Taiwan Bubble Tea: What is Boba?

Taiwan bubble tea

Bubble tea, Boba, bubble milk tea, bubble pearl tea, tapioca ball tea, boba nai cha, tapioca pearl drink, Taiwan bubble tea…

Call it what you like, it’s still the same yummy drink that’s taking over the Western world.

Mandarin 

波霸奶茶bōbà nǎichá

珍珠奶茶zhēnzhū nǎichá (with tapioca balls it is)

Bubble tea was originally invented in Taiwan in the 1980s. It has exploded in popularity in the West since the beginning of the century, and particularly so in the last few years.

It has developed many names over the years, largely depending on where you buy it. The most common names are Bubble tea and Boba. The name ‘Boba’ originating from Hong Kong, where it literally means ‘Big Pearls’.

So, what exactly is it…?

A Taiwan bubble tea history

One story of Taiwan bubble tea goes as follows…

In 1986, Tainan, Taiwan, Hanlin teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he saw white tapioca balls (which have the appearance of pearls) and decided to try it out in some tea. The teahouse then mixed these white balls with black sugar or syrup to create the black tapioca balls we have today!

There are many versions of the origin of Taiwan bubble tea, however, so you can decide which one you believe!

What is bubble tea/boba?

taiwan bubble tea

Taiwan bubble tea/boba fall under 3 different categories.

  1. Tea (with milk)
  2. Tea (without milk)
  3. Fruit drink

All, however, can be condensed into one general category; a sweet drink with chewy things in it.

All of these varieties come with a vast choice of different teas to try and combinations you can create. In fact, there is so much choice that it can sometimes make it a bit stressful heading to your local bubble tea place and grabbing a boba drink if you’re in China and don’t speak Mandarin.

How to order a Taiwan bubble tea

taiwan bubble tea

1. Choose your type

(as above)

  1. Tea (with milk)
  2. Tea (without milk)
  3. Fruit drink

2. Choose your bubble tea flavour

Bubble tea flavours:

Depending on which type of drink you went for, you’ll have a different choice of bubble tea flavours.

Teas include; Green tea, matcha, oolong tea, black tea, white tea various fruit teas…

Then some places may give you the option of different milks; Condensed milk, powdered milk, fresh milk, creamers…

You will have about 2 pages of a menu to choose from, depending on where you are. If you’re overwhelmed with choice, why not try the oldest known bubble tea flavour. This consists of a mixture of Taiwanese black tea, black tapioca pearls, and syrup or honey.

3. Choose your bubbles!

taiwan bubble tea

Tapioca balls are the traditional balls you will find in Taiwan bubble tea. The bubbles are what make bubble tea, bubble tea! They’re the chewy bits inside of your drink, and what makes it so yummy and fun!

Aside from tapioca balls, there is a range of different types of things you can put in your drink. These are of all different shapes and flavours, so you can customize your drink! Popping boba balls are also very popular. These are balls that contain liquid on the inside when you bite into them.

Aside from the traditional ‘balls’, you will also find a range of jellies and also beans.

Jelly comes in many different shapes – sometimes in cubes, stars, or rectangular strips. Flavours include Lychee, mango, coffee, coconut, and green tea.
The ‘bean’ choice usually involves soybean, azuki bean or mung bean paste.

4. Choose your topping

You don’t have to add toppings, but there are lots to choose from if you want to!

It will range from shop to shop, however popular toppings include many different fruits such as mango, strawberry, passionfruit, orange, coffee, blueberry etc… (the list is sometimes almost literally endless!).

5. Sugar?

From super sweet (100%) to not sweet at all, choose exactly how you’d like your bubble tea to taste!

6. Ice?

Out on a hot day and need something to cool you down? Or don’t fancy getting brain freeze?
Choose the amount of ice that suits you!

If you want extra ice, in some places you also have the option to have crushed ice blended, turning it almost into a smoothie.

7. Wait…

Because of the growing popularity of bubble tea in Taiwan, despite the abundance of places that offer it, you probably will have to wait a while. Many of the teas are prepared freshly, so you’ll most likely get a receipt with a number on it and have to wait a couple of minutes before your number is called.

It’s worth it!

taiwan bubble tea

Is bubble tea healthy?

The image of tea conjures up images of health and well being. Especially with popular Asian teas such as green tea and different kinds of flower tea. Perhaps this is why we like to believe that this unique, refreshing, and highly addictive drink is good for you…

Well, it has the potential to be healthy. Indeed, it is made from tea after all. Plus, you can customize your drink to make it your own. Decide how much ice and sugar you want in it, which kind of balls… However, all of the things that make this drink the tasty treat that it is, are, unfortunately, those that pile on the calories in it.

Most of the standard drinks are loaded with sugar and syrup. And those tapioca balls everyone knows and loves? Filled with sugar and starch.

But, don’t fret! There are plenty of things in life that make us pile on the calories, and Taiwan bubble tea definitely isn’t the main culprit. Just maybe try and cut it down to once a week, instead of once a day!

Bubble tea near me

Where to find bubble tea? Well, depending on where you are… Just about anywhere!

In the West, previously a trip to your local China town was necessary to try this refreshing delight – but no longer is this the case. Bubble tea stores are popping up everywhere!

If you’re already in Taiwan or mainland China, finding a place to enjoy bubble tea won’t be a problem! There are many chainstores located all around town in nearly all big cities. Try a few different stores and find your favourite!

If you haven’t tried bubble tea yet, it’s a must. Have a break from your Mandarin studies, grab a couple of friends and go to your nearest bubble tea cafe. It comes with a warning though. Bubble tea and it’s delicious tapioca balls can be highly addictive – please enjoy responsibly..!

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