What Is Boba Tea? Bubble Tea 101
If Instagram ever made a drink it would surely be the beautiful Boba Tea. Bright, exciting, and just so charming to look at, we cannot get enough of this deliciously sweet tea dotted with tapioca balls. And it seems we aren’t alone! Over the last couple of years, you may have noticed more and more Boba Tea cafes popping up across your neighborhood. The drink has continued to gain popularity in the US, not just because of the big colorful straws you get to pop into the drink’s plastic-sealed top, but because it’s supremely yummy — it comes in all different colors, with different tea flavors, and toppings. But what exactly is Boba Tea and is it good for you?
What is Boba Tea?
Boba tea — also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea — is a drink that originated in Taiwan and made its way into American culture after gaining popularity around college and high school campuses. It’s a fascinating drink that totally changed the way young people thought about tea and became a heady part of the youth culture scene thanks to that out of the box experience of having a drink that looks cool, tastes sweet, and even has a chewy texture. Wild. But Boba Tea was too good to let the youngsters keep to themselves and the whole market just took off. Now, everyone sips on a Boba Tea normally as a substitute or alternative option to fruit smoothies and caffeine rich coffee.
The traditional style of Boba Tea that originated from Taiwan comes loaded with tapioca pearls which come from the starch of the South American Cassava plant. At first, the tapioca is hard and bland until they are soaked in huge vats of caramel like syrup for hours. This leads to that delectable sweet and chewy flavor that makes this addition to Boba Tea so beloved.
So what else is in Boba Tea? The fun and fabulous drink tends to consist of a tea base and toppings. While the classic tea bases are black, green, or white tea, you can get creative by using chai spiced tea or a matcha latte for added oomph. You can also request added syrup flavors such as pineapple, strawberry, or lychee. You can also add milk for a boba milk tea. If a basic tea base isn’t your thing, try a number of other bubble tea bases. Here are just a few options:
- Coffee milk. For those who want a shot of coffee in their Boba to start the day, this Hong Kong version of the popular Boba Tea recipe is bound to wake you right up. A little espresso powder is mixed in the traditional black tea and milk. This may consist of Oolong milk tea, matcha milk, or Jasmine milk.
- Taro milk. This purple base is made from tropical taro root and has a flavor reminiscent of Cookies-and-Cream ice cream. Taro is a Taiwanese favorite and is all rich and creamy vibes and similar to the sweet potato. It is awesome when you mix it in with jasmine tea for a delicate balance. Taro Boba Tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s and acts as a thickener or creamer for adding even more dessert-like texture to your tea.
- Honeydew milk. Like the other fruity flavors that you can add to the green or black tea base, the honeydew milk flavor is for those with a major sweet tooth. Honeydew is similar to cantaloupe. You can either use it fresh or choose powdered honeydew milk and it will bring a soft and fruity sweetness to every sip. Honeydew milk makes for an awesome base when you are looking for a long cooling summer style boba topped with ice.
- Thai tea. This bright orange tea is caffeinated and can also be served as a milk tea. You can usually find it at Thai and Asian restaurants, but you also try Tea Drop’s Thai iced tea to make it at home. The Thai style Boba Tea is truly simple and delicious. Often made with black or Ceylon tea that comes slightly spiced with herbs and coloring to give it that zesty shading. It is usually served with a heavy creamer or coconut cream and condensed milk plus plenty of ice. The color combination of the orange flavoring and the dark chewy tapioca balls make this a fun drink for strolling and sipping.
- Almond milk. This is a good dairy alternative with a similar consistency as milk. Almond milk can also be a smidge sweeter than fresh milk and often isn’t as thick. The Almond Milk Boba Tea can also be made hot or cold depending on the temperature outside. This is one of the more versatile tea bases for boba drinks.
- Slushy. On a hot day, slushy bubble tea can be just the ticket. A tea flavor of your choice is blended together with ice to make the refreshing base. Then you can get busy adding hunks of fruit like watermelon, strawberry, passion fruit, mango, and whatever sweet and sour tastes take your fancy.
Boba. The quintessential choice for your tea, the tapioca balls are all what adds up to the delicious chewy consistency. For those who are trying out Boba Tea for the first time, this is ultimately the way to go.
Pudding. Slightly firmer than the trad pudding association, the Boba Tea style pudding is made from yolks, cream, and sugar. It has a slight chew and is an awesome add on to those creamier Boba Teas. You can even get pudding in different flavors such as taro and other fruits.
Jelly. Whether it’s a soothing aloe vera jelly or grass jelly, this is a delicious herbal sweet treat to add to your Boba Tea. It often has a firmer texture than the pudding and is a glorious delicate accompaniment to any kind of boba but works especially well with the coffee shot boba.
Tapioca. A common addition to traditional Asian desserts, tapioca pearls can be added in a whole range of flavors including red bean, matcha, and even coconut.
Taro balls. Springy and chewy and ever ready to melt upon the tongue, taro balls are a gorgeous addition to Boba Tea. Mashed sweet potato flour forms the traditional Taiwan balls and they can be added to the boba either hot or cold making them a truly versatile addition to play with.
Fruit. Top your Boba Tea with a whole range of beautiful rainbow fruit to boost the health properties of this delicious drink. You can add in just about any kind of fruit.
Cream. Boba Tea is all about being extravagant and nothing tops off a tea like a generous dollop of whipped cream or light and airy foam. If you want to get truly experimental and wild with your Boba Tea, then you can even whip up some cheese powder or cream cheese to make the Cheese Tea that is taking the world by storm. While it may sound crazy, the balance of sweet and salty is sublime.
