Serving Up Quali-tea: A Recap on 2023 Seattle Boba Fest
Updated: Jul 2
By Gurjot Kang
Edited By Marian Mohamed
Boba Fest street guide designed by Seattle Illustrator and Graphic Designer Matt Naylor.
The 1980s brought us many great things–city pop music, slap bracelets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and of course, boba! The popular tea-based drink, also known as bubble tea, first took off in Taiwan in the late ‘80s and was introduced to the U.S. in the ‘90s by Taiwanese immigrants. Today, the delicious dessert drink is sold and loved by people all over the world, including here in Seattle!
Whether you’re more of a honeydew or taro milk tea person (we don’t judge here), the customizable options for boba are endless. Tapioca pearls, fruity jelly, pudding, red beans, cheese foam, etc. However you choose to boba, there’s something for everyone–and where better else to get boba in Seattle than at Boba Fest!
The second annual Seattle Boba Fest kicked off in the University District, with lines of customers standing outside storefronts to get their hands on specialty boba drinks, themed eats, and exclusive merch.
Boba Fest balloons and decorations were spotted around the U District on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
This year’s Boba Fest was held on April 29, from 12-6 p.m., in celebration of National Bubble Tea Day. The event was put on by the U District Partnership (UDP), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and serving all who live in the vibrant U District neighborhood. The UDP is known for hosting events like the Cherry Blossom Festival, which presented sakura-inspired drinks and treats in collaboration with local U District shops earlier this spring.
The organization brought back Boba Fest in recognition of Seattle’s unique Boba culture, with the city’s highest concentration of bubble tea shops located in the U District. The festival refers to “the U District as the heart of Seattle’s bubble tea scene.” In addition to the U District Partnership, the 2023 Boba Fest was supported by four other partner businesses, including Boba Up, Sip House, KUOW Radio, and The Stranger.
Customers at Sip House, one of the Boba Fest partners on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang).
With 25 local businesses participating, there were plenty of places for boba lovers and enthusiasts to stop by for some special treats and giveaways. With the sun finally out and the weather hitting the high 70s F (that’s hot for Seattlelites), dozens of customers anxiously awaited to sip on some cool, refreshing bubble tea. Among the participating local businesses were Boba Gem Tea House, Boba Up, Ding Tea Seattle, Don’t Yell at Me, Meraki Tea Bar, Oasis Tea Zone, Oh Bear Cafe and Teahouse, and many more.
Outside Möge Tee, one of 25 participating shops at Boba Fest 2023 on April 29. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“We have all sorts of different menu items that are being put forward as featured items at every one of the different locations, so people can come and try kind of what the unique different flavor is at each restaurant, at each cafe,” said Don Blakeney, Executive Director of UDP.
Many community members arriving at Boba Fest stopped by the UDP table and tent, outside the U District light rail station, to learn more about the event and pick up a pamphlet from UDP Marketing & Events Specialist Johana Canales.
Onlookers stop by the Boba Fest tent to get in on the bubble tea buzz on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“When we started recovering from the pandemic, the U District Partnership wanted to plan special events to help revitalize the neighborhood and bring back some local tourism and support the local businesses,” said Canales. “Cherry Blossom Festival was one of those events, which happened last month and then because the U District has the highest concentration of bubble tea shops out of the entire city, we thought it would be a great idea to bring more awareness by creating Boba Fest.”
Johana Canales at the UDP Boba Fest information table. (Photo/Gurjot Kang).
For Canales, there are many bubble tea shops she loves to frequent in the U District. From the chill atmosphere of ‘Oasis’ to the self-serve options at ‘Boba Up,’ it’s hard to choose just one.
“My personal favorite is ‘Oasis’ because it’s just a chill spot. I love studying there, hanging out there. But in terms of like actual bubble tea flavors, I love ‘Don’t Yell at Me.’ They’re very creative with the cheese foam,” said Canales. “I [recently] went to ‘Boba Up,’ and I love the self-serve aspect of it…that’s the only place I know where you could do samples. You could literally try every flavor before you buy it, so that’s really cool. Those are my personal favorites, but we also have [participating] dessert shops and other businesses that aren’t bubble tea shops.”
A crowd of people waiting to get drinks from ‘Don’t Yell at Me’ during Boba Fest on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
For Boba Fest, several businesses premiered limited-time drink offers. Boba Up, a business known as “the first self-serve bubble tea in the Northwest,” offered customers a chance to experience the best of both worlds and combine any two different flavors in a special split cup available during the festival. Customers also had the chance to take pictures with the shop’s cute yellow ‘BoMo’ mascot and receive a BoMo plushie or reusable tote bag with certain purchases.
On April 29, 2023, a line of customers wraps around the block outside ‘Boba Up’ for Boba Fest. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
“We love boba and any chance to get some more is nice, and we wanted to try a new place,” said boba lover Sahar Shawa.“It’s a Saturday and U District is like the nicest place to be on a sunny day.”
After learning about the event online, Shawa decided to make a day out of it and visit a new spot, Boba Up, with her daughters.
“I got the oolong and got like brown sugar tea. I’m classic. They’re more adventurous, the girls,” said Shawa.
Sahar Shawa sits in the center, alongside her daughters, at ‘Boba Up’ on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
Other businesses like ‘Sip House’ were doing similar giveaways with purchases of their specialty “Boba Lava Cake” item; a smooth chiffon cake topped with pistachio cream and tapioca.
Even local shops that didn’t specialize in boba got in on the fun. Sweet Alchemy Ice Creamery served a milk tea ice cream with boba topping, alongside boba parfaits and shakes that employees handed out with free metallic straws.
On April 29, 2023, customers outside Sweet Alchemy; one of the dessert shops participating in Boba Fest. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
Several other shops offered memorable and exclusive drinks for Boba Fest, with shops like ‘Don’t Yell at Me’ offering a pink lychee smoothie topped with cheese foam and ‘Ding Tea Seattle’ offering a monster golden boba latte featuring sweet golden boba.
During the event, attendees also had the opportunity to meet with everyone’s favorite ‘Boba Buddy,’ the adorable mascot of Boba Fest, or snap a picture infront of the Boba Fest photo booth outside the U District lightrail station.
Ground Zero Radio reporters Tram Dinh (on the left) and Antonio Nevarez (on the right) pose next to ‘Boba Buddy’ after an exclusive interview on April 29, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
With plenty of tasty treats and shops to visit, this year’s Boba Fest was a delicious way to serve up some community pride and support local businesses in the U District.
Looking forward to more community events this upcoming season? Get ready for the annual U District Street Fair, featuring arts and crafts, live entertainment, and food trucks on the Ave, from the weekend of May 20-21.