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What Is Bubble Tea (aka Boba) and What Does It Taste Like?

Adventurous and interested in all things, Scartletquill enjoys writing about baking tips, travel and more.

You've heard of bubble tea, but do you know what it is?

You've heard of bubble tea, but do you know what it is?

What Is Boba/Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea (aka pearl milk tea, tapioca tea, boba nai cha, boba milk tea or just boba) is a tea-based drink invented in the tea shops of Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. The recipe usually contains a tea base mixed with either milk or fruit. There are also slushy-style versions which are blended with ice along with syrup or fruit. Bubble tea is most commonly served cold.

Varieties of Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is available in two distinct varieties: either milk-based or fruit flavoured. Some shops do offer hybrids, though, called "fruit milk teas". Most bubble teas come with small chewy tapioca balls (粉圓, fěnyuán), typically called pearls (珍珠, zhēnzhū) or boba (波霸, bōbà). The most popular types of bubble tea are bubble milk tea with tapioca and bubble milk green tea with tapioca.

Many bubble tea shops in America sell "milk smoothies" or ice cream shakes which are based on the boba concept but don't contain any tea ingredients. Some boba cafes offer a substitute for sugar in the drink, such as stevia or agave. It's common to see it served in clear plastic cups with dome-shaped lids. Many bubble tea bars now have machines which allow them to seal the top with cellophane to create a spill-free cup (also allowing for it to be shaken) which is then pierced with a large straw so the pearls can pass through.

The "bubbles" in bubble tea

The "bubbles" in bubble tea

Types, Flavours and Textures of Bubble Tea

  • Tea base: The tea base is formed from either black tea (usually oolong or Earl Grey), green tea (commonly jasmine) or even coffee!
  • Fruit flavours: Some widely available fruit flavours include strawberry, green apple, passionfruit, mango, lemon, watermelon, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwi, and jackfruit.
  • Non-fruit flavours: Popular non-fruit flavours include taro, pudding, chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, caramel and violet.
  • Snow bubble: This is a type of boba-based drink prepared using flavouring blended with ice instead of the usual tea or coffee base. The same mix-ins can still be used with these slushy-type boba drinks.
  • Tapioca balls: These are the most commonly added chewy treat, but there's quite a wide variety of other options for adding texture to the drink, such as green pearls, which have a hint of green tea flavour, jelly cubes in flavours such as coconut jelly, konjac, lychee, grass and mango.
  • Beans: Azuki bean or mung bean paste can also give the drinks an added subtle flavour and texture.
  • Foam red tea: (The English name "foam tea" is not really used throughout Asia.) This is a bubble tea made without tapioca. It is mixed in a cocktail shaker using hot or warm tea along with syrup or sugar, and ice cubes. The foam or froth is then created by either mixing the drink by hand or using a machine.
  • Foam milk tea: Similar but with milk added.
  • Black pearl milk tea: Made using black tapioca balls or "pearls."
  • Instant bubble tea: This is made by DeDe or various other brands. It can be purchased in some countries and consists of single-serving black tea packets with powdered milk and sugar.
Boba tea comes in an array of types, colors and flavours.

Boba tea comes in an array of types, colors and flavours.

Sweeping the World

Since its invention in the 1980s in East Asia, bubble tea has gained popularity in the UK, Australia and the United States, with boba bars and shops popping up primarily in larger cities. Consumers continue to enjoy all types of bubble tea despite various criticisms of the nutritional value, choking hazards and chemical additives.

This is one of the reasons why making your own boba at home has become very popular; when you make bubble tea yourself, you know exactly what is being put in the drink and therefore have a better idea of how healthy it is. Not to mention you have the ability to adjust the flavour and sweetness to your liking when you make your own pearl milk tea.


Even McDonald's Is Getting In on the Action!

According to, "In June 2012, McDonald's McCafé locations in Germany and Austria began offering bubble tea. They offer black, green, or white tea, available with or without milk. Fruit syrups are also available, bringing the total number of possible flavour combinations to 250."


What Does Boba Taste Like?

Mostly, very sweet! Usually frothy yet creamy with the texture of tapioca balls when slurped through a straw. Not quite as icy cold or as thick as a milkshake or juice bar drink unless it's a slushy version. And the actual flavour will depend on whether you order a milk-based or fruit-based bubble tea. Think juice bar or milkshake flavourings unless, of course, you order one of the more exotic-tasting boba teas.

