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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 Taiwanese drink with a tea base that includes milk (or a non-dairy substitute), tapioca balls, and different kinds of toppings, such as fruit jelly, pudding, and sugar. Bubble milk tea is typically made with black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea. There are also countless bubble tea flavors, ranging from fruit-based ones to options like taro and ginger.

Bubble tea is also known as boba tea, pearl milk tea, boba milk tea, bubble milk tea, or simply boba.

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What is Boba?

Boba can refer to bubble tea, though it may also refer to the "bubbles" in bubble 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 Make Bubble Tea

Below we show you a simple way to make bubble tea. This recipe yields 4 drinks.

Bubble Tea Ingredients

Bubble tea ingredients, glass of bubble tea, and boba pearls
  • 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 a 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

  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 ones. 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
  • Honeydrew
  • 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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