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Bubble Tea vs. Boba: Are They Different & 5 Delicious Flavors to Try

Bubble Tea vs. Boba: Are They Different & 5 Delicious Flavors to Try

You have probably heard of the new popular drink that seemed to come out of nowhere overnight: Bubble tea and Boba tea. Some refer to this milky tea with tapioca pearls as a bubble, and others call it boba, but according to Gong Cha, a popular tea shop from Taiwan that has tea shops in twenty countries,  the two teas are different names for the exact same thing. So, when it comes to bubble tea vs. boba, they are not separate drinks but variations of the same drink. The popular tea starts with a base of tea with milk or milk alternatives, flavorings, sweeteners, and tapioca pearls called boba.

Bubble/boba tea has really taken off with consumers all over the world. And World Tea News shares that in the U.S. the market value for this sugary tea is expected to double by the year 2027. It appears that bubble/boba tea is here to stay, and consumers are pleased because that means more tea shops will open.

Origins of Bubble and Boba Tea

While bubble/boba tea shops are in many countries, the tea originally comes from Taiwan. A tea shop owner in the city of Taichung in the 1980s was inspired to create the drink. The first bubble/boba tea was fairly basic compared to how it looks now. It only had black tea, milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls. The tea became a hit and quickly spread to other countries, and these days, you can find bubble/boba tea shops everywhere.

The basic recipe has morphed into something else entirely with all sorts of variations to suit tastes and dietary restrictions. Think about the it like coffee of days past when a cup of coffee was simply a cup of coffee, unlike now, where you can choose your coffee, milk, flavors, foam, and all of the other choices you have. Bubble/boba is the same. It started basic, and now you can customize your tea in various ways.

As the tea spread and more people turned on to the fun of bubble/boba tea, the names changed too. Some call it bubble tea, others call it boba, but it has a few more name variations, too. From pearl milk tea to pearl shake to black pearl tea, whatever you call it, it is a tasty tea mixed with milk, sweeteners and, of course, boba tapioca pearls.

How to Make Bubble and Boba Tea

Refreshing iced milky bubble tea with tapioca pearls made with fresh fruit ingredients including raspberry, strawberry, kiwi, orange, apple and banana


Not surprisingly, bubble/boba tea starts with a tea base. The three most common teas used are black, green, and oolong. These teas are staples in every tea shop, but there are other options, like flavored teas too. Aside from tea, every cup of bubble/boba has sugar and a lot of it. You can customize your tea and ask for less or more sugar, but generally, bubble/boba has a lot of sugar.

Pearl Options

Different tapioca pearls for bubble tea. Bubble tea ingredients arrangement in bowls
Tapioca pearls in different colors and flavors.

©Michael Dechev/Shutterstock.com

Bubble/boba tea is all about customization, and you can play with flavor, texture, and temperature in choosing how to order your bubble tea. The milky tea needs a creamy add-in like milk or milk alternatives like coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk.

For texture, the traditional tapioca pearls are the most popular choice. They come in regular-size or mini pearls. These tapioca pearls are made with cassava starch and must be prepared before adding them to tea. If you are making bubble/boba at home, be sure to plan ahead because tapioca pearls must be boiled for about thirty minutes and then left to cool for another thirty minutes before they are ready to make a splash in your teacup.

Popping boba is another fun type of boba pearl to add to your cup. These pearls are filled with fruit juice and burst open when you bite into them. If you like gums and candy filled with sweet liquid, you should try popping boba.

Texture Options

Other popular add-ins are fruit jelly. Originally, real fruit was used, but the short shelf life made it too expensive for tea shops, and fruit-flavored syrups and fruit jellies replaced real fruit. Fruit jelly isn't common in the U.S., but this Tawainese jelly is a key ingredient in traditional bubble/boba tea. It is made with fruit juice mixed with agar, which is a type of seaweed, then cut into small cubes and mixed into the tea. If that sounds like something you want to try, then look for it at your local tea shop or check out your local international supermarket or online shops.

Another interesting topping is grass jelly. This jelly is actually from Chinese cuisine and is from a small plant in the mint family. It can be eaten on its own or added to desserts and teas. Again, check your local international market or online to find it because chances are it won't be in your local supermarket.

Aloe vera is a popular addition to bubble/boba tea. In the U.S., the aloe vera plant is a common houseplant that has some medicinal uses, like sunburn relief, but in other parts of the world, the plant has some culinary uses. In Taiwan, the succulent plant makes a unique addition to the tea.

Other Add-Ins

Red bean paste adds a nutty flavor to bubble/boba tea. It has a smooth texture and creates thicker tea. While pudding is a favorite among tea drinkers, it adds another layer of sweet, thick texture. Some tea shops offer ice cream, turning your bubble/boba tea experience into a milkshake-like tea. And for those tea drinkers that enjoy the sweet and salty contrast, Creama, a cheesy foam topping, is added to the bubble/boba tea for a sweet tea with a dash of salty, creamy flavor.

Five Delicious Flavors of Bubble and BobaTea

Boba and fruit teas on brown table top

©Anabel Amour/Shutterstock.com

If you are ready to dive into the world of bubble/boba tea but aren't sure where to start, here are some popular and delicious flavors to start your journey through the wonderful world of bubble/boba tea.

Classic Milk Tea with Boba

This is a great place to start dipping your toe into the bubble/boba tea world. You can get a feel for the texture and flavor of it. It is good to keep it simple so you can learn what each ingredient brings to the cup and where your own preferences fall.

Taro Milk Tea with Boba

Taro and tea is a striking combination. Partly for its taste but partly for its bright purple color. Taro is a purplish root vegetable or tuber that is popular in Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. It has a slightly sweet, slightly earthy taste and combines well with milk into a creamy, vibrant bubble/boba tea. If you aren't sure that taro is for you, check out Instagram, where you can find this photogenic bubble/boba tea flavor posted by tea lovers everywhere.

Passionfruit Green Tea with Aloe

This is the perfect bubble/boba tea for a hot day. The refreshing tea features the sweet passionfruit with chunks of hydrating aloe all mixed with a a green tea base. The tea is usually served over shaved ice. It is great for a bubble/boba beginner.

Brown Sugar Boba Milk Tea

This tea is quickly gaining popularity and is on its way to becoming a cult favorite. It makes sense what goes better with sugar than more sugar. The boba pearls are soaked in brown sugar syrup and mixed with the base flavors. This creates a rich, almost molasses flavor with swirls of milky cream. The Tawainese tea shop chain Tiger Sugar created this flavor. And it is so popular copycat versions are cropping up in tea shops everywhere.

Strawberry Boba Milk Tea

Sweet pink tea is perfect for those nostalgic for strawberry milk. The sweet mix of strawberry flavor and creamy milk is a great way to enjoy the new taste of boba with the familiar taste of strawberry milk. The bright pink Barbie color is eye-catching too.

Final Thoughts

The explosion of bubble/boba tea is here to stay. It is sweet, tart, bitter, or however you like your tea. And it's more than a tea; the chewy add-ins like tapioca pearls turn the whole shebang into a snack. However, you should be careful when consuming bubble/boba tea because it is high in sugar, so enjoy this tasty beverage in moderation.

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