What Is Bubble Tea?
Bubble Tea, otherwise known as Boba, is a drink that originated in Taiwan in the late 80’s.
Boba can refer to either tapioca pearls at the bottom of the milk tea, but is more commonly used to refer to the overall drink.
While the origins of boba are disputed, what is known is that boba was invented by combining tapioca pearls (which existed as a separate desert) with milk tea.
The result is an incredibly popular refreshment that has taken the world by storm. Today you can find boba shops everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Singapore to the Philippines to the United States.
What Variations of Boba Tea Are There?
Bubble tea has come a long way since it was first invented. While boba was mostly available as a drink in the late 80’s, today you can find boba in dozens of different forms, textures and tastes.
Boba Snow (Shaved Snow with Boba)
Boba Snow is a type of frozen desert that combines ribbons of shaved ice with boba. The shaved “snow” is usually drizzled with condensed milk and infused with flavors such as mango, strawberry or matcha. Shaved snow usually comes with toppings such as taro balls, mochi and fresh fruit.
Boba only recently started being a shaved snow topping, but has been a wildly popular bestseller ever since. Today you can find boba shaved snow at most traditional Taiwanese shaved snow shops.
Boba Ice Cream
At some frozen yogurt shops, rolled ice cream and ice cream parlors, you can find boba as a topping. The warm chewiness of boba pairs well with the frostiness of yogurt in particular.
Boba Ice Cream Bars
One of the hottest trends of 2019, Tiger Sugar boba ice cream bars have been consistently sold out. Pretty much what it sounds like, boba ice cream bars are just brown sugar milk tea bars with boba balls embedded in the middle.
Verdict on the boba ice cream bars varies with some calling it overhyped and others saying worth it.
Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped cake commonly filled with red bean paste, custard, chocolate, sweet potato or ice cream. Some taiyaki shops in the US offer boba as a topping for taiyaki.
Most boba shops in the US offer boba slushies. Slushies are usually made from powders, but some stores use natural syrups and purees to create their slushies.
Most boba shops across the US carry smoothies. For an extra dose of healthiness, be sure to ask if any of their smoothies use fresh fruit.
All boba shops carry milk tea boba because well … if they didn’t, they’re not a boba shop.
Usually a combination of green or black tea mixed with real fruit, fruit tea is a healthier alternative than milk tea with boba.
One aspect of Taiwanese dessert that is often overlooked is its hot soups. Hot soups can be made from anything from red bean to grass jelly and often feature a number of chewy elements such as taro balls, red beans, mung beans, sweet potato and boba.
Popularized by chains like Tiger Sugar and Xin Fu Tang, brown sugar boba is not a milk tea, but rather a combination of milk, caramel and creme bruleed sugar on top. The drink itself is very sweet.
Available as a niche novelty item in select hot pot restaurants, boba hot pot is a concept where rather than swishing thinly sliced meat through a pool of broth, you swish tapioca pearls and other chewy items in a pot of milk tea.
Types of Tea for Bubble Tea
While many boba shops use green tea or black tea as a base for their milk tea, there’s actually dozens of different flavors you can use as a tea base for bubble tea.
Black (red): Made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis tree, black tea is a variety that is more oxidized than its yellow, white or green counterparts. Black tea has a strong bitter flavor.
Matcha: Matcha is created from ground up green tea leaves that are plucked two to three weeks before harvest. Matcha is traditionally a ceremonial Japanese beverage but can be found in many boba shops worldwide.
White: Created from the leaves of younger Camellia Sinensis plants, white tea is named for the distinct white hairs on the bud of the tea plant. White tea generally has a lighter flavor.
Hojicha: A Japanese green tea created from roasting tea leaves in a porcelain pot over charcoal, giving it a very distinctive toasty flavor. Less caffeine than other teas.
Chai: Also known as masala chai, chai is made from boiling black tea with milk, water and spices. While some boba shops carry it and recipes for it do exist online, the strong spices are at odds with the sweetness of the tapioca.
Pu’er: Pu’er is a tea made from fermenting tea leaves. Depending on the fermentation process, it can be bitter, earthy, floral or even sweet.
Rose: Rose tea is made from the buds or petals of roses. The taste is light and floral, but difficult to get right. It can be easily overpowered if mixed with other flavors. You can find rose milk tea boba at some boba shops.
Green: One of the most common tea bases for boba, green tea uses Camellia Sinensis leaves and buds that are not withered or oxidized. It's sweeter and lighter than other teas.
Yellow: A very rare and expensive variety of tea, yellow tea bases are rarely used due to their cost. Yellow tea is similar to green tea except that it has been lightly oxidized to remove the “grassiness” of green tea. The taste is very mellow.
Jasmine: Jasmine tea is green tea that has been scented with jasmine blossoms. The result is a light, fragrant flavor. Jasmine milk tea is a common tea base.
Thai: Probably the second or third most popular tea base in the world, Thai tea is tea that is made from mixing a strong cup of Ceylon tea with milk, sugar and spices including star anise, orange blossoms, crushed tamarind, and cinnamon.
Oolong: Combining the best qualities of dark and green teas, oolong teas are created by drying leaves under the sun before oxidizing. Oolong has a vast flavor profile that can range from fruity to earthy.
