This is a story of boy meets boba. The boy, Justin Salamanca of Cerritos, grew up not knowing that he'd be truly happy until he sipped his first boba drink (which, in case you were wondering, was a caramel green slush at Upper House Boba in Walnut). Justin met boba in the third grade, and he knew immediately it was what he didn't know he needed.
This week, UCI student Justin Salamanca is on day 90-something in his quest to drink boba every day for a year for (500) Days of Summer, his passion project inspired by Steven Cong's boba database. Though Salamanca isn't really drinking boba for 500 days (more like 365 — he thought 500 sounded better), 365 days is still a lot of, well, whatever boba's made of. Props, man.
Aside from his unmistakable passion for tapioca pearls, Salamanca's also been to nearly every boba joint in Orange County. So we thought we'd pick his brain.
How did you feel the first time you tried boba?
I used to be a chocolate chip cookies kind of kid, but once I had boba, I was hooked. In the 4th grade, I'd get boba twice a week. It sucks because… you ever have a sugar rush? I'd have sugar rushes left and right. I'd knock out.
What about boba makes you passionate about it?
I'm passionate about boba because of the taste, but also because in boba culture, its main appeal is that there are a bunch of mom-and-shop joints.
What makes a milk tea good?
That'd be the mix between the tea and milk. What's important to know that there are different types of boba — not just flavor-wise but also culture-wise. Korean boba is milkier. Traditional Taiwanese boba and Hong Kong boba are neutral-based and have a strong tea flavor. And Filipino boba is sugary because the Filipino palette is really sweet.
What's the best boba place you've ever tried in Orange County?
The best boba place I'd ever tried is Roasting Water in Westminster. Their quality of milk tea is great, which is the hook for me.
How about the most unique place you've tried?
In Orange County, the most unique drink I've had is at 7 Leaves Cafe, which started two to three years ago. It's a staple OC boba brand. The unique thing about their drinks is that their ingredients are out of this world. They use fresh taro for taro milk tea compared to powder in other places. I would compare 7 Leaves to Tea Station which is high quality, but Orange County is the only place you can find 7 Leaves.
How do you find new places?
I use Instagram Explore, Yelp, and sometimes friends recommend me places. whenever I'm in a new area I'll go on Yelp and type in “boba.”
Have you had to repeat boba places for your Instagram?
Oh yeah. There were times I didn't have a car or I woke up late at night, so I've repeated Cha for Tea in Irvine, Dragonfly Tea Bar in Orange, and Lollicup in Diamond Jamboree. As student UCI I'm limited in my options so I have to consider them. Maybe after I graduate you'll see more places.
Do you ever drink more than one a day?
Yes, but I always try to limit myself to one drink for day because it's not good for my health. But there are some days where I work and need a pick-me-up. Instead of coffee, I get more boba. My most is three times a day.
Has it affected your health?
It hasn't affected me so much because I try to stay active and drink a lot of water to counter the sugar intake.
What are the three most interesting boba drinks you've tried of all time?
I tried Boba 7 in Los Angeles — alcoholic boba — on my 21st birthday. I've always wondered what would happen if you mixed boba and alcohol. Boba 7 managed to make it possible. The taste isn't really there yet but it's in the step in the right direction. It's not bad.
The second is Boba Story in Koreatown. It's sweet rice blended into a slush form and they add boba in it. It's a traditional Korean dessert and they turned it into a boba drink. It's called sikhye in Korean. It tastes cereal-like. Imagine shredding corn bran oatmeal and mixing it with boba. And it actually goes well with boba.
The third one are several Lollicups in Southern California. They've taken notice of 626 Night Market and make potted milk tea, which is a regular milk tea with whip cream, Oreos, and basil. It's American and Asian.
What's your biggest recommendation right now?
If you ever have the opportunity, go to Purple Kow in SF or Berkeley. I went there and it just completely changed my perception of boba.