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 an interactive drink 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 in Bubble Tea?

Taro Bubble Tea Drink

Bubble milk tea starts with a base of tea or juice. Milk powders, flavoring syrups, and sweeteners are added to the base, and the whole drink is shaken until it's frothy and full of bubbles. For the finishing touch, boba pearls and other toppings are added. Part of the fun of bubble tea is the ability to customize the drink with different teas, flavors, and toppings.

Types of Boba Tea

Bubble tea menus usually offer three types of boba tea:

  • Milk Tea - Teas, fruit flavors, or herbal flavors are combined with sweetened milk for a creamy beverage. Bossen taro is a popular milk powder with a nutty, vanilla flavor and a vibrant purple hue.
  • Flavored Tea - These sweetened teas contain added flavorings but no milk (jasmine green tea, honey black tea).
  • Juice - Bubble tea can be made without any tea at all! Fruit juice boba contains juice and no milk (passion fruit, mango, kiwi).

Bubble Tea Toppings

The toppings are what make bubble tea so much fun to drink! From chewy boba pearls to colorful jelly toppings, the wide variety of add-ins make boba tea a treat for the senses. Check out some of the most popular bubble tea toppings available:

Popping Boba Toppings
  • Tapioca Pearls - Tapioca pearls are the most common boba topping you'll find. Usually dark brown or black in color, these chewy pearls have a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Popping Boba - These boba pearls pop with a burst of flavor when bitten. Try Bossen Bursting Boba in flavors like dragon fruit, pomegranate, and pink rose.
  • Jelly Toppings - Jelly toppings add a texture similar to gelatin, but most boba jellies are made with plant-based ingredients like natural coconut gel.
  • Crystal Boba - Crystal boba pearls have the appearance of colorful, translucent gems but are 100% edible! Try Bossen Crystal Boba in flavors like lychee, matcha, or taro.

Boba Tea Video

Watch our video for a step-by-step bubble tea tutorial:

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)

You can also 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 the tea of your choice by bringing 6 cups of water to a boil.
  2. Remove the pot from the heat and add tea bags. Let sit until the tea reaches room temperature.
  3. If using flavoring syrup, honey, or a thick sweetener, mix into tea while still warm to enable dissolving.
  4. Make simple syrup by adding 1 cup of water to a sauce pan.
  5. Heat until water is simmering, add in sugar and stir until dissolved.
  6. Let cool
  7. Prepare the tapioca pearls in a separate pot.
  8. Bring water to a boil (7-10 cups of water for every 1 cup of tapioca pearls)
  9. Add tapioca pearls and cook for around 2-15 minutes (see instructions on bag), and stir occasionally.
  10. Run lukewarm water over pearls, drain, and transfer to new bowl.
  11. Divide boba pearls between glasses.
  12. Fill each glass with ice.
  13. Pour 1 1/2 cups of tea into each glass.
  14. Add in 2-3 tbsp of milk and/or half and half to each glass.
  15. If using a boba milk powder, add a scoop according to the product's instructions.
  16. 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

Bubble Tea FAQs

Check out the answers to common questions about bubble tea below:

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 roots. 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 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. Popping boba is used in bubble tea as well as frozen yogurt, snow ice, and other frozen 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.

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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