Tea doesn’t get enough credit. But luckily, Los Angeles has turned into a hub for tea shops; there is by no means a shortage. Head on over to the San Gabriel Valley and you will find that tea shops outnumber their coffee counterparts.
The usual offerings are plain teas, milk teas and flavored boba milk teas. As with everything, there are a few innovators out there who are defying the norm. Some are spiking the tea with alcohol, others are using the drink as an empty canvas.
Here are five to try in Los Angeles right now:
Alcoholic boba tea at Boba 7 and Boba 8
Boba 7 is L.A.’s first alcoholic boba bar, dedicated to boozy drinks infused with tapioca pearls. Owner Elton Keung started up the shop in 2012, and it's based in downtown Los Angeles at the back of the Thai restaurant Soi 7. A second shop, Boba 8, has opened in the San Gabriel Valley. The Green Tea Heineken is the signature drink, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Keung uses a Heineken base, infuses it with tea and tops it off with sweet, honey-slathered boba. And no, you cannot take these drinks to go. 518 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, (213) 538-8022; 162 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; www.labobatory.com.
3-D tea lattes at Love to Go
Latte artists, beware. Love to Go is changing the game with its adorable 3-D lattes. They top each drink off with an animal-shaped foam that’s surprisingly capable of retaining its integrity for quite a while. There are quite a number of choices. You can choose between a bear, a dog, a bunny or a cat. Love to Go's tea menu consists of a black tea, a green tea or a full-bodied rooibos. All are wonderful, and if you’re inching toward coffee, that's available too. 307 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 264-8195, www.lovetogo.us.
Organic cold brew teas at Home Brewed Bar
Homebrew Bar is a Pasadena boba tea lounge, and it stands out from the mix because its teas are organic and cold-brewed. What difference does a cold-brewed tea make? The teas are smoother and less bitter. It also takes hours to make, but the results are well worth it. The options are diverse and optimized so that the taste of the tea isn’t completely masked by sugar and milk. Quirkier selections include blueberry pomegranate tea or Earl Grey milk tea. 39 N. Arroyo Parkway, (626) 397-2887, www.homebrewedbar.com.
Tea in a 'bucket cup' at Half & Half Tea House
Half & Half serves its drinks in bucket cups -- short cups that are too wide to fit into a cup holder. Logistically, it doesn’t make any sense, but the cups have become a trademark feature of the store and have actually spurred a number of copycats around the nation. Half & Half is known for its creamy milk teas; add-ons include boba, pudding and grass jelly. It’ll most definitely bring on a sugar high, but note that sweetness levels can be customized. 120 N. San Gabriel Blvd., Suite H, San Gabriel, (626) 309-9387; 141 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, (626) 872-0200.
Green tea latte at Urth Caffé
Chances are, you’ve seen Urth’s green tea latte art floating around somewhere on your Instagram feed. The popularity is most definitely justified; it is as tasty as it looks. The tea is made with a generous amount of matcha, which gives it an intense flavor. It’s a sweet way to start your morning, and the cartoonish art helps. The Moroccan mint tea latte is fantastic as well. 2327 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 314-7040; 267 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 205-9311; 8565 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 659-0628; 451 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, (213) 797-4534; 94 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-4644; www.urthcaffe.com.