We’re not sure what took so long, but New York is finally getting a premium bubble tea joint. Say goodbye to day-old hardened tapioca balls and over-sweetened fructose syrups that give you the jitters and bid hello to freshly brewed loose-leaf tea and house-made jellies. Boba Guys, hailing from San Francisco, has taken over Brunswick’s short-lived location at 23 Clinton Street and is inaugurating its first New York spot with a grand opening party on Saturday.
If their wait time on a regular day in San Francisco (20 to 30 minutes) is any indication, New Yorkers may well line up for those “Grade A Balls” (apparently these are better and bigger than the regular measly mass-produced tapioca balls you normally slurp).
Then there’s all the “next-level” bells and whistles – no artificial ingredients or powders, everything’s organic and made in-house whenever possible. The milk (in New York) comes from Battenkill Creamery; the tea choices are special blends sourced by sister company Tea People and steeped fresh in the shop; and the espresso is from Clinton Hill’s Parlor Coffee. At Boba Guys, the balls are always fresh – they will never serve you tapioca more than four hours old.
“We say that we try to give a damn about everything,” says Tammy Na, one of the New York partners, as she sat in the shop, where signs for job openings advertise better-than-market starting wages and advancement opportunities.
You won’t see a wall plastered with pictures of a crazy variety of flavors like taro and passionfruit here, but the pared down menu does have some surprises. Besides their own blend of classic milk and Thai tea, they also have horchata (a nod to their first location in San Francisco’s Mission District; make it “dirty” with a shot of espresso), rose black tea, and an artistic matcha latte, presented in beautiful tie-dye swirls. If you don’t like the consistency of the bubbles, you can trade them for nutty-sweet almond jelly or “herbal-y” grass jelly.
The crazy part? All this organic-ism and premium-ness doesn’t even cost more than most bubble tea and coffee shops in the city. Everything is in the $4 range. (And sigh, yes, these days $4 drinks are probably considered reasonable). If you work in the area, they’ll even offer you a neighborhood discount.
In the past, the lack of office life and low foot traffic on Clinton Street — a bit separated from the business over on Orchard and Ludlow — has proved challenging for some hipster experiments to survive the high rents. But Na thinks Boba Guys has what it takes. “When we first opened our Mission store, it wasn’t like now,” she says. “It was less foot-traffic heavy, but our fans still came to see us.”
And while Clinton Street may have lost heavyweight WD-50 on the block last year, the strip between Houston and Delancey may be making a name for itself as a destination for some of the city’s best innovative Asian cuisine. Boba Guys will be joining a long list of popular Asian spots representing Japanese, Filipino and Chinese experiments, such as Ivan Ramen, Pig and Khao, Yunnan BBQ, Azasu and Koneko.