Keep the good vibes going all summer long with these tasty, sweet, cold drinks
Sunny Liang grew up in Sichuan, China where bubble tea is easy to find among countless street vendors and corner shops. When Liang moved to Rohnert Park, the then 18-year-old couldn’t find a decent bubble tea within 50 miles. She had to drive to San Francisco or Berkeley to find a decent version of her favorite cold and flavorful milk teas with chewy tapioca pearls floating saucily on the bottom. “I wanted a boba shop locally so I could drink it whenever I want,” says Liang with a laugh.
To remedy the situation, in 2015, Liang opened Sunny’s Boba in partnership with her parents. Located on downtown Santa Rosa’s bustling 4th Street shopping corridor, Liang’s shop caters to young college students and adventurous families out for a stroll and a treat.
At Sunny’s Boba, the tea is brewed fresh every day and the only thing made from a powder is the taro milk bubble drink. Non-dairy versions of every drink are available with almond or soy milk. Some other shops use a pre-sweetened powder, but at Sunny’s customers can choose between levels of sweetness from 0 percent to 120 percent for sugar fanatics. “It’s fun and it’s like a snack drink,” says Liang between customers on a warm Wednesday afternoon.
When the doors first opened to the friendly, colorful, art-filled shop, 80 percent of the people who stopped in didn’t have a clue about bubble tea. Things have changed with an explosion of boba shops across Sonoma County—at least five have popped up since 2010.
“It came here a little slower, but people are discovering it now,” says Liang. “I have people who tell me they have an addiction. And it is addictive, in a good way. Bubble tea makes people feel good.”
One regular customer even insisted she’d read a study that tapioca contains a compound that makes people feel happier—something about the starch. Whether that proves true or not, the fact is that this unique drink, originally from Taiwan, has something special about it. Heck, why not take a bubble tea tour of Sonoma County? Here’s a list of local shops to get you on your way!
QUICKLY 1451 Southwest Blvd., Rohnert Park; 707.665.5110
1880 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa; 510.780.1000
SIMPLY VIETNAM EXPRESS 3381 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa;
SUNNY’S BOBA 519 4th St., Santa Rosa; 707.541.6297
T4 AND POKE 2280 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa; 707.791.7228
TEA REX 1 Padre Parkway, Suite E, Rohnert Park; Tearex.me
THIRSTEA 6585 Commerce Blvd., Rohnert Park; 707.303.7868
Dried tapioca pearls*
Milk (dairy or non-dairy)
Strong black tea or jasmine tea
Flavorings of your choice
*Look for tapioca pearls and other boba ingredients at Asia Mart, 2481 Guerneville Rd.,
Santa Rosa; 707.542.3513.
- Brew tea to make a strong tea concentrate.
- Cook up the tapioca pearls according to the package directions. This usually involves soaking them for an hour and then boiling for 5 to 10 minutes. The boba should be chewy, but not mushy.
- Make a simple syrup by boiling a few tablespoons of sugar in water.
- Pour cooked boba into the simple syrup and soak for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Place boba and syrup at the bottom of a glass.
- Add condensed milk to taste. (Leave out for less sugar)
- Add ice cubes.
- Pour in milk to taste.
- Top with tea concentrate.
- Drink up!
SUNNY’S HOT WEATHER FAVES
MAGNIFICENT PERFECTION: Mango, peach, jasmine milk tea, and peach popping boba.
BUTTERFLY LEMONADE: Butterfly pea flower tea and lemonade with tapioca pearls.
PRO TIP: REUSE THAT STRAW!
Concerned about where that chubby straw will end up after you suck up your boba tea? Why not reuse it? Take it home, wash well with soap and warm water, let it dry, and take it with you the next time you hit the boba shop. Make sure to mention you don’t need a straw when ordering.
This past spring, I attended a wedding on a beach in San Diego where I sipped on very many cups of delicious watermelon-mint and cucumber-lime aguas frescas. Sweet and refreshing, the nonalcoholic drinks added just the right festive and hydrating kick to the afternoon; I returned home to Santa Rosa hankering for more.
Aguas frescas were born in Mexico where they are hawked by street vendors in plazas across the country. The phrase translates to “fresh water” or “cool water.” Simply put, the drinks are an easy blend of water, fresh fruit, and sugar. You can also make an unsweetened version that takes its flavor from the existing fruit sugars. Most fruits can be used in aguas frescas, though watermelon, hibiscus, and horchata are eternal favorites. Craving a cold, fruity treat to wash down your tacos? Luckily, Sonoma County has no shortage of places to find these summertime treats. Take Taqueria El Favorito in Roseland, where they whip up big, glass vats of strawberry, melon, and rice versions every morning.
Here’s a list of restaurants across the county where you can find aguas frescas. This is by no means exhaustive, as most taquerias serve a version of this popular traditional drink—some fresher than others.
EL BARRIO BAR 16230 Main St., Guerneville; 797.604.7601
HANDLINE 935 Gravenstein Hwy, Sebastopol; 707.827.3744
LA MICHOACANA 18495 Hwy 12, Sonoma; 707.938.1773
LA TEXANITA 1667 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa; 707.525.1905
MATEO’S 214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; 707.433.1520
PICAZO CAFÉ 19100 Arnold Drive, Sonoma; 707.931.4377
TACO LAB 126 Old Redwood Hwy, Windsor; 707.657.7701
TAQUERIA EL FAVORITO 565 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa; 707.526.7444
VERO’S KITCHEN Wednesday Night Market in Santa Rosa and Windsor
Farmers’ Market on Thursdays; 707.546.4203
2 cups of cold water
1 cup of ice
2 cups of fresh strawberries
Newly harvested mint leaves to taste
1/4 cup of sugar or agave syrup
1 tablespoon lime juice
- Combine all ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until the liquid is smooth with no lumps.
- Strain through a mesh sieve into a pitcher or mason jar.
- Chill and stir before serving.
Jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers)
Melon (Watermelon or Cantaloupe)
PRO TIP: USE LOCALLY GROWN FRUIT
Why not make hyper-local aguas frescas at home with fruit purchased at your local farmers’ market? Pick up some strawberries, toss in a bit of mint from your neighbor’s garden, mix it up, throw in some ice, and have a party! Summer also brings local melons and a multitude of berries, so have fun with your flavors!