Growing up in Irvine, I would look forward to eating at A&J Restaurant because it meant that my parents would let me get a drink from Lollicup or Champion Food — my first introduction to boba. I would eagerly run over to one of the stores, a $5 bill in my hand, and then stare at the dozens of choices before settling on one. Flash-forward over a decade and the boba scene has exploded in Irvine. It feels like everywhere you look there’s a new boba shop opening. 

“The explosion of boba shops reflects the larger demographic and cultural transformation of Southern California,” Judy Wu, professor of Asian-American studies at UCI, says. “Orange County is home to the third biggest Asian-American and Pacific Islander population in the country, and the popularity of boba speaks to the growth of these communities as well as how much people of diverse backgrounds enjoy this drink.”

This rise in the popularity of boba led me to chronicle and review the boba scene in Southern California on my Instagram, @bobabitchess, and with all these boba shops opening, I wanted to share with you the most unique boba shops in Irvine!

Redstraw – Photo by Audrey Fong

Redstraw Tea Bar

Redstraw is my favorite shop in Irvine! From its beautiful décor to its super friendly staff, I love everything about Redstraw. What it does differently is that it offers drinks made with real milk (they also offer alternative milk options for vegans and lactose-intolerant individuals) and real fruits. They also have a section on the menu where you can choose your tea leaves, and they’ll freshly brew them for you. My favorites are their Grasshopper, a green tea made with cucumber juice, and their Blue Lady, a black tea with orange peels and blue mallow flowers. 14031 Jeffrey Road, Irvine; (949) 336-7527, redstrawteabar.com.

Meet Fresh – Photo by Audrey Fong

Meet Fresh

Meet Fresh is huge in Taiwan, and Irvine is lucky to have one! Unlike other boba shops, it has a full dessert menu featuring traditional offerings like sweet tofu and red bean soup, plus fun desserts perfect for a group like shaved ice! What makes their drinks stand out, though, is that you can get fun toppings in your drinks like pureed taro, mochi and taro balls. My favorite is their grass jelly because it’s the silkiest grass jelly out there. 2710 Alton Parkway #105, Irvine; (949) 955-9236, meetfresh.us.

One Zo

One Zo is unique because it’s the only boba shop in Irvine that makes its boba in-house, meaning they actually make the dough that becomes the little balls in your drinks. Other shops buy the boba from a supplier and boil them until they’re soft — similar to the way we cook pasta at home. While most boba shops only offer crystal boba or the traditional black boba, OneZo offers fun flavors like strawberry, black sesame, chrysanthemum, caramel and more. The flavors even rotate! 6376 Irvine Blvd, Irvine; (949) 418-9672, onezo.us.

Spiritea – Photo by Audrey Fong

Spiritea

While Spiritea is overpriced, I admit that it is a unique tea shop. It is hands down the most gorgeous shop in Irvine, and the luxurious interior is definitely worth an Instagram photo. Drinkwise, their teas are freshly brewed in an espresso machine specially made for Spiritea and all their drinks are made with glacier water, ensuring a pure taste. I recommend sticking with their fruit teas and pure teas to get the yummiest result. 13238 Jamboree Road, Irvine; (714) 417-9797, spiriteadrinks.com.

The Alley – Photo by Audrey Fong

The Alley

If you’re a boba fanatic, then you’ve probably seen brown sugar boba milk popping up on menus. For those of you that haven’t, it’s basically full milk served with warm boba and a brown sugar drizzle — simple but so delicious. When it comes to this drink, The Alley is the best! What makes this place unique is that they offer the brown sugar boba drink in several options such as matcha and crème brulee (my favorite!). 507 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine; the-alley.us.