The Little Sweet Boba Effect: One Mom’s Secret to Bonding With Her Teenager

When it comes to living with a teen, everything’s better with boba.

5 min read

A teen-expert therapist once told me that as a parent you have about two sentences to communicate what you need to say before your teen gets annoyed and tunes out, so choose your words wisely, say what you have to say, and then promptly shut up. I’ve followed this sage advice and shared it with others, all of whom have praised its efficacy. That said, it never hurts to have a multipronged approach to connecting with your teenager, and at our house, I’ve discovered another chasm-bridging strategy: Little Sweet’s Black Sugar Milk Tea with boba. 

There’s a big difference between living together and really connecting with a teen. Pre-boba, my go-to for bonding time was driving to the top of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks at night to listen to ‘80s music and take in the downtown skyline. During the pandemic, the city closed the roads, and with it went our special shared activity.  

I stumbled upon the boba family-bonding secret by sheer chance. I’d happily treated my daughter to the Taiwanese milk tea of San Francisco’s multi-location boba joint for years. Made to order and featuring myriad tea and topping variations, it's available at multiple locations around town and rightfully inspires lines out the door. 

But as someone who follows a mostly caffeine-free, dairy-free, and low-sugar lifestyle, I thought boba was off the table for me. So, I’d hand my daughter my phone and watch as she swiped through seemingly endless liquid confections in the categories of Original Tea, Infusion Tea, Milk Tea, Dairy Milk Series, and Salted Cheese Tea. 

Her initial go-to was a caffeinated, caramel-colored combo of non-dairy milk, black tea, brown sugar, molasses, and chunky-chewy black tapioca pearls. Called Brown Sugar Milk Tea with boba, she ordered it with 100% sweetness — Little Sweet allows you to choose your sweetness level from 50%-125% — so it was an easy pass for me. But then she switched to Black Sugar Fresh Milk Tea with boba and subbed oat milk.

Man, that drink! An iced vision of bright-white “milk,” cascading streaks of extra-dark house-made caramelized brown-sugar syrup, and deep-black tapioca pearls wading in more syrup — it’s a potable work of art! Plus, it includes a requisite ceremony: Upend the trademark tall and narrow cup with its heat-sealed film lid, shake it to mix in the drink-defining black sugar, then poise your fat straw for the inaugural one-shot stab through the pierceable top. Could a drink be any more fun?

For me, the answer was no. After succumbing to a single sip — complete with snappy-slippery boba jettisoning from straw to mouth at surprising speed — I learned that this dairy-free “milk” tea has zero caffeine and can be enjoyed at just 50% sweetness. 

With that, our boba-loving bond was born. 

No longer a passive participant, I became a full-blown boba instigator. Rough day at school or work? Little Sweet boba! A hot day or treat time? Boba sounds good! Thrifting? Better with boba! 

With no intention or fanfare, Little Sweet boba became one of our most beloved mom-daughter traditions, something we can enjoy together and always agree upon. 

Now whenever we boba — yes, for us it’s a verb — we sip and share our latest favorite songs, review the good and the bad of the day, and even have our hard conversations, all the while pacing ourselves to make the drink and the moment last. 

Still, I know it won’t. When we get to the icy dregs, I can’t help but relentlessly straw-slurp my way to the last rogue drips of sweetness and blobs of tapioca, which instantly breaks the boba spell and snaps me back to annoying-mom status. But it’s okay. In a weird way, even that has become a special part of our sugar-sweet bonding tradition that is boba.