Sugary, chewy, and satisfying, with innumerable potential flavors and a distinctly Instagram-able aesthetic, boba tea has transformed into an international phenomenon in recent years. This fall, the trend finally made its way onto the Queens College campus. Every weekday, dozens of students line up inside the Student Union to try the newest boba flavors or indulge in some familiar favorites, all served by new QC vendor Anda Boba Tea.
Founded in 2013 by current owner Alex Chen, Anda Boba Tea boasts five locations across Queens and Long Island, including its most recent on the QC campus. The shop can be found in a small booth on the first floor of the Student Union, across from the building’s main entrance.
Most options on the boba tea menu fall into one of two categories: milk teas or non-dairy tea refreshers. Popular milk tea selections include matcha, taro, and brown sugar, while refreshers come in a variety of fruity flavors, with jasmine, black, or oolong tea as the base. Each tea can be consumed with boba, chewy and slightly sweet tapioca pearls sucked up from the bottom of the cup through a wide straw, or alternatively with popping boba, a fruity tapioca pearl that bursts with juice upon biting. For those unable to choose between a milk tea and a refresher, the shop’s strawberry milk tea offers an ideal balance of the two, merging smooth creaminess with fresh, fruity acidity.
In addition to more traditional flavors, the shop offers a variety of less commonly sold options, such as caramel milk tea and Japanese brownrice tea with cheese foam. I opted to try the cookies and cream milk tea, which features chocolate cookie bits mixed into a creamy vanilla tea with chocolate sauce drizzled along the cup’s edges. The drink was extremely sweet and filling, but perhaps would not be the best choice for someone who enjoys tangier options.
Chen remarked, “We always try to invent new flavors, to create new boba drinks. We’re always experimenting, every day.” He highly recommended the mango pomelo, a fresh mango smoothie with grapefruit pulp topped with cheese foam, one of Anda Boba Tea’s most distinct innovations; I was very impressed upon trying the drink, which came frozen and very creamy, with lychee jelly at the bottom offering a special chew factor in place of traditional boba.
Chen confirmed that all the teas are brewed on-site half an hour before opening; meanwhile, the sushi is made fresh at other locations and delivered to the franchise’s QC location every morning. He noted the limitations of operating in such a small space at QC, stating that, “The boba menu is fully loaded, but there’s no other space to offer a food menu like ramen or snacks.”
While much more limited than the boba menu, Anda Boba Tea’s QC sushi menu offers a fair variety of options, with the simplest eight-piece rolls (California, avocado, and cucumber) priced at $5 and the sixteen-piece maki combos sold for up to $11. My go-to roll is the spicy tuna; while only very mildly spicy, the tuna always tastes fresh, drizzled with a pleasant mayo sauce and wrapped in a chewy layer of rice. When asked about his own favorite roll, Chen recommended the shrimp tempura.
Chen explained why he introduced sushi into his franchise in 2018: “Boba tea is a very seasonal business, especially in New York, where the winter is almost half a year long. So we wanted to provide some food items so that we could generate more income to pay all of those expenses — otherwise, with just the boba tea, we can barely break even during the winter time.”
He reflected on his ten-year-old franchise’s history, explaining the initial struggle of running a business: “For the first three years, we weren’t doing good. Even though we had enough experience making boba tea, doing business and knowing how to make boba tea is different.” Eventually, however, through remodeling and menu expansion, business began to increase and he was able to open shops beyond his original location in Elmhurst.
Chen recalled that earlier this year, QC approached Queens Night Market in search of potential vendors for the upcoming semester. As a vendor since the market’s inception in 2016, he was approached by Queens Night Market with the offer, and he took quick advantage of the opportunity to set up shop inside the Student Union at the start of the Fall 2023 semester.
Chen noted that he strives to make pricing consistent across all locations — notably, the QC location is cash-only.
When asked by The Knight News, students spoke positively about the food and service at Anda Boba Tea. Freshman Emily Nisimov, who tried boba tea for the first time at Anda Boba Tea, remarked that, “I’m a person that isn’t too big on eating or drinking dairy, and they had so many dairy-free options. It’s really good if you like to have a textural experience while drinking something.”
Senior Ben Mishail, a frequent consumer of Anda Boba Tea’s sushi, added, “The service is really quick. It always seems like the line is super long, but within five to 10 minutes, you can basically get whatever you want.”
Though many food vendors come and go at QC, Chen confirmed that Anda Boba Tea will stick around on campus, at least for the time being. “It doesn’t have a lot of potential to grow, but business is steady, with a small scale of operation, so I’m happy about it,” he said.