Best boba from fine-dining chefs

“Not too sweet” is the ultimate Asian compliment for desserts, and Gathers Tea Bar definitely caters to an Asian palate with tea-forward, less sweet bubble tea. When you’re investing in high-quality teas from Rare Tea Cellar and sourcing matcha and hojicha directly from farmers in Kyoto, you want to let the tea shine. 

Peter Li opened Gathers Tea Bar in Little Italy in 2019, and his partner Victor Lei joined Li full-time about a year ago. With experience working at the late Acadia, a two–Michelin star restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop, Lei brings a unique fine-dining perspective and attention to detail to every drink. 

“We’re trying to push the boundaries of boba,” Lei says. “There’s a lot of thought that goes into each drink, and we make as much as possible from scratch.” That’s a stark contrast to bubble tea franchises that rely on powders, mixes, and syrups for consistency and to keep costs low. Gathers’s boba has a superlative springy QQ texture that no Chinatown shops or bubble tea franchises can match.

The menu is broad, and every time I visit, there’s a new drink on the menu—I have FOMO about missing a limited-time special. There’s everything from pumpkin cream chai, a fall favorite (made with real pumpkin puree, of course), to popular Hong Kong–style milk tea, made with a proprietary blend of teas. Korean-inspired banana milk was a summer special that is now a permanent menu item due to popular demand. Osmanthus oolong is one of my favorites; the fragrant floral aroma recalls childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Taiwan. Warm longan honey jasmine milk tea is my soothing go-to if I’m feeling under the weather.

Gathers Tea Bar
1214 W. Taylor
Open daily, noon–9 PM

Even the service at Gathers feels more heartfelt and high-end rather than transactional. Regulars are greeted warmly by name, and knowledgeable staff are happy to make recommendations for drink toppings or explain any ingredients you might not be familiar with. Everyone is welcome, even if you don’t have an Asian palate and prefer your drink extra sweet.

“On weekends, we get people coming from as far as Indiana or Iowa for our tea, and that’s so awesome to hear,” Li says.

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