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Emily’s 626/SGV Recs #1: Boba Near Caltech

In the past few years, boba or bubble tea has exploded in popularity, with stores opening up all across the country. As a very avid but picky boba drinker, this has been a blessing for me, as I’ve been able to try drinks from so many new stores. In the past four years, I’ve been able to try what might be conservatively called a fairly significant portion of boba stores in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area (otherwise known as 626/SGV).

The Caltech Admissions blog already has a post about boba, but in the past couple of years, the boba scene around 626/SGV has changed a lot. TPumps is no longer the only boba store within a short walk of Caltech (it’s been joined by Twinkle Tea and Oinkmoo), and the number of stores around Old Pasadena have increased significantly too. In my first year, there was a Jin Tea and Prolece Tea. Now, four years later, these two shops are joined by The Alley, Sunright Tea Studio, Cha Redefine, and Onezo. (There’s also many more boba shops within a driving distance. I spent a good deal of my first year baiting friends into driving me to get boba, and now as a senior, I’ve been experiencing the reverse. Having a car is far from a necessity to live in Pasadena, but it has been a nice convenience, especially as I moved off campus for my senior year.)

I wanted to start out with some recommendations for boba within a reasonable walking distance of Caltech. The shops on Lake St. are the closest, and there’s a few along Colorado Blvd. close to Hill Ave. Old Pasadena is farther, but still within walking distance. For those who might find the walk a bit long, Caltech also offers free bus transportation within the Pasadena area. The bus stop closest to campus is right outside of Bechtel, and it stops at a variety of locations in Old Pasadena.

So, starting with the Lake St. locations:

Twinkle Tea: Probably the best tea shop on Lake, and about a 15-20 minute walk from campus. They offer a student discount if you show your ID, and they have specials, where the drinks are priced at $2.99. It’s on the sweeter side but my go-to when I don’t want to drive for boba. I usually go for chrysanthemum milk tea or osmanthus oolong milk tea, with 50% sugar.

Panda Tea Bar: This is where I used to go when I really wanted milk tea, before Twinkle Tea opened. Its name is actually Panda Express + Tea Bar, and I had never expected it, but they make a pretty classic milk tea.

There’s also Oinkmoo and TPumps, but unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of either. TPumps drinks are on the cheaper side though, so I can’t deny the value for the price.

Colorado Ave, next closest to Lake (disclaimer, there’s more on Colorado that I haven’t tried):

Off the top of my head, there’s Tea Spots, Au 79, and Milkcow. Out of these, Tea Spots has some pretty decent popcorn chicken. However, I just don’t think I make the trip to these spots quite as often as Twinkle Tea on Lake, or to some of the places in Old Pas.

Old Pasadena, walk 30 min or take the (free) bus:

Jin Tea: The tea here is great. The oolong is fantastic, they make a decent wintermelon, and the passionfruit tea is also quite good. That said, this place is pricey. I got a drink holder a few years ago that lets me get free upgrades to large sizes, which makes going a bit more worth it. I think they still sell it, if anyone is interested.

Onezo: I like Onezo for their flavored boba, especially the chrysanthemum. This shop also offers a student discount, which is good because they’re also on the pricier side of things. They’re not open from Monday to Wednesday of each week though.

Prolece: I’m not a huge fan of this place but my roommates are, because this shop sells massive drinks. I hear the fruit tea is pretty good.

Sunright Tea Studio: This place opened pretty recently, and I heard good things about their fruit tea. However, I didn’t really like the drinks there, so your mileage may vary.

There’s more places along Colorado and in Old Pasadena, but these ones are simply the shops I have the most thoughts about.

And that’s the full list of walkable recommendations! I hope people find this helpful. A second installment to this boba series will be coming out soon, with a broader 626/SGV focus.

Emily Du ’23

Hi, I’m Emily Du (they/them)! I’m an alum (Class of 2023) from sunny San Diego and I’m a double major Chemistry + History, with a minor in Biology. On campus, I was a member of Lloyd House, the president of Chemistry Club, treasurer for APIDA+, and involved with the Title IX Office and Board of Control. In my free time, I love playing board games with friends, exploring the Pasadena and LA food scene, going hiking or climbing, and volunteering with local organizations.