Are you ready to join the boba tea craze? Whether you’re already a fan of this popular Taiwanese drink or you’re wondering “what is boba tea, anyway?” this guide has everything you need to know.
If you’ve been around any American teens in the past few years, you might wonder, what is boba tea and why do the kids love it so much? This sweet beverage has been popular in Asia for decades, and in recent years has hooked the hearts and tastebuds of Americans, too!
Look around whatever town you’re in and you’re likely to find at least a few boba tea shops with hordes of kids lined up, ready to spend their weekly allowance on the milky tea with plump, chewy tapioca balls in the bottom of the cup.
So, What Is Boba Tea, Anyway?
Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is a sweet, cold beverage that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It typically consists of a tea base, milk or cream, and chewy tapioca pearls (the “boba”) that are sucked up through a wide straw.
But that’s just the basic recipe. The possibilities for customization are endless, with different tea flavors, different types and flavors of boba, milk options, and even jelly or fruit add-ins.
What Is Bubble Tea Made Of?
Boba tea has three main elements: Tea, milk, and tapioca pearls or other chewy add-ins.
- The tea base can just about any type of tea — black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or even herbal teas.
- Milk or cream gives it a creamy texture and added sweetness. You can use dairy milk or cream, or substitute a non-dairy beverage like oat milk, soy milk, or almond milk.
- The boba, or tapioca pearls, are made of tapioca starch, from the root of the cassava plant. Tapioca starch is cooked, sweetened, sometimes colored, and then shaped into small balls. To make a boba tea drink at home, either make the boba balls yourself or buy them, then boil, drain, and soak in brown sugar syrup. You can choose from different flavors of boba pearls including brown sugar, black sugar, taro, green tea, or fruit-based boba.
- Additional ingredients are optional and the possibilities are endless. You can add flavored syrups, fruit jelly, fresh or preserved fruits, and more.
- Different types of boba are also available. Popping boba, for instance, is a different type of boba from the tapioca pearls. These bursting balls of fruit juice are the result of a spherification process that uses the reaction between sodium alginate and either calcium chloride or calcium lactate to create a small sphere of liquid that easily bursts in your mouth.
What Does Boba Taste Like?
It might look a bit strange, but believe us when we tell you, it is delicious! Brewed tea, whether you use black, green, or herbal, has a slightly bitter flavor. Pair it with sweet, creamy milk and sweetened tapioca pearls in brown sugar syrup and you’re in for a treat.
Why Is It So Popular?
- First of all, it’s delicious. The combination of sweet, chewy boba, refreshing tea, and creamy milk is hard to beat.
- Boba tea also offers a unique drinking experience. The sensation of the boba sliding up the straw and popping in your mouth is addictive.
- The customize-ability of the drink means that there’s something for everyone, from classic milk tea to fruity green tea with jelly. Any good boba shop will have a long list of bubble tea flavors to choose from!
- It’s a perfect balance between healthy and indulgence — tea is known to have many benefits and the chewy boba pearls give it a fun new texture
- It’s great for pairing with crunchy, salty Asian snacks!
Where To Buy Boba Drinks?
Boba tea shops are popping up all over the world, but they might still be hard to find in some areas. Here are a few ways to track down a boba fix:
- Look up boba tea shops in your area online. There may be mom-and-pop operations or franchises with shops in your town. In cities with large Asian populations, like San Francisco or London, you’ll find lots of them, but even smaller cities and towns are jumping on the boba wagon.
- Many coffee shops, donut shops, and other food and drink businesses are adding boba tea to their menus, too, making it even more available.
- Check out Asian grocery stores. They may sell boba tea kits, boba pearls and tea, or have a small café area where you can order it.
- Look for bubble tea chain franchises, which have expanded globally, like Gong Cha, Coco, Chatime, and many more.
Many boba shops also offer food items like Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken or Onigiri.
How To Make Boba Tea at Home
Making bubble tea at home is surprisingly easy and it could save you some cash if you’re a true milk tea lover. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started:
- Brew your tea of choice (black, green, or oolong are all good options). Let it cool.
- Cook boba according to package instructions.
- In a separate container combine your sweetener (honey, sugar, or syrup) and the cooked boba pearls.
- In a cup, combine brewed tea and desired amount of milk or cream.
- Add the boba mixture on top.
- Give it a gentle stir, so the boba sinks to the bottom, add ice, and enjoy!
You can play with different proportions of tea and milk to suit your taste. And don’t be afraid to experiment with different add-ins like fruit or syrups.
The next time you’re out and about and are ready for a sweet, creamy, refreshing drink, look no further than your closet bubble tea house.
Robin Donovan is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, food photographer, and the creative force behind the food blog allwaysdelicious.com, where she shares easy recipes for the best dishes from around the world. Download her 5 Favorite Chinese Takeout Recipes ebook today to try at home.