5 essential boba tea spots in Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

5 essential boba tea spots in Pittsburgh

click to enlarge 5 essential boba tea spots in Pittsburgh
CP Photos: Jared Wickerham
Lychee mojito (left) and the jasmine milk tea at Tsaocaa Tea

Taiwanese teahouse culture has blown up worldwide in the last decade, and has found its way to the Burgh, with cafes brewing and bubbling all over the city, pun totally intended.

The easy-drinking, dreamy tea is a sensory explosion that combines the best of both worlds — rich, velvety tea, and those chewy, delightful pearls. The tea, typically brewed from high-quality leaves, comes in a variety of flavors, from traditional black to passionfruit yuzu, to everything in between. Call it boba, pearl, or bubble tea — it is those little tapioca orbs of joy that truly elevate the experience.

Originating in Taiwan in the 1980s, boba tea was the brainchild of Liu Han-Chieh, a Taiwanese tea shop owner. Boba tea was born when he added tapioca pearls to his iced tea on a whim, creating a delightful texture, and enhancing the drink's appeal.

Now, fast forward to the present, where the last five years have witnessed a boom of East Asian restaurants in Pittsburgh. A burst of new bubble tea spots has been a part of that. From cozy corners with vintage decor reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film to vibrant spaces that transport you to the bustling streets of Taipei, each bubble tea hotspot has its own unique charm.

Gone are the days of searching high and low for that perfect tapioca-infused delight. That said, the sheer number of tea shops available can get a little overwhelming. To make things easier, we did the hard work and taste-tested our way through Pittsburgh's best boba spots. Hold your straws — here are the five most slurpable (and buzzworthy!) spots in the city.

click to enlarge 5 essential boba tea spots in Pittsburgh
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Tsaocaa Tea in Squirrel Hill

5871 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. tsaocaapgh.com

Tucked away in Pittsburgh's lively Squirrel Hill neighborhood, Tsaocaa opened its doors in 2020. The minimalist, luminous space quickly became a beloved destination for bubble tea enthusiasts. But it's not just the aesthetic that draws people in, it's the exceptional boba creations crafted within.

This modern gem is all about elevating the bubble tea experience. Eschewing powdered mixes, Tsaocaa sets the stage for tea alchemy, meticulously brewing bespoke loose-leaf concoctions with an espresso-like precision. From the formidable brown sugar milk black tea with boba — a caffeine bomb of epic proportions, rich and irresistible — to a pantheon of ambrosial fruit teas, milk swirls, and luscious milkshakes all decked out with those delicious tapioca pearls and jellies, there’s a sip for everyone. Think delicate, floral Sakura-infused teas, tropical passionfruit and lime green tea, exquisite Osmanthus Oolong Tea with Asian Pear, and so much more. The spot earns bonus points because you can choose your preferred sweetness level.

Ineffable Cà Phê​​
​​3920 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville. ineffablecaphe.com

Ineffable Cà Phê was born in 2017 when a motorcycle store was transformed into a locally-owned, industrial-style cafe. Immersing guests in an artsy, hipster ambiance, the cafe boasts exposed brick walls, twinkling lights, and a rustic-chic aesthetic.

Partnering with the renowned La Colombe for their full espresso bar, they offer an extraordinary coffee experience. The traditional cà phê sữa, a Vietnamese delicacy, is meticulously crafted in collaboration with Càphê Roaster from Philadelphia. But the cafe’s beverage offerings extend beyond coffee, and many folks in town don’t even realize it. In fact, their bubble tea is somewhat of an insider secret. The offerings are pretty basic — classic black, vibrant green, and aromatic Thai — but they are truly phenomenal and authentically Taiwanese. Pair your bubble tea with a bite — choose from dishes like savory cheddar jalapeno bagels, aromatic phở, delectable lemongrass chicken rice bowls, spicy tofu bánh mì, and many more. And for those seeking a sweet finale, the Viet honeycomb cake is a must-try.

