From a senior who’s tried (almost) all of them, a comprehensive breakdown of the boba teas to check out and the ones to avoid at Columbia’s favorite campus cafe.
At the start of my final semester at Columbia, I made it a personal mission of mine to taste every drink on the Cafe East bubble tea menu. After my last class of the week on Thursday afternoon, I made it a tradition to head to Cafe East and explore the menu, seeking out the perfect drink at my favorite campus bubble tea joint. (You heard me, Bubble Tea and Sushi Spot.) Many months of searching have led me to these findings.
Author’s Note: I didn’t try the Honeydew Milk Tea and Strawberry Green Tea yet, but I will add an addendum when I get around to those.
The Definitive Cafe East Drink Ranking
16. Sea Salt Caramel Milk Tea:
Probably the only flavor on the Cafe East drink menu that is actively bad. Imagine if you took a glass of milk, then put a ton of salt in it and a bit of sugar. That is what you’re getting here. Salty milk. Nothing can save salty milk. That’s $5.00 you can never get back.
15. Peach Oolong Tea:
It’s been a while since I had this one, but I remember the peach and oolong flavors clashing in an unpleasant way. I’d personally just stick to the oolong milk tea which is good enough on its own without adding fruit into the mix.
14. French Vanilla Milk Tea:
I’m not exactly sure where the tea comes in to play here, I really only taste milk, vanilla, and a slightly weird plastic flavor like if you gnaw on a Barbie doll’s arm. I’d drink it again though.
13. Salted Caramel Hojicha Latte:
I love Hojicha lattes, but the salted caramel here was way too overpowering for me. The salted caramel makes it too rich—I got a medium, and it was a bit hard to finish. There are superior Hojicha lattes offered at Cafe East—order those instead.
12. Passion Fruit Black Tea:
This one doesn’t really do it for me and has more of a fruit punch taste. I have nothing against it, it’s unfortunately just too sweet for my liking.
11. Green Milk Tea:
The green tea flavor is a little too subtle on this one for me—this drink feels somewhat milk-forward. It’s still decent, but I would have loved more tea flavor.
10. Black Milk Tea:
This is another Cafe East selection that’s just a little too milk forward. I think this drink could be truly great if the ingredient ratios were switched up, since the tea flavor is nice—just not enough. It’s a decent option, but one I never find myself reaching for considering the more exciting flavors on the menu.
9. Tiger Sugar Milk Tea:
A slight improvement to the black milk tea because it comes with brown sugar syrup that coats the sides of the cup. However, after the first few sips, the syrup fades into the drink and you’re kind of just left with sweet black milk tea.
8. Lychee Black Tea:
As a huge fan of lychee, I believe that this tea makes for a lovely drink on a sunny afternoon especially when paired with some lychee jelly. Lychee offers a sweet, floral taste that you will come back for over and over again.
7. Taro Milk: I’m not a huge fan of the purple root vegetable, but I have to respect how the taro flavor shines in this drink. Sweet and a little nutty, this is a great caffeine-free selection for an evening Cafe East run. If you like taro, make it a point to try this one.
6. Grapefruit Green Tea with Pulp:
I’m a grapefruit lover, so the balance of bitterness and sweetness of this green tea was already enough for me to love it, but the grapefruit pulp they add? The burst of flavor when you bite down on a clump of pulp? Chef’s kiss.
5. Thai Milk Tea:
You can never go wrong with this. If you are at Cafe East and don’t know what to order, the Thai Milk Tea will never wrong you. This drink is what I ordered when I visited Columbia in February 2020 and it was good enough to convince me to transfer here during a pandemic.
4. Vanilla Matcha Latte:
I enjoy a nice matcha latte from time to time, and this is quite a nice one. A little on the sweet side due to the added vanilla syrup, but the matcha has a nice earthiness which balances it out. It’s actually made with UJI matcha which is apparently the highest grade of matcha in Japan (go figure).
3. Oolong Milk Tea:
The only way I can describe this is as a really pretty tea? It’s very floral which is nicely offset by the sweetness of tapioca pearls. Floral, milky, and just a hint of sweetness—this is the favorite standalone milk tea of my friends and I.
2. Mango Green Tea:
Such a solid mango green tea. Some of the other fruit teas here get a little too close to juice for my liking, but this one feels like a solid mix of green tea flavor and fruitiness. This one also pairs nicely with some lychee jelly, but I’m sure it’d be great with popping pearls as well.
1. Vanilla Hojicha Latte:
The vanilla hojicha latte is just the supreme Cafe East drink. It’s sweet from the vanilla syrup, but that’s offset by the toasted nuttiness of the hojicha tea—a roasted Japanese green tea. The mix of flavors here is perfect for a study session, a walk in Riverside Park, or even just relaxing on Low steps with your best friends. Be warned, it’s a bit of a price bump from the non-matcha teas but it’s so worth it.
Cafe East via Columbia University