What is Boba Tea?
What are those chewy bubbles at the bottom of your drink? Why is it such a popular treat?
In its original form, Boba (Bubble Tea) is an increasingly popular tea drink originating in Taiwan that is usually served blended with ice and starts with a tea base combined with either milk or fruit flavoring and chewy tapioca pearls.
The name is derived from the ingredients being shaken up resulting in a frothiness that looks like bubbles at the top. Boba Tea is also referred to as Bubble Tea and other names include pearl milk tea, tapioca milk tea, boba milk tea, or simply boba to name a few.
It is served with a wide and chubby straw that allows you to get all of the pearls from the bottom of the cup up and through the straw. The pearls are made with tapioca starch and then usually combined with brown sugar syrup.
Boba is now offered in an almost endless variety of flavor and add-on combinations. Choose between different fruits, syrups, and many add-ons to mix in that include chunks of fruit, fruit jellies, pudding to pumped-up versions that include everything from cheese foam to Oreos.
Why is Boba so popular?
Imagine having a drink with round pearls that look like bubbles at the bottom of the cup that is creamy, chewy, and have a rubbery texture and sweet flavor to them. Think of chewy gummy candies and you get a taste of the chewiness of the pearls.
The experience of drinking bubble tea is quite unique and pleasurable. You start by puncturing a wide mouth straw through a plastic covering on the cup. Next, you use the stout straw to suck up the round tapioca pearls to savor.
These chewy and sweet-tasting pearls add a rich and enjoyable element to your experience. The wide variety of flavors and combinations make it a drink that almost anyone will enjoy. It is usually served as iced tea.
Where did Boba come from?
This truly unique tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and there are different stories and claims around the discovery of the beverage.
One of the claims of inventing bubble tea originates from the Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung. After seeing coffee served cold in Japan in the early 1980s, the owner came up with the idea of milk tea chilled with ice as a way to increase sales.
The addition of tapioca balls, or pearls, came during a staff meeting in 1988. One of the managers decided to add some yuan tapioca balls into her iced Assam tea. The drink was such a hit that it was added to the menu and eventually became the franchise’s top-selling item.
Another story professes that bubble tea was invented in 1986 at The Hanlin Tearoom in Tainan. Apparently, the owner was impressed while at a local market by observing some white tapioca balls. He then added them into his pearl milk tea and it became a popular menu item.
In Taiwan, boba is a mainstay item at the night markets where people shop for groceries and snacks after work. You will find many of the people are enjoying some variation of boba.
Boba Tea’s popularity spread throughout east and southeast Asia and soon became a hit from Chinatown to Thai street food markets and upscale tea estates. In more recent years, this Taiwanese tea has become more and more popular in Europe and the United States. You can travel to almost any city and find at least one Boba Tea shop.
How is Bubble Tea made?
It is not quite as easy as saying “I want a bubble tea”. There are many options, bases, and flavors to choose from for your drink. This tea drink can be brewed in many ways, although most of the recipes contain the base ingredients of tea, milk, tapioca pearls, and sweeteners.
If this is your first time, go for the classic cold milk tea with pearls. For a basic standard boba, it is a brewed tea mixed with milk and sugar that is shaken with ice, and tapioca pearls are then added. You can chew and drink at the same time with this added textural component that people love.
INGREDIENTS AND OPTIONS
Here is a list of some components for your boba drink. There are numerous variations and combinations of this drink that are constantly being developed for this fast-growing market.
The boba drink typically starts out with a base of tea and has a milk or fruit flavor. With tea, you can choose traditional black tea, like Earl Gray. Another popular base is a green tea that includes jasmine green tea or green tea powders, such as matcha. Taro Milk tea is also a common choice for drink. You may want to try a fruit tea that is sometimes combined with fruit purees or syrups to get that sweet flavor.
To obtain that creamy flavor, boba typically, but not always, contains milk or a milk alternative. You can usually choose anything from almond milk, soy milk, oat milk to evaporated milk and condensed milk or non-dairy creamer. Coconut milk is often used for a fruity bubble tea flavor. If you are not a milk lover, some of the fruit-flavored teas do not contain it.
