Bubble tea (a.k.a ‘boba’ by the Hipsters…开玩笑) is a tea based drink usually filled with tapioca pearls. The drink was originally made in Taiwan and is famously known as an East Asian beverage. In the recent years the drink has become increasingly popular in the West and explains why you may have seen Boba stores popping up in the UK in big shopping centres and such.
I have been asked about bubble tea many times, and so I thought it was best to answer some of the questions in a standalone post. I usually get asked when I take a friend to try it and I have to quickly brief them whilst they’re in the queue. The FAQ would be ‘what’s that black stuff in the drink?’. The answer is simply tapioca pearls (basically the ‘bubbles’). The tapioca/boba has a chewy texture like a slightly hardened jelly that you can eat along with your drink. Bubble tea usually comes with a straw that has a larger hole than normal straws so that you can suck the tapioca along with your tea. Recently shops have started to ask customers if they would like tapioca with their drink (or charge 50p extra for tapioca to be included in the drink) since many people find it unsettling to have things floating in their tea which force them to drink and chew at the same time. However there are toppings other than tapioca. Some of the most popular toppings would be aiyu jelly (which has a rather tasteless taste), grass jelly and red bean. You can even get popping boba, which is coloured tapioca pearls that have flavoured juice inside them that you taste once you bite them (often fruit flavoured).
So that’s tapioca sorted, what about the drink itself? Bubbletea is a tea based drink. Usually the teas are divided into fruit and milk. Fruit teas taste a bit like juice (which I recommend if you want something to quench your thirst), and milk teas have a milk base (so it may remind you of your English breakfast tea). Some shops also sell teas in different forms such as frozen ice, mousse and lattés. The frozen ice is sort of like a slushie and although it is quite popular with tapioca, the tapioca will harden quicker due to the freezing temperature of the drink. The mousse is also quite interesting as it has a foam layer on top of the tea that you have to shake before drinking to mix the two together. In all honesty it’s pretty much the same as a milk tea once you’ve shaken the cup, but do try it if there are interesting flavours.
Most shops have the same traditional flavours of milk tea such as Matcha (Japanese green tea), Oolong, Jasmine, Brown sugar, Chocolate; as well as standard fruit flavours such as Strawberry, Mango, Passion Fruit and Lychee. In most shops you can also mix flavours, although this is usually limited to two flavours and kept within fruit or milk tea bases. I would recommend a mixture of Mango and Passion fruit which complement each other very well, especially if you’re unsure of what to have the first time and don’t want to try something too new. You may also notice on the menu that you can have your drink with either a Green or a Black tea base. I only recently found this out, but a Green tea base is slightly weaker in terms of flavour, and a Black tea base is slightly stronger. Although I don’t pay too much attention to it, in certain shops I would recommend a Black tea base since their flavours are not always very strong, however I generally stick to using Green tea.
Once you have chosen your tea flavour(s) you will be asked if you want your drink hot or cold (although certain drinks only come in one form) and which level of sweetness you would like your drink to be. Personally I like to have my drinks cold with no ice because the ice cubes get in the way of the pearls and can also dilute the drink as they melt. I also think that milk tea drinks taste better hot than fruit teas. I’ve found that the fruit teas have a strange almost bitter aftertaste when served hot, which would probably be even stronger with a black tea base. If you want to try a hot tea, a safe option would be a hot chocolate flavoured tea which can be quite nice (if it’s mixed properly). You can make a judgement as to which flavours will taste nice hot, for example I once tried a hot Rose milk tea which brought out the rose flavour more strongly than in its cold tea counterpart but eventually made me feel a bit sick x_x Of course this is only my opinion and you should try out different flavours and combinations of teas if you get a chance so that you can find your own favourites.
As I mentioned earlier as well as being asked which temperature you would like your drink to be served as, you will also be given the choice to determine the sweetness level. Some shops are more precise than others, like some stores in Korea which will ask you to state a percentage number for how sweet you would like your drink. The most basic options are to keep the sugar level at regular, extra sweet, or less sweet. Within these levels you can sometimes request further levels of sweetness like extra extra sweet (x_x) or no sugar at all. Although it’s quite easy to keep the sugar at regular level, you could try different sugar levels to see how greatly it affects the overall taste.
The first time I saw a sign for a Bubble tea shop I imagined a Bubble Gum/magical flavoured drink that I felt the need to try! It was only a year or so later that I found another shop selling the elusive beverage, and once I found out what it really was I was quite satisfied. Incase you didn’t already guessed, 奶茶对身体不健康 –Bubble tea is quite unhealthy, so try not to have it too frequently. You can try to opt for flavours that are ‘less unhealthy’ than others, perhaps like a hot lychee green tea with less sugar. Of course the sugar levels will play a big role in this, however the drinks are mainly deemed as unhealthy because of the flavoured syrups that are sometimes mixed in with the teas and also because the tapioca itself is quite high in calories. So you have been warned~
If you ever visit Taiwan you can go to the shop where Bubble tea was originally created and have a session making your own authentic teas. From what I remember the creation of the drink was quite interesting, but I’m afraid we’ve run out of time for a history lesson today. If you would like me to expand on the topic in the future or perhaps talk about how to make your own Bubble tea at home then do let me know.
This post has already become quite long so I hope you have a good understanding of what Bubble tea is! You may now be wondering where you can purchase such a magical drink? I decided to talk about this in a separate post so stay tuned and I will reveal such details and more!~
If you try Bubble tea for the first time, good luck 世界。
从欣妍 – From Xinyan.