Hey, you know what’s awesome? Boba Guys reopened their Hayes Valley flagship this week, and not a moment too soon, because the boba fans were desperate for milky teas and chewy pearls. You know what else? The guys also just released a new cookbook, simply titled, The Boba Book. Does anyone need a boba cookbook, haters may ask? Well, why the fuck not! Bay Area eaters are obsessed with this beverage and might get a kick out of concocting cool drinks at home. But also, tea books are always interesting because they’re infused with culture. And boba in particular is a super fun mashup of a sweet snack and different influences.
Boba Guys slid into the local snack scene nearly ten years ago, starting as a pop-up out of Ken Ken Ramen in 2011, and making it permanent on 19th and Valencia in 2013. The concept was wildly popular, tapping into bubble tea nostalgia, but improving on the ingredient list, with quality tea leaves, organic milk, and from-scratch syrups — no fake powders — ordered to specified sweetness level. Boba fans sucked it in, and the business blew up. The guys now have nine locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as outposts in LA and New York. These days, they’re known for drinks with colorful layers, from dirty horchata to strawberry matcha, and exciting toppings, from grass jelly to egg pudding.
Co-founders and co-authors Andrew Chau and Bin Chen kind of read like epic nerds (guys, guys, we mean this as a compliment). They met playing ping pong, bonded over boba YouTube videos, and their writing style includes C++ jokes and Drake quotes. They did pull in a co-writer, as many chef-owners do for these book projects, and say up front that Richard Parks III was the “
white right voice to pair with our Asian-ness” because they specifically wanted to speak to a broader audience. The guys claim, “There’s never been a book about boba from a mainstream Western publisher. You’re reading the first one.” (At a glance, there are other boba books on Amazon, but they don’t appear to be from big-name publishers.)
Boba fans will get the recipes for classic milk tea, matcha lattes, Thai iced tea, and Vietnamese iced coffee, so for anyone with one of those go-to orders, who’s always wondered how to make it at home, those are trusty recipes to come back to again and again. The most thrilling read might be the chapter on toppings, with a wild array of jellies, puddings, and pearls. There is a primer on how to simmer the boba pearls themselves and capture “the feeling of QQ,” when the balls are silky on the outside but still chewy at center. Many of the specialty drinks call on multiple sub recipes, and some do call for special equipment, like spice grinders and fine-mesh sieves. But this isn’t a collection of quick and easy chicken recipes. It’s a nerd out for boba fans.
True to the brand, the design and illustrations are minimal and thoughtful, with touches of millennial pink and line-drawn illustrations, which let the drinks pop, with their multi-layered colors, pretty pearls, and slow pours. The design captures conversations between the co-authors in blue and green text bubbles, bouncing through the text like a chat with friends. There are some indulgences for first-time authors, with digressions in the intro and headnotes that run long. Regardless, it’s fascinating to trace the journey of this wildly popular drink, from the first tea grown in the East, to sweetening with milk and sugar in the UK, to slipping in a few pearls in Taiwan in the ‘80s, and finally, bouncing back to become an Asian-American cultural sensation in the Bay. And it’s fun to hear it from these guys! Our own locals, who are playing with different flavors and toppings for a long line of diverse people in San Francisco today.