From delectable pictures on social media, to the menus of chain cafes like Starbucks and even Peet’s, to designated emojis on your phone, this Taiwanese drink that was first created in the 1980s seems to have taken over America. So, what exactly is it? What is boba?
Boba, in short, are chewy pearls of tapioca, which is a starch extracted from a South American root vegetable called cassava. However, the term “boba” is also frequently used interchangeably to refer to the entire drink of tea base and topping, with the most traditional topping being the tapioca pearls themselves. To make it even more confusing, there’s also a disparity in names used based on geographical location: people on the West Coast call the drink “boba,” while people on the East Coast prefer “bubble tea.” Sometimes, people also use a more direct translation from Chinese, “pearl milk tea.”
Although the classic brown sugar boba milk tea is what comes to most people’s minds when mentioning boba, there is so much more variety aside from that. Each drink is highly customizable with a wide range of tea bases and toppings to choose from.
The most popular categories for boba bases are tea and milk or a combination of both. For pure tea bases, popular options include black tea, green tea, oolong tea, jasmine tea and so on. Depending on the notes of the tea, different toppings are recommended to pair with it—fruity, tropical toppings with brighter green teas, and creamier options with darker roast black tea, etc. As boba becomes popularized, there are now even more creative options. Costco introduced boba slushies to some of their food courts, and another trend coming around is fruity yogurts with more jelly-like crystal boba.
There are lots of options besides the glutinous, indulgent tapioca pearls soaked in brown sugar syrup which can be too heavy and chewy at first for some people. Crystal boba, as mentioned above, is a popular option in fruit teas—it's clear, lightly sweet, and chews more like jelly than regular boba. Aloe vera jelly, coconut flesh, and sago (a smaller, clear chewy starch ball also used in Asian desserts) also go nicely with refreshing, tropical summer drinks. In fall and winter, boba shops revamp their menu to focus on seasonal hot drink options, and this is usually where oats, sticky purple rice, and red beans come in. A year-round cult classic is the salty cheese foam. It has a mousse-like glossy texture and pairs well with everything from fruit smoothies (it sounds weird, but it’s so good!), pure teas, to milk teas. With all these add-ons, your boba can quickly become a dense, drinkable dessert if you want.
Of course, the serving options are also customizable. Iced, room-temperature, warm, hot. No sugar added, 30%, 50%, 70%, full sugar. You might end up with a completely different drink than the person next to you even if you order the same item on the menu. There are so many options to choose from when ordering boba, and it’s what makes the experience so special. Dunkin Donuts’ menu looks like a kiddie menu compared to the average boba shop’s offerings.
For a first timer, though, ordering boba can be overwhelming. When you’re in a time crunch and can’t make it to the store, additional options only add roadblocks between you and your boba. Moreover, boba is intended as sweet treat—it’s great to indulge in moderation, but it’s not sustainable as an everyday option since it’s not as healthy as you might think. In fact, 1 16oz cup of the most classic boba shop flavor has up to over 400 calories and 50g of sugar (the equivalent of drinking 3 cans of Coke and over 12 packs of sugar)*. The tapioca pearls are calorically dense as well. A ¼ cup serving of tapioca pearls is calorically like eating 1.5 scoops of ice cream**.
These reasons are why our founder Diana created BUBLUV® Bubble Tea - the first ready-to-drink, better-for-you boba alternative. She wanted a lighter, ready-to-drink option that people could feel great about drinking daily. With less than 1g of sugar per 9.5 oz serving, each flavor is brewed with loose leaf tea and is sweetened with all-natural sweeteners, including monk fruit and erythritol, resulting in a lightly sweet and refreshing taste, with a calculated up to 98% less sugar and up to 80% fewer calories than the classic boba shop chain boba tea flavor**.
It’s not viable to completely cut out foods that you enjoy simply because they have too much sugar or additives, but you also shouldn’t have to compromise your health to satisfy those cravings. Give BUBLUV® Bubble Tea a try today to find that healthy, convenient middle ground.
*Sugar content based on leading boba shop chain reported Black Milk Tea product sugar, adding tapioca pearl sugar count from leading boba industry supplier, per 16oz serving, as of March 2022 Calorie count based on applicable, average calorie counts of Black Milk Tea with Tapioca Pearl products as reported by the top 5 boba shop chains in the U.S., as of March 2022
**Tapioca Pearl calorie count based on leading U.S. boba shop chain reported calorie count as of March 2022