Boba Tea

Picture of refreshing iced milky bubble tea with tapioca pearls made with fresh fruit ingredients including raspberry, strawberry, kiwi, orange, apple and banana
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With its origins deeply rooted in ancient China, tea has been brewed and enjoyed for thousands of years. After the establishment of vast trading routes, commonly referred to the Silk Road, both tea leaves and the art of tea brewing quickly spread across the globe.

Fast forward to modern times, where many variations have evolved from the four basic types of tea. Boba tea, also known as bubble tea or tapioca milk tea, is just one example of this beverage variation. Essentially, boba is a cold tea-based drink that has been jazzed up with multiple additives, including milk products, sweet syrups, and tapioca pearls.

Boba Arrives on the Scene

Originally, boba teas were crafted in Taiwan during the 1980s and consisted of a Taiwanese black tea base. Tapioca pearls, condensed milk, and honey were also added to create a sweet and unique drink. Unlike the popular boba tea drinks of today, this original beverage was enjoyed hot.

Options, Options, Options

Since the development of the first boba tea, many variations and flavors have emerged. Regardless of the possibilities, each boba has the same basic components: a tea base, milk or non-dairy milk (this step is optional), syrup for sweetness, and tapioca pearls for texture.

Tea Options

Boba tea can be made with one of the four basic types of tea: green, black, white, and oolong. With so many options, this beverage can be ultra-personalized to please your tastebuds.

Milk & Non-Dairy Options

Boba tea can be divided into two different categories: milk teas (tea that has been mixed with a milk or other non-dairy milk products) and tea without milk. While boba tea does not need to have this type of ingredient, it does add a creamy consistency to the drink. 

If choosing to add milk or non-dairy option to your boba, there are numerous options:

  • Whole milk/traditional cow’s milk
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Oat milk
  • Soy milk


Once the choice of tea and milk (or non-dairy milk) has been made, the next step is to choose which type of syrup to add. Like with everything else, there are numerous possibilities for adding flavor and sweetness to this tea-based beverage. Some of these possibilities include:

  • Fruity simple syrups
  • Honey
  • Caramel
  • Brown sugar syrup
  • Chocolate syrup

Textured Toppings

The traditional boba tea had tapioca pearls on the bottom of beverage. This provides both a textural element to the drink as well as something new, unique, and eye-catching for the person enjoying the beverage.

It should be noted that these sticky “bubbles,” which are made with tapioca starch, have little flavor on their own. The common black color comes from the use of brown sugar in the recipe or from steeping the tapioca balls in a caramel syrup to add some sweetness and flavor.

While tapioca pearls are still a popular additive, there are other toppings that can also add texture to a boba tea. Some of these possibilities include:

  • Sweet potato balls- these orange spheres are made from sweet potatoes
  • Taro balls- usually purple in color, these spheres are made from the taro plant
  • Grass Jelly- often presented as dark colored cubes, this texture option presents with a subtle herb and mint flavor
  • Aloe Jelly-these jelly cubes have a strong and bitter taste with underlying hints of sweetness

Making Boba Tea

This customized and intricate beverage does not have to be enjoyed just on the go. It can also be recreated at home.

Boba Bubbles

While tapioca pearls can be purchased, they can also be made from scratch for those feeling adventurous and extra creative. Like everything else surrounding this tea beverage, there are different additives that can be used with making homemade boba to change the color and taste.

Assembling the Boba Tea

When looking at the process of making a more traditional boba beverage at home, it can be broken down into five steps.

  1. Brew one serving of black tea, allowing it to steep for the correct amount of time for optimal taste. This can be done with either a measured-out portion of loose-leaf tea or using one tea bag.
  2. Get the tapioca pearls ready, whether making them from scratch or use pre-packaged boba to save time.
  3. While the boba is being prepared, mix 2 TBSP of brown sugar and 2 TBSP of water in a small sauce pan. Heat this on the stove for a few minutes, allowing the syrup to thicken and the sugar to dissolve. Then, add the boba to this mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Spoon the boba syrup mixture into the bottom of a large drinking glass. Add ice to the cup and pour the freshly brewed black tea on top, leaving some head room at the top of the glass.
  5. Before grabbing a large straw to enjoy, add approximately ¼ cup of your favorite dairy or non-dairy product. Give it a good stir and enjoy!

Appearance, Taste, and Nutritional Values

This tea beverage is commonly served in a transparent glass to showcase its beauty. Traditionally, since the drink is mixture of tea and milk, it tends to have a tan coffee-like appearance. On the bottom of the cup, large black tapioca spheres can be seen.

With the rise of numerous varieties of boba tea, the appearance and taste can vary tremendously. For example, if no milk product is used, the boba tea will appear transparent. If the boba have been soaked in a fruity syrup, they may take on a different color other than the traditional black. If this beverage is made with a fruit-based tea and fruity syrup, the colors will be vibrant and the taste will be sweet.  

Nutritionally speaking, the different varieties make for ranges in nutritional value. This means calories and caffeine content are different for every boba variation. When looking at traditional boba pearls, a half cup serving is 272 calories. While there are zero grams of fat, there are 67.5 grams of carbs.

Wrap it Up

Created in the early 1980s, this tea beverage has exploded in popularity. With just four basic components, boba tea can be highly personalized for almost any taste preference. Simply put, it takes the refined taste of traditional tea and adds interesting taste combinations to make it more appealing and enjoyable.