What is Boba?
Sometimes, bubble tea is simply referred to as “boba.” But boba is actually a specific kind of topping for bubble tea — though it doesn’t go “on top” of the drink. As we mentioned, Boba is a gluten-free tapioca refined starch that’s derived from a cassava root. It has a chewy texture and looks like little black pearls that sink to the bottom of your hot or cold bubble tea drink. By itself, boba doesn’t have much flavor, but sweeteners are usually added. According to The New York Times, the tapioca starch is mixed “with brown sugar syrup, water, potassium sorbate and guar gum, to produce a damp, caramel-colored powder." You can suck up the boba through a bubble tea straw — a larger-than-average straw.
It was first invented in Taiwan and specifically it is said to originate from a teahouse and restaurant called Chun Shui Tang. It takes its name from a tongue in cheek reference to the shape of the balls resembling the shape of breasts. With a heavy culture around drinking tea and plenty of desserts from Southeast Asia being centered around tapioca pudding and shaved ice, it seems only natural that the beauty of Boba Tea would be born.
How to Make Boba Tea
There are a number of ways to make bubble tea, and there are a few simple recipes you can try at home with the right ingredients. For a base, you can try Tea Drop’s Thai iced tea. Then, you’ll need tapioca pearls, heavy cream, ice, filtered water, dark brown sugar, and regular sugar. It’s also handy to have a glass teapot with an infuser, a milk frother, and an electric kettle.
Of course, you can play around with various bases and toppings depending on what your taste buds enjoy. There are tons of recipes out there, such as Oh, How Civilized’s bubble tea recipe, which shows you how to make bubble tea with a black tea base, tapioca balls, and a frothy cream topping. You can also try a jasmine green bubble tea with jasmine green tea, hot water, tapioca pearls, honey, milk, and ice. For a healthier option, try a recipe from Asia One which includes ingredients such as lemon, honey, mint leaves, rose petals, cinnamon, ginger, soy milk, brown rice, and fruit juice.
Experiment with different kinds of bubble teas to find the one you enjoy most. But with any recipe, be sure to have some wide tapioca straws on hand!
What are the health benefits of bubble tea?
The health benefits of bubble tea widely vary depending on the ingredients you choose to add to your drink. Generally speaking, sweetened bubble tea is not that great for you as it contains lots and lots of sugar — in fact, just one cup of bubble tea contains 335 calories, according to Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB). The boba itself is the highest caloric ingredient in the drink. That said, there are ways to make your drink healthier by including less sugar or syrup, using nonfat or soy milk, and forgoing the tapioca pearls. Given the many ways to make bubble tea, it’s totally possible to create a bubble tea drink with health benefits. Here are just a few of the potential health benefits of bubble tea:
Good for your heart
If you nix most of the sugar and the boba in bubble tea, the drink actually has some anti-inflammatory elements and antioxidants that “can strengthen the blood vessel walls and prevent the arteries from forming plaque,” according to Koi Tea.
An anti-inflammatory and good for the skin
Using a green tea base is a great way to reap some of the health benefits of bubble tea. According to Penn Medicine’s research, “green tea has a possible impact on liver, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. This tea variety has also shown to be anti-inflammatory, which helps keep your skin clear and glowing.” Be sure to avoid a green tea latte-type base, which has lots of sugar.
A source of calcium and protein
If you’re using a caffeinated base, such as Thai tea, you’ll get some of the benefits of condensed milk, which, according to Nidirect Government Services (Nidirect) of the UK, is a “source of calcium and protein. While calcium helps our bones grow strong, our bodies require protein to function properly.”
Of course, take these health benefits with a grain of salt — or a grain of sugar, shall we say? Bubble tea is usually highly caloric and people drink it for the taste, not the health benefits. But even though you’ll be hard-pressed to find healthy Boba Tea alternatives at a Boba Tea cafe, you can make healthier options at home with select ingredients.
Bubble tea, Boba Tea, pearl tea — whatever you want to call it — is a delicious drink that comes in so many varieties. Have fun picking and choosing the combinations you like best, whether that’s a slushy Boba Tea in the summer, or a warm boba milk tea in the winter. If nothing else, you’ll have fun sucking up those little boba pearls through a big ole’ colorful straw! We have a sweet and elegant Rose Earl Grey recipe below that you can totally adapt to be boba beautiful by adding the pearls. If you want a fuss free Boba Tea experience, then these gift sets come in a whole range of flavors and are an absolute dream.
How to Make Boba Tea: Rose Earl Grey Milk Tea Recipe
Here's what you'll need:
Dissolve Tea Drop in hot water, pour over the cup of ice. Top off with milk, add boba and stir. Enjoy!
Boba tea truly is all about making tea fun again. It’s the perfect pick me up drink when you just want to get wild with all kinds of creative colors, tantalizing textures, and non-traditional flavors. Also did we mention that it's one of the most instagrammable tea imaginable – with all those layers and fantasy fluff it’s a tea that’s simply begging to be snapped up.
What are your thoughts on Boba Tea? Are you more drawn to the traditional style of teas? Have you tried it before and what are your favorite flavors? We can’t wait to build that Boba tea fan club with you so everyone be sure to get your giant straws at the ready. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Medical Disclaimer: While we have delved into the research available on the health benefits of these teas, this is for informative purposes only and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Those who have any health-related queries should reach out to a medical professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.