tea with pearls AND have sizes, which is great when I’m trying 5 different teas in a day. It’s cash only, which can be frustrating. The milk tea was good today, and they always give you a ton of pearls, which is great. Inside has just recently been remodeled, and it’s loud and bright with tons of selections. There’s no food at the Mountain View location though.
Verde Tea Cafe
Sun-Thurs 11:30am-11:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-12:30am // 852 Villa St.
Verde is the high-schooler’s favorite boba place. I will say that if Tea Era isn’t open or if I don’t have cash, I’ll come here. Their prices are pretty low at $3.13 for a pearl green milk tea and they have a 32 ounce option, which is actually insane (I admit to have drank this in the past. Not my best decision.). I love their food menu, but not their $10 card minimum. They gave me like 15 pearls, which I consider a BIG no-no. This one had decent, soft pearls, but my fellow tasters agreed that we’ve all had really terrible pearls at one point from Verde, so it’s always a gamble. The tea didn’t taste like jasmine milk tea. It was really watery and we were all disappointed. The seating is dark and good for groups, but it is a younger, louder crowd.
Sun-Thurs 11am-12am, Fri-Sat 11am-2am // 220 Castro St.
Jazen is a little funky in a few ways. It’s inside a Pho Hoa (not my favorite pho place, but that’s beside the point), and your drink comes in a squat cup, not the traditional Starbucks-esque size. My friend was frustrated trying to carry it because it was too big for just one (normal sized) hand. I think it would be good to try some of their fruit drinks, because they have little chunks of fruit in them and I like fruit, but I am on a mission. I was worried at first when I tried to get a pearl and it didn’t come up my straw (a red flag), but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the tea. We thought it had kind of a cinnamon aftertaste, which was odd, but overall it was pretty great.
Sun-Thurs 11am-11:30pm, Fri-Sat 11am-1am // 740 Villa St.
TapEx (as it’s lovingly called) is a well known chain with its Mountain View outpost on Castro. They have an incredibly extensive food and drink menu, with probably at least 50 combinations available. TapEx has a nice seating area, but what I care about is my tea. It tasted like milk. Mind you, I got a green milk tea (they don’t have jasmine), and it literally just tasted like a carton of milk dumped in a cup with pearls. The pearls were better than expected, but we could not get over the milk taste. Sorry, TapEx.
Sun-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm // 236 Castro St.
Teaspoon is the new kid on the block. Their Los Altos location has been incredibly popular for the last year and a half, so they’ve opened up a store on Castro. It’s much pricier than the other options at $4.50 (plus tax) for a regular size with pearls. Teaspoon actually brews their teas on site, with no powders, so it easily had the most jasmine taste. Their pearls today weren’t as good as I’ve had before, but usually they’re really sweet. This was my first time at the MV location, so maybe they haven’t figured that out yet. Also, OH MY GOD THE LINE WAS RIDICULOUS. I went at 4pm on a Wednesday. I can’t even imagine what it’s like at 6pm on a Friday. We waited in that line for 20 minutes. I’m still mad about it. However, Teaspoon takes cards with no questions asked — the only one to do so.
Incredibly biased rankings:
Pearl quality: Teaspoon, Tea Era, TapEx, Verde, Jazen
Tea quality: Teaspoon, Jazen, Tea Era, Verde, TapEx
Seating: Verde, Jazen, TapEx, Teaspoon, Tea Era
Price: Tea Era, TapEx, Verde, Jazen, Teaspoon