Bubble Up

May 2024 View more

Treat yourself to some tasty beverages at these local boba shops

Sakura milk tea with cherry boba at Pisces Cafe
Sakura milk tea with cherry boba at Pisces Cafe

Pisces Cafe


During her undergrad years at Benedictine University, Nicole Kwon often lamented the lack of cafés open past 8 or 9 p.m. So when she and her father, Don Kwon, decided to open a boba tea and coffee shop together in 2020, this space just west of the campus felt right. Constellation paintings decorate the counter and walls, including her and her dad’s signs, Pisces and Sagittarius. “I wanted to put something in the store that was symbolizing us together, so that’s what we decided to go with,” Kwon says. Popular milk teas include the chocolatey Okinawa and the creamy, caramel-flavored Hokkaido. The seasonal specials dreamed up by the creative staff are not to be missed. Closing time is 10 p.m. weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends.
Good to know: Pisces also sells taiyaki, a popular Japanese street food. These fish-shaped waffle-esque pastries are crispy on the outside with sweet or savory fillings such as cinnamon and banana or cheesy hot dog. 2751 Maple Ave.


Vietnamese coffee at Bella Boba
Vietnamese coffee at Bella Boba

Bella Boba


After 17 years in the nail industry, Johnny Nguyen decided to make a career change to pursue his passion for boba tea. After research trips to Vietnam and California and months of perfecting recipes, he opened this shop in Tower Crossing in late 2022. In addition to classic milk teas—all lactose-free thanks to a nondairy base—the menu features fruit teas, refreshers (lemonade-based drinks), slushes (specialty smoothies), and lava milks (an unblended smoothie of sorts). “We make our own tapioca boba every few hours,” Nguyen says. “That’s how we keep it fresh, and it’s always chewy, never hard and never soft.” Other toppings include cold foam, taro or coconut pudding, jelly hearts, and popping boba (fruit-juice-filled pearls that pop when you bite into them). “There’s no right or wrong way to do it; you can put any kind of topping in any kind of drink,” he says.
Good to know: The Vietnamese coffee is a must-try for java fans. “It’s one of my prized drinks,” Nguyen says. “I source my beans all the way from Vietnam—and it has a very robust, very strong flavor.” 1504 N. Naper Blvd.


Passionfruit Sunrise at Back Alley Boba and Market
Passionfruit Sunrise at Back Alley Boba and Market

Back Alley Boba and Market


Longtime Wheaton resident Vicky Letizia has her son to thank for inspiring her to open this boba shop and bakery two years ago. “He works in an Asian restaurant and started to get into [boba tea] and said, ‘Mom, you’ve gotta try this,’ ” she says. “I had him and all his friends making bubble tea at my house.” Named for its alley entrance off Main Street in downtown Wheaton and called BABAM for short, the shop pours plenty of milk tea, fruit tea, and lemonade, plus whimsical smoothies such as Ube Oreo and Pink Bubblegum Blast. The most colorful drink might be the Passionfruit Sunrise made with violet-hued butterfly pea blossom tea, peach and passionfruit juices, and cherry blossom crystal boba. Snacks on hand include cat paw-shaped mochi waffles, shokupan (Japanese milk bread), Pocky sticks, seaweed chips, and instant ramen that you can make at your table with the shop’s electric kettle.
Good to know:The art on display here is from fellow Wheaton business Alicia’s Creative Art Studio. “Her students paint and draw and sell their artwork here, and they get 100 percent of [the profits],” Letizia says. 125 N. Main St. (enter in alley)


Photos: Lisa Arnett (Pisces Cafe and Babam); Bella Boba