Where to Get Boba Tea in Australia

  • Easy Way Bubble Tea - they have 67 stores around Australia -
  • Chatime - they have multiple store locations in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide -
  • Happy Lemon in Glebe, Sydney -
  • Gong Cha - 601 George Street, Sydney -
  • Gumballs - they have quite a few locations around Sydney, as well as one store in Melbourne (Abbotsford) and one in Queensland (Logan) -
  • Hazel Tea Shop - K22 Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown, Cnr Calam & Compton Rd, Sunnybank, QLD
  • Tea Etc - 115 Queen St, Brisbane Queensland
  • Tea Bar - 322 Moggill Rd, Indooroopilly Shopping Centre, Indooroopilly, QLD
  • Mo Mo Bubble Tea & Coffee House - 69 Murray Street, Hobart -
  • Thea Tea Shop - 110 Gawler Place, Adelaide
  • Fruitop - Myer Centre Food Court (lower level): 22 Rundle Mall, Adelaide -
  • Genuine Taiwan Pearl Bubble Milk Tea - 93 Grote St, Adelaide
  • Ten Ren's Tea Station - 146 Swanston Street, Melbourne
  • Bubble Cup - they are the biggest pearl milk tea/bubble tea chain in Melbourne and they have multiple shop locations all around the city and suburbs -
  • Glow Taiwanese Cafe - 448 Bridge Rd, Richmond, Victoria -
  • Healthy Cup - with five locations in Melbourne and one store in Queensland -
  • Chat For Tea - 25 Armstrong St N, Ballarat, Victoria
  • Utopia - multiple locations around Western Australia -
  • Yogurama - Shop K6 (near the Coles Mall), Innaloo, WA.
  • Presotea - 81 Barrack Street, Perth, WA -

Where to Get It in the U.S.

  • Lollicup - multiple stores across the US -
  • Quickly - multiple locations around the US -
  • Boba Tea House - Three locations: 2055 N. Dobson Rd, Chandler, AZ. 8139 Elk Grove Blvd. #140, Elk Grove, CA. 25696 Barton Rd, Loma Linda, CA.
  • Vivi Bubble Tea - 49 Bayard St, New York, NY (Chinatown)
  • Big Bear Bubble Tea - 57-16 Woodside Ave, Woodside, NY
  • ThirsTea - 280 E 10th St, New York, NY
  • Teariffic - 51 Mott St, New York, NY (Chinatown)
  • CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice - 459 Lexington Ave, New York, NY
  • Tapioca Story - 27-22 30 Ave, Astoria, NY
  • Hi Tea Cafe - 2114 86th St, Brooklyn, NY
  • Cha-An - 230 E 9th St, New York, NY
  • JoJu - 83-25 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY
  • Something Sweet - 314 New Dorp Ln, Staten Island, NY
  • Share Tea - 37-27 Main St, Flushing, NY
  • Little Bean - 18902 Norwalk Blvd, Artesia, California
  • I Love Boba - 534 S Western Avenue, Los Angeles, California
  • Cha For Tea - 5720 E 7th Street, Long Beach, California
  • Aloha Boba - 666 W Huntington Drive, Monrovia, California
  • Ten Ren - 727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, California
  • Yo Cafe - 3500 W 6th St, Los Angeles, California
  • Boba 7 - 518 W 7th St, Los Angeles, California
  • Ozero Tea & Desserts - 131 Central Ave, Los Angeles, California
  • Four Leaf Tea and Crepes - 318 E 2nd St, Los Angeles, California
  • Volcano Tea House - 2111 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, California
  • Boba Express - 9653 Las Tunas Dr, Temple City, California
  • Boba Time - various stores in Koreatown and LA - 3450 W 6th St, Los Angeles, California. 125 N Western Ave, Los Angeles, California. 701 S Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, California. 11207 National Blvd, Los Angeles, California.
  • Boba Loca - 10946 Weyburn Ave, Los Angeles, California
  • Tapioca Express - 228 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, California
  • Wonderful Foods Co - 2035 Irving St, San Francisco, California
  • Sweethut - 519 Clement St, San Francisco, California
  • Belly Good Cafe & Crepes - 1737 Post St, San Francisco, California
  • Boba Guys - 3378 18th St, San Francisco, California
  • Rockit Swirl - 2810 Diamond St, San Francisco, California
  • Sweetheart Cafe - 909 Grant Ave, San Francisco, California
  • Chai-Yo Sweets & Treats - 1335 Polk St, San Francisco, California
  • Joy Yee's Noodle Shop - Chinatown, Chicago, IL as well as a couple of other IL locations -
  • Chill Bubble Tea - two locations in Illinois -
  • Heung Fa Chun Sweet House - 112 N 10th St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Cups and Chairs - 701-03 S 5th St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Ray's Cafe and Teahouse - 141 N 9th St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Greenland Tea House - 210 N 9th St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Zhong Gang - 127 N 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA
  • Ken Shin Asian Diner - 301 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Rising Tide - 937 Race St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Thinking Cup - 165 Tremont St, Boston, MA
  • Pho Basil - 177 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA
  • The Juice Bar - 40-44 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA
  • Leisure Station - 625 W Kendall St, Cambridge, MA
  • Boston Tea Stop - 54 JFK St, Cambridge, MA
  • Bubble T Zone - 1082 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester, MA
  • WOW Bubble Tea - 4553 University Way NE, Seattle, WA
  • Ambrosia Cafe - 619 S King St, Seattle, WA
  • Pearls Tea & Coffee - 4800 Delridge Way SW, Seattle, WA
  • Drive Thru Boba & Ice Cream - 3727 Factoria Blvd, Bellevue, WA
  • Bubble Me - 238 Park Ln, Kirkland, WA
  • Gossip Espresso & Tea - 651 S King St, Seattle, WA
  • Oasis Tea Zone - 519 6th Ave S, Seattle, WA and 4508 University Way NE, Seattle, WA
  • Bobachine - 1514 4th Ave, Seattle, WA
  • Ten Pou Bubble Tea - 10008 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA
  • Teahouse Tapioca Tea - 2089 Westheimer Rd, Houston, Texas
  • Tapioca House - 9104 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX
  • Boba Zone - 10613 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX
  • Juice Box - 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX
  • Jolly Cup Teahouse - 3006 Blalock Rd, Houston, TX
  • Gelato Cup - 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX
  • Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki - 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX
  • Tea Cup Cafe - 8300 W Sam Houston Pkwy, Houston, TX
  • Shing Wang Bubble Tea Cafe - 237 Northeast 167th Street Miami, Florida -