Besides being a tea and coffee hotspot, the cafe is a whole vibe. Chill with friends over a game of chess, grab a book, and settle into a cozy reading nook, or do some work — all while being fueled with plenty of heady caffeinated brews. Every so often, they host jazz nights and open mic nights, where you can unleash your inner comedian or slam poet (or, at least, watch others do it).

Fuku Tea
​​300 S. Craig St., Oakland. 3800 Forbes Ave., Oakland. fukutea.com

Fuku Tea, with its neon green signage in the bustling neighborhood of Oakland, is hard to miss. The tea shop is always busy, but the efficient service keeps things moving. The tiny spot packs in a big flavor punch and has a cult following, especially among the Pitt and CMU student crowd. Fuku’s appeal is easy to decode — a simple set-up, and sublime teas.

You can be your own tea maestro here. Whether you like it hot or bubbly, they've got you covered with options like jasmine green or black tea, a range of flavors (lychee, coconut, peppermint, you name it), with or without milk, and a galaxy of toppings. They also have set options if you don’t want to customize. Besides usual suspects like Masala chai, matcha, taro, and Nitro brew Thai tea, they also have fancier, bougie offerings like the Rose Oolong Boba Tea, with real rose petals, a fragrant delight.

Speaking of fancy, the summer special, the butterfly tea lemonade, is a blue-purple ombré drink that is as pretty as they come, and a favorite with the Instagram bunch. Oh, and did we mention they've got more than just tea? Treat yourself to cookies, mousse, and red bean cake. Sweet tooth, consider yourself satisfied.

Love Tea by Bubble Bee

229 Atwood St., Oakland.

You know you're in Pittsburgh when you order a bubble tea and the barista asks, 'Ya want some fries with that?’ Make that a side of fried sweet potato at Love Tea. Another Oakland boba gem, this tea shop has pool tables, board games, crispy snacks galore, and even free parking up in the front.

With its giant floral applique art, flamingo murals, and fruity teas, Love Tea was made for the ‘gram. Impeccable aesthetic aside, when it comes to what’s in your glass, Love Tea delivers solidly. They have an extensive selection of fruit, milk, and specialty bubble teas. The quality of the brews is top-notch, with real fruits kept on-site, freshly cut for each order.

Love Tea’s prized arsenal is that it is one of the few places to offer the uber-trendy cheese tea, the real star of which is the indulgent Watermelon Cheese Tea with Pearls. The tea is a play in contrasts; addictive sweet-savory flavors and delightful textures from the refreshing watermelon juice, starchy pearls, a light-as-whip cap of cream cheese foam, and finally, a sprinkle of sea salt on top. Add a side of fried oysters for the ultimate aphrodisiac pairing.

click to enlarge 5 essential boba tea spots in Pittsburgh
Photo: Courtesy of Bae Bae's Cafe
Bubble tea selections at Bae Bae's Cafe

Bae Bae’s Kitchen + Cafe
945 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 951 Liberty Ave., Downtown. baebaes.kitchen

Is it someone’s eclectic living room or a Korean-inspired cafe? Bae Bae’s Kitchen, an eatery nestled in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, is a whimsical spot perfect for a surreal tea party straight out of a storybook. With floating bookshelves, charmingly mismatched furniture, and even umbrellas clustered on the ceiling, Lewis Carrol would feel right at home here.

What truly sets Bae Bae’s apart is its tea expertise. They do the classics exceptionally well, with no artificial flavorings or powdered mixes — only real ingredients here. While their Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea are flawless, the purple Taro Milk Bubble Tea, a lusciously creamy tea with chewy tapioca balls, deserves a special shoutout.

And what’s a tea party without sandwiches? Tuck into delectable Asian eats; made-to-order Vietnamese-style bánh mì sandwiches, savory dumplings, and scallion pancakes that transport you to the bustling streets of Asia.