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What Is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea with boba balls and ice on top of napkin next to spoon

Bubble tea is a cold, flavored tea beverage that contains large chewy tapioca balls, making it both a beverage and a sweet snack. Easy to recognize, bubble tea is paired with a colorful jumbo straw that’s both visually appealing and functional. With every sip of bubble tea, the tapioca pearls move easily up the wide straw. You’ll hear this Taiwanese drink referred to by several different names, including boba tea, pearl milk tea, boba milk tea, bubble milk tea, or simply boba.

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What Is Bubble Tea Made Of?

Bubble milk tea is typically made with a base of black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea, then combined with milk and sweetener. It’s also known for containing large tapioca pearls, but it can be made without them if requested. Part of the fun of bubble tea is the ability to customize the drink with different teas, flavors, and toppings. Bubble tea menus usually contain these three types of flavors:

  • Milk Tea - Teas, fruit flavors, or herbal flavors combined with sweetened milk for a creamy beverage (almond milk tea, honey milk tea, strawberry milk tea)
  • Flavored Tea - Sweetened teas with added flavorings but no milk (jasmine green tea, honey black tea)
  • Juice - Fruit juices with no milk (passion fruit, mango, kiwi)

What Is Boba?

Boba is another name for bubble tea. Boba can refer to the beverage itself, to the bubbles made from mixing the drink, or to the black tapioca pearls inside the tea.

What Is Boba Made of?

Bowl of boba balls with glass of bubble tea in the background

Boba balls are soft, jelly-like spheres made primarily of tapioca, which derives from cassava root. They are the bubbles in bubble tea and are also called tapioca balls, pearls, or boba. In addition to tapioca, they may also contain a sweetener, such as sugar or caramel, along with other ingredients for texture and preservation, like corn starch or potassium sorbate. Boba balls range in size from small (5 mm) to large (8.5 mm); the large pearls are commonly used in bubble tea.

What Is Popping Boba?

Popping, or bursting boba is a small type of boba that contains fruit juice and "bursts" upon chewing. Popping boba is made through molecular gastronomy. A flavored liquid, such as fruit juice, is mixed with powdered sodium alginate (extracted from brown seaweed) and is then dripped into calcium chloride. Upon interacting, small spheres form and develop thin skins, yielding popping boba. Bursting boba is used in bubble tea as well as frozen yogurt, snow ice, and other sweet treats.

How To Drink Bubble Tea

The novelty of bubble tea is that everyone drinks it differently. Some drinkers ignore the tapioca pearls until they’ve finished the beverage, then eat the pearls last. Some drinkers eat the tapioca pearls first, then enjoy their tea. Others may prefer a happy medium, sipping their tea and chewing tapioca pearls along the way. There’s no right way to enjoy bubble tea, which makes it a fun interactive drink that’s entirely unique.

How to Make Bubble Tea

Follow the directions below for a simple way to make bubble tea. This recipe yields 4 drinks.

Bubble Tea Ingredients

  • Ice
  • 8-10 tea bags (black, green, or other strong tea of choice)
  • 7 cups water plus necessary quantity for boba balls (see packaging)
  • Flavoring syrup (optional)
  • 1 bag (8.8 oz) of tapioca pearls
  • 2 cups granulated sugar or other sweetener of desired quantity (optional)
  • Whole milk (or a non-dairy option, such as coconut milk, soy milk, or nut milk)

Alternatively, you can use a convenient bubble tea powder which may replace the tea, sweetener, or both depending on the powder's contents.

Bubble Tea Recipe

Bubble tea ingredients, glass of bubble tea, and boba pearls
  1. Brew tea
    • Bring 6 cups of water to a boil then remove from heat
    • Add tea bags, and let sit until reaching room temperature
    • If using flavoring syrup, honey, or a thick sweetener, mix into tea while still warm to enable dissolving
  2. Make simple syrup (optional)
    • Add 1 cup of water to a sauce pan
    • Once simmering, add in sugar and stir until dissolved
    • Let cool
  3. Prepare the tapioca pearls
    • Bring water to a boil (7-10 cups of water for every 1 cup of tapioca pearls)
    • Add tapioca pearls
    • Cook for around 2-15 minutes (see instructions on bag), and stir occasionally
    • Let sit uncovered
    • Run lukewarm water over pearls, drain, and transfer to new bowl
  4. Assemble the tea
    • Divide boba between glasses or shaking cups
    • Fill each glass with ice
    • Pour 1.5 cups of tea into each
    • Add in 2-3 tbsp of milk and/or half and half to each glass or shaking cup
    • If using powder, add a scoop according to suggested serving
    • Stir with spoon or shake well

You can also flavor your tea with homemade ingredients (such as coffee or fresh ginger) or fruit. Also feel free to customize with different toppings, such as fruit jelly or pudding. Serve with large boba straws or long spoons depending on contents.

Bubble Tea Flavors

Bubble tea flavors: glasses of green tea bubble tea, taro bubble tea, and strawberry bubble tea

Boba tea flavors range from fruity, sweet options to earthy, herbal options. The classic bubble tea is simply made with black tea, milk, ice, and tapioca pearls, but if you want to spruce up your drink you can opt for one of the many boba tea flavors. Below are some examples:

  • Taro
  • Mango
  • Lychee
  • Lemon
  • Passion fruit
  • Strawberry
  • Peach
  • Honeydew
  • Almond
  • Coffee
  • Ginger

In addition to bubble tea flavors, you can also customize your bubble tea by choosing toppings, a different tea as the base, an alternative milk (or no milk), and a different sweetness level.

Posted in: Coffee & Tea | By Hannah Herrera
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