Where to Get It in Canada

  • Natural 9 Bubble Tea - 341 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T
  • Chatime - 132 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G 1C3
  • Dream Tea House - they have three stores in Edmonton, Alberta -
  • Ten Ren Tea Company - 454 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5T 1G9
  • Real Fruit Bubble Tea - 660 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6G 1L2
  • E-Tea - 414 Dundas Street W, Toronto, ON M5T 1G6
  • Not Just Noodles - 570 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y 1Z3
  • Yummy House - 234 Jones Ave, Toronto, ON M4M 3A6
  • Green Garden Bubble Tea Shop - 285 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 1H1
  • Vua Sandwichs - 1579 rue St-Denis, Montréal, QC H2X 3K3
  • BTea Lounge - 1875 Panama, Brossard, QC J4W 2S8
  • Sumo Ramen - 1007, Boul.Saint-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2Z 1J4
  • La Maison Thai 2 - 3780 Saint-Laurent Boul, Montreal, QC H2W 1X6
  • Magic Idea - 1675 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montréal, QC H3H 1J6
  • Pâtisserie Cocobun (Atwater) - Place Alexis Nihon - Metro Level, Montréal, QC H3Z 1X5

Where to Get It in the UK

  • Bubbleology - which has three locations in London -
  • Boba Jam - 102 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 5EJ
  • Chaboba - 8 East Yard, Camden Lock, London NW1 8AL
  • Candy Cafe - 3 Macclesfield St, London W1D 6AU
  • HK Diner - 22 Wardour Street, London W1D 6QQ
  • Aobaba - three locations in London and one in Dublin, Ireland -
  • Milk Tea & Pearl - 12A Little Portland Street, London W1W 8BJ
  • The Japanese Canteen - 14-16 Creechurch Lane, London EC3A 5AY
  • Cafe de Hong Kong - 47 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0AN
  • I Love BoBo Tea - Unit 2 Upper Mall, Arndale Centre, Manchester M4 3AQ -
  • Ho's Bakery - 46 Faulkner Street, Manchester, M1 4FH -
  • Moo-Cha Bubble Tea & Frozen Yoghurt - Bullring Shopping Centre, Middle East Mall, Birmingham, B5 4BE -
  • Caffe Chino - 70 Hurst St, Birmingham B5 4TD
  • China Town Noodle - 2 Wrottesley Street, Birmingham B5 4RT
  • Bubble Tea - St John's Centre, Leeds LS1 8EQ
  • Ho's Bakery - 115 Vicar Lane, Leeds LS1 6
  • Cafe de Pearl - 69 Bold Street Liverpool, Merseyside L1 4EZ
  • Easy Way Tea - 140 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3DU
  • Cupp Tea Bar - mobile bubble tea van/truck that services Bristol, Bath and occasionally London (check the following link for specific dates and locations) -
You can also make bubble tea at home.

You can also make bubble tea at home.

How to Make Bubble Tea at Home

If you don't have a bubble tea bar or store near you, then you can make bubble tea at home. You will need access to an Asian market/grocer, though, in order to find the ingredients for boba. There's also quite a selection of bubble tea ingredients and supplies available online, a few of which I have listed below from Amazon in order for you to source the right bubble tea-making accessories quickly and easily. Finding and using the right tapioca balls/pearls is key to making the best bubble tea, which is explained in detail in the video below.

Making Bubble Tea With Syrup

This video below shows you how to make bubble tea with syrup soaked into the tapioca pearls to give it a sweeter flavour. This is a great demonstration of making regular bubble tea but with a bit of a twist.

I can't walk past a bubble tea shop without walking inside!

I can't walk past a bubble tea shop without walking inside!