Chrysanthemum: A popular drink in Asia, chrysanthemum is made from boiling chrysanthemum flowers and sugar in water. The result is a bright sweet tea.
Butterfly Pea Flower Tea: Known across Instagram for its distinctive blue coloring, butterfly pea flower tea is made from the Clitoria ternatea plant. It changes color depending on the pH of what’s added to it, with lemon juice turning it purple.
Types of Milk Bases
- Dairy-free creamer
- Organic Milk
- Cashew Milk
- Strawberry Milk
- Rice Milk
- Hemp Milk
- 2% Milk
- Condensed Milk
- Half and Half
- Coconut Milk
- Oat Milk
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
- Yogurt based drinks (such as Calpico or Calpis)
Bubble Tea Flavors
- Almond Milk
- Almond Roca
- Banana Milk
- Black Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Butterfly Pea Flower
- Chai Masala
- Chocolate Cookie Dough
- Cookie Dough
- Cough Syrup
- Dragon fruit
- Genmai Cha
- Ginger Milk
- Golden Cane Sugar
- Green Apple
- Green Bean
- HK Style
- Honey Oolong
- Kumquat Lemon
- Lemon Wintermelon
- Lychee Milk
- Mango Strawberry
- Panda Milk
- Passion Fruit
- Passion Fruit Mango
- Purple Rice
- Red Bean
- Salted Caramel
- Sesame Milk
- Uji Matcha
Types of Toppings
Boba: Small tapioca balls or pearls made from the cassava root and cooked in syrup
Mini Boba: Like regular boba but smaller. Some people prefer the smaller boba.
Honey Boba: Boba cooked with honey for a sweeter, more fragrant taste
QQ Ball: Soft balls made from sweet potato and taro and tapioca. Very Chewy
Taro Balls: Purple balls made from taro. Has a sweet potato-like consistency. Usually found in boba snow or soups
Coconut Jelly: A jelly made from coconut meat rather than gelatin. Marginally more healthy than regular boba.
Flan: A custard made from milk and eggs with caramel on top. Usually placed on top of boba.
Popping Boba: Smaller than regular boba, popping boba is fruit juice inside a gel membrane that pops when you bite into it. Almost like a fruity caviar.
Rainbow Jelly: Also made from coconut meat. However, there are multicolored varieties available. Each jelly has a different fruit taste.
Crushed Oreos: Usually placed on top of bubble tea drinks. Drink it quickly as crushed oreos tends to become soggy if mixed in for too long.
Aiyu Jelly: A jelly made from the seeds of a Taiwanese fig. The taste is cool and refreshing.
Basil Seeds: Seeds from the basil plant. When mixed with boba, basil seeds develop a chewy jelly exterior. Has a floral flavor.
Grass Jelly: A herbal jelly made from using a plant from the mint family. Has a grassy, herbal taste that’s a nice contrast to the sweetness.
Egg Pudding: Similar to the idea of flan, egg pudding is essentially a custard without the caramel. Has a nice chewy texture.
Coffee Jelly: Although it started out as a British invention, it’s incredibly popular in Japan. Made from coffee and sugar, it has a sweet and bitter taste.
Red Bean: Also known as Azuki beans. Has a slightly grainy texture and it is sweet, creamy and chewy. Often confused with green beans.
Cheese Foam: Made from sugar, whipped cream and cream cheese and sprinkled with salt. The hypebeast of the boba world. Tastes smooth, creamy and tangy.
Green Bean: Made from Mung beans. A little sweeter than red beans in terms of taste and texture.
Crystal Agar: Found in select boba stores, crystal agar is a boba substitute made from taro. Slightly more chewy with a sweet flavor.
Lychee Jelly: Made from coconut meat but with lychee flavoring. Sweet lychee taste.
Aloe Vera: A jelly made from aloe. Smooth herbal taste.
Chia Seeds: Seeds from the chia plant. Often marketed as a healthier alternative to boba. Nutty herbal taste.
Best Boba Tea Flavor Combinations
With literally millions of boba combinations to choose from it can be overwhelming to decide which one is your favorite. Here is a quick selection of some of our personal favorites for you to try.
Milk Tea with Boba and Egg Pudding: It’s a classic for a reason. Sweet, a bit salty and chewy.
Thai Tea with Boba: The richness of the Thai tea pairs magnificently with the chewiness of the boba. It’s like the PB and J of the boba world.
Matcha Milk Tea with Crystal Agar: For those who enjoy a more balanced profile. The matcha goes down smoothly with the crystal agar. Might not be healthier but it feels that way.
Taro Slush with Red Bean: The red bean balances out the refreshing sweetness of the taro nicely.
The Chewy Option (5 Brothers, Panda): Most major boba stores have a super chewy option where they throw boba, jellies and other chewy topping together - Whether it’s called the 5 Brothers, 3J’s or the panda, if you like texture this option is always a great choice.
Honey Lemon Green Tea with Boba: For those seeking a healthy refreshing option, honey lemon green tea hits the spot. Sharp, sweet and smooth.
Banana Milk Tea with Mini Boba: Banana milk adds a new layer of tanginess to the boba. Mini boba is just more fun to drink
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