SOMA Tea and Mocktails, a high-end, luxury boba store, has opened in Arbor Village Shopping Center. Founded in 2013 by Jeremy Lo, the franchise comes straight from Taiwan, the country boba originated from. The Irvine location is only the franchise’s second store in the U.S.

Lo explained in a letter on SOMA Tea’s website that his goal for the brand is to adhere “to the essence of French cuisine [and] to produce hand-shaken drinks with a workmanship attitude.” The store has previously earned the reputation of being the “No. 1 Milk Tea in Taiwan” during the nation’s bubble tea festival and is known for its high-quality beverages.

“Based on what the founder learned from the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, SOMA strictly selects global ingredients and utilizes high tech SOP manufacturing processes and meticulous cookery skills to design beverage formulae that are rich in their texture and comprehensive in their flavors,” Aaron Chen, general manager of SOMA Tea USA, said.

Photo by Audrey Fong

SOMA Tea’s luxurious branding is immediately evident when one walks into the chic, minimalist store. The store features a simple, concrete-washed interior and a small seating area, where guests can wait for their drinks. The seating area is reminiscent of a chic clothing boutique with its bright white couches, marbled side tables, gold accents, abstract mirrors, and wood room dividers.

From the moment I walked up to its door, SOMA Tea immediately differentiated itself from other boba stores. At most boba stores, I typically enter, am greeted by a staff member, and am left to peruse the menu alone. However, as soon as I walked up to SOMA Tea, a team member opened the door and asked if I had visited them before. When I shared I had been to the Artesia location, she welcomed me, thanked me for coming to the Irvine store, and offered to answer any questions I had.

The menu features a selection of milk teas, fruit teas, non-caffeinated mocktails, slushies, and Japanese matcha drinks, ranging from $4 – $6. A few of their milk teas can be made with oat milk and all their drinks can be topped with boba, lychee jelly and aloe vera. Since I had already tried their grapefruit high mountain tea and matcha latte at the Artesia location, I opted for a selection of their milk teas – almond, sesame and signature. When my drinks were ready, the woman who initially greeted me carried the tray of drinks over to me unlike most stores who call your order number and leave it on the counter.

All three of the milk teas had a strong, clear tea flavor to them and the fact that SOMA Tea uses milk instead of non-dairy creamer meant that the drinks tasted healthier and more natural than the type of boba drinks many of us grew up on in the 1990s and early 2000s, which were typically made with non-dairy creamers or powders. I especially enjoyed their signature milk tea, which tasted like an exceptional, deep and flavorful black milk tea, and can see it becoming a regular in my boba consumption.

“With three exclusively selected black teas, our signature milk tea shows the perfect taste balance between tea and milk flavor,” Chen said, explaining what made their signature milk tea unique.

The almond milk tea reminded me a bit of almond tofu, a popular jelly dessert often served after meals at Chinese restaurants. The sesame milk tea was the heaviest and most decadent milk tea out of the three. Made with ground black sesame from Taiwan, the drink has a heavy, nutty black sesame flavor to it. Bits of the ground sesame can be seen in the tea and as you drink, they settle on the bottom, so swirling the drink before each sip ensures a more even flavor. Black sesame’s nutty flavor is comparable to peanut butter, so this drink is perfect for dessert.

Currently in soft opening, SOMA Tea is open Thursday-Sunday from 12:00 – 7:00 p.m. and is available for delivery on Caviar, Doordash, Postmates, and Uber Eats.

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