There are an incredible variety of choices in flavors to add via syrups, powders or fresh ingredients. Some of the most common flavors are black sesame, almond, coconut, Ovaltine, melon, chocolate, match, lychee, mango, strawberry matcha, taro, banana, avocado and many others.
While toppings are added to the drink, they are actually mix-ins and sink down to the bottom of your cup. Most toppings have a fun chewiness to them.
-Tapioca: The classic tapioca pearls rank as the most popular ingredient for toppings. They are made from tapioca starch which is an extract of the cassava plant, a root vegetable from South America. These delectable balls of tapioca boil and then simmer until they are tender and chewy. Finally, they soak in brown sugar syrup for hours. Most pearls are black from adding brown sugar, although colors vary depending on ingredients.
-Lychee or Coconut Jelly: Coconut Jelly is another good choice in a topping. This jelly is made from the inside layer of coconut. It is set with gelatin and comes in clear rectangles which are typically crunchier instead of chewy. It goes well in tropical fruit-based teas that do not use milk. You can add some lychee for a sweet fragrant taste.
-Grass Jelly: Grass Jelly is a traditional Asian herbal dessert that comes from a plant in the mint family with a firmness that can be cut into little cubes or soft scoops that can be sucked through a straw. No need to worry that it will taste like grass. It is almost like a jello with a refreshing sweet taste and herbal flavor to it along with being lower in calories than a typical boba.
-Aloe Vera: The gel inside of aloe vera leaves is collected for clear jellied cubes that provide you with some antioxidants and vitamins. They are soaked in syrup to give you a sweet and refreshing taste. It tastes great added to orange or passion fruit green tea.
-Popping Pearls: These are bubbles filled with the liquid of fruit-flavored juices that pop in your mouth when you take a drink. They usually contain a seaweed extract that makes up the outer layer that traps the juices that pop in your mouth. This is a great choice for a burst out of fruit juice. Popular flavors are mango, strawberry, pomegranate, and peach among others.
-Pudding: Most pudding at boba shops is made from cream, egg yolks, and sugar with some gelatin added for firmness. It has a custard-like flavor and creaminess with a bit of texture and softness. The most common pudding flavor is vanilla, but you may also be able to choose from almond, mango, taro, and black sesame pudding, as well.
-Red Bean: Red beans are used as a popular dessert flavor in many Asian dishes. The Adzuki beans are tender with added sugar that makes them chewy, starchy, and fragrant. They are popular in milky teas and give a pleasant and sweet chew.
-Foams: A more recent addition in the boba world are foams, which include various whipped foam toppings in many flavors for a fluffy and creamy boba. They can include items like tiramisu cream, cheese tea, and sea salt cream.
That gives you a sampling of some of the boba possibilities and options. For a comprehensive list of numerous boba flavorings and options, here is a list from Boba Tea Direct. There are enough flavors to satisfy everyone.
Many boba shops also have traditional Taiwanese snacks like minced pork with rice, spicy Taiwanese popcorn chicken, spiced French fries and tea eggs, and even Poke bowls or sushi.
Bubble tea has been able to capture the imaginations of many Americans and is also popular in Canada and across Europe as well as other developing markets. It can be compared to the Asian tradition of sushi growing in popularity over the years to become a part of the American food culture.
In the U.S., young Americans have popularized a boba lifestyle trend. The Fung brothers in California created a popular “Bobalife” video celebrating the boba culture in 2013 that was watched by millions of people.
Bubble tea shops have sprouted up all over the country. One up-and-coming popular chain with 20 locations for you to have your boba experience is Boba Guys. They have also introduced The Boba Kit which has everything you need to make your boba at home along with a Boba Book that has many recipes.
The bubble tea industry is currently valued at over $2 billion and growing rapidly. There are boba shops in every state and many new ones opening constantly to jump on the boba craze. You will even find a Yelp listing of the best boba shops in every state.
We hope you have enjoyed learning about this unique beverage and make sure you don’t forget National Bubble Tea Day next year which is celebrated on April 30th!