In this town rich in coffee shops and independent roasters, I stopped meeting my friends over a cup of strong brew. Instead, we started to go on boba dates and catch up with one another over sweet milk tea with those perfectly chewy tapioca balls. Portland doesn’t have a Taiwanese food scene to speak of, but the drink with origins from the island country has made its way onto menus of local bakeries, with a few shops devoted solely to boba tea, aka bubble tea.
You might be thinking, “I’m not into boba tea because it rains nine months out of the year, and the last thing I want is a cold drink when my socks are damp and my eyeglasses are fogged up.”
You might be thinking, “I’m not into boba tea because it rains nine months out of the year, and the last thing I want is a cold drink when my socks are damp and my eyeglasses are fogged up.” That’s how I felt too, until a trip to visit family in Los Angeles, when I had my first disposable coffee cup of hot boba tea and I knew that I had to find the drink when I got back to Portland. On the day I went in search of it, it was gray and cold, I visited every single spot that I knew served boba tea drinks, and almost all of them served it hot. Even the places that looked at me like I was a weirdo when I asked them for hot boba would acquiesce when I suggested steaming the drinks with their espresso machines. Chilled boba is plentiful by the time summer rolls around, so I don’t get why this perfect hot drink is so slept on in this town during winter. Here’s my guide to my favorite boba spots.
NW/ SE Portland
806 NW 23rd Ave
4258 SE Hawthorne Blvd
This boba spot is named after the fat straw that pierces through the plastic lid of your drink. Their original and jasmine-flavored milk teas are perfect, especially served hot. And this is the place to go for vegan folks because they use coconut milk in their drinks. I knew this would be one of my favorite places when I walked into the Hawthorne location once to see a table of aunties gabbing over banh mi.
5345 SE Foster Rd
A neighborhood Vietnamese bakery with Chinese and French influences, they’re well known for their bahn mi and moon cakes and serve the bestest Thai iced tea boba drink for those rare smoldering-hot summer days. Pro tip: do yourself a favor and get a steamed bao while you’re there, either savory or sweet. You can’t go wrong.
Anywhere along SE 82nd Ave
This is the unofficial new Chinatown, with Asian supermarkets and restaurants all over the area. You can get your fix of a variety of Asian eats, but don’t miss these boba places:
8001 SE Powell Blvd, Ste M
Come for the boba drinks, but stay for the chè. Bambu’s specialty is Vietnamese desserts—cups jammed with your favorite sweet beans, tapioca, and jellies mostly topped with coconut milk.
8220 SE Harrison St, Ste 115
This coffee shop sits across the street from Portland Community College and is a great spot to sip on boba while studying. It’s also in a strip mall with some must-eat restaurants like a Chinese hot pot joint, a noodle house, a place with kimchi fried rice, and a spot where you have a choice between two types of Vietnamese noodle soups.
2850 SE 82nd Ave, Ste 21
This smaller boba place is located inside the Fubonn Supermarket shopping center and is a great place to grab a cup before heading into the grocery store.
8733 SE Division St, Ste 110
After you’ve grabbed some food at Wong’s King (dim sum, please!), walk around the corner in the plaza to find Sozo for your dessert drink. There’s enough seating to hang out, and they stay open a bit later than the other places.