New Haven is no longer a boba desert. The Whale Tea, a highly anticipated franchise of a Malaysian boba tea brand, opened on Whitney Avenue on Sept. 19. Since their soft opening, I’ve been there 12 times in two weeks — for research purposes — and found that it’s easily the best boba place in town.
Their menu is sweet and simple. They offer several series of fruit tea or fresh milk-based drinks, from Lychee Fruit Tea to Matcha Fresh Milk. Prices range from $4.25 (Signature Milk Tea) to $7.95 (Milk Foam Dragonfruit Tea), but most drinks fall in the standard $5 range. Their drinks are a bit pricier than others in New Haven, but their higher quality is worth it. They use real tea and fresh milk instead of powder, and incorporate hip, healthy ingredients in their signature drinks.
The Brown Sugar Fresh Milk is a classic — likely the most popular order and a good go-to option for first-timers. It comes in a cute round cup, filled to the brim with whole milk and a marbling of brown sugar drizzle. The boba, steeped and dripping in brown sugar syrup, is so fresh that it’s still warm in the first few sips. It was just two simple ingredients, but it made a filling, craving-satisfying treat.
The Whale Tea’s signature drink is The Whale Crystal, a gradient of soft blue coloring diffusing into creamy white milk filled with golden crystal jelly. When the drink is placed on a mini light, the crystal jelly is illuminated from below, creating an illusion of a glowing drink. But for all the aesthetic overkill, this drink was actually the least impressive of the several I tried; it was essentially milk and flavorless jelly. It looked great on photo, though.
My personal recommendation is the milk foam tea series. The Milk Foam Dragonfruit Tea is a splurge — in a tall cup about the size of a Starbucks venti, freshly blended dragon fruit is mixed with tea and topped with a thick, creamy layer of milk foam. The striking magenta of the dragon fruit becomes a baby pink when mixed with the milk foam. With a price of $7.95, however, it’s a drink better saved for special occasions. On a normal day, the milk foam peach oolong is a close second.
The Whale Tea’s other drinks are just as creative, using unconventional ingredients that are more often found in a health superfood joint than a boba place. The blue coloring of The Whale Crystal drink is naturally derived from a type of algae, and the crystal jelly is actually “tao jiao,” a form of peach tree resin known for its general health benefits in traditional Chinese medicine. The Blue Crystal drink is filled with a blue jelly derived from spirulina, a trendy health superfood in the ranks of acai and goji berries, with a hint of coconut flavor. Customers can also swap boba for healthier topping options, like chia seeds or aloe vera. Their drinks are not overly sweet, even without adjusting sugar — several fresh milk drinks do not contain any added sugar at all.
So far, The Whale Tea is making all the right moves — they are working on getting onto Snackpass and preparing to open another franchise in Storr, CT, near the University of Connecticut. They have already replaced 0 Degree Thai Ice Cream on Whitney, and now they’re coming for Vivi Bubble Tea’s career as New Haven’s staple boba place.
ASHLEY FAN | firstname.lastname@example.org