During a recent visit to Chicago, I was in search of boba places in the main downtown core and was shocked to find a severe lack of bubble tea. You’d think that a major urban area would have more boba shops downtown, but perhaps the demographics of Chicago (and the frequent cold weather) aren’t conducive to a successful boba enterprise.
However, I noticed that Yelp kept popping up Argo Tea (an otherwise non-boba shop) as a boba shop, and lo and behold, the menu did indeed feature bubble tea! My prayers had been answered. However, it was definitely different – the boba was made of coconut jelly and appeared a bit unlike other bobas. Would it be good? Read on…
- Location – is the area nice? Where is the shop?
This particular Argo Tea was located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, which is a pretty ritzy area. The shop was located in a small Armenian-themed park in between a few cross streets. The shop itself was mostly made of glass and featured some indoor and outdoor seating. Since it was the winter, I didn’t take advantage of the outdoor seating. However, the location is great and convenient to both transit and many other things downtown.
- Ambiance – how does the shop feel inside? Is it quiet or lively? How crowded is it?
Upon seeing the shop, I didn’t think it’d be a great place to linger, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. There wasn’t a huge amount of space, but plenty of tables and even a few outlets. There was also a nice fireplace right in the middle of the space that was crackling away. That, paired with the ample natural light and views, made for a pleasant experience in the heart of the city.
- Friendliness – are the staff polite and helpful?
The staff seemed nice and helpful enough. I asked about milk choices for the boba drink (this drink uses real milk by default) and they were helpful in recommending an option (which turned out to be coconut).
- Other information – does the shop have a credit card minimum or other payment considerations?
This shop mainly serves regular tea and tea-based drinks, and they also have some prepared food (think like an upscale Starbucks level). There was no credit card minimum.
I purchased the Black Milk Tea with coconut milk, at the employee’s recommendation. It does not appear that you can edit sugar or ice at this store.
- Texture – is the drink thicker or thinner? How does it feel in the mouth?
This drink was primarily coconut milk based and had a moderate texture, not too thick or thin. It didn’t really stay in the mouth much. I think the texture might be a little different with real milk, but it was pleasant.
- Flavor – is the drink more milk forward or tea forward? Is there a good balance? Is it a powder-based drink? Any interesting flavor notes?
This drink had a decent tea flavor, but the overwhelming taste was that of coconut milk. While this wasn’t bad, the boba (described below) also were coconut, so this was basically coconut milk tea. However, it wasn’t bad, although way too sweet for me. I likely would have gotten this drink at like 50% sugar if I were to come back (and it were possible).
- Boba quality – what size are the boba? Are they well-cooked? How chewy are they? Are they flavored with honey or any other sweeteners? Is the flavor good?
This boba wasn’t exactly bad, but it wasn’t for me. I’m not a huge fan of jelly in my drinks, and this was a pretty jelly-like boba. The boba were shaped like cubes, which made for an interesting mouth feel. They were also rather hard and had more of a tough consistency. They sort of stuck in your teeth a bit more than other boba when you chew them. They also have an overwhelming flavor of coconut mixed with tapioca-ish, and are pretty sweet. I didn’t think the flavor was all that bad, actually, but it was really the consistency that did it for me.
- Drink-to-boba ratio – is there enough boba for the size of the drink?
I didn’t like the boba much, and unfortunately there was a decent amount of it. There was a substantial amount left. It was also difficult to eat it after the drink was gone thanks to the weird shape. I didn’t try too hard.
- Appearance – is the drink nice looking? How is the packaging?
This drink came in a pretty decent cup with a removable lid, with a large straw hole. The cup was nice and featured a decent design.
In short, I thought the Argo drink was not actually that bad, and was a bit better than I expected for a non-boba place. However, the texture and flavor of the boba wasn’t really for me, and so I probably wouldn’t come back. If I were to return, I’d probably just get the tea, and try to make it a little less sweet. But, in the end, I’ve definitely had worse drinks, so I can’t really give this too bad of a grade.
Overall Grade: C