The Boba Breakdown:

anatomy of a bubble tea drink

A diagram of the different parts of
boba tea

Boba tea is a non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drink made of tea and tapioca pearls.

While its ingredients are versatile, it always contains some key elements. Drinks made using real tea and not powder are usually made with green or black (also known as red) tea, such as the oolong or earl grey varieties, and flavored with sugar syrup. Milk or other cream-type ingredients can be added to create a milk tea, as it is most popularly served in the United States. Other variations of the drink include using coffee, fruit juice or a powder mix for the base. Cooked tapioca pearls are added in to create a texture element to the drink. Some people love the chewy black bobas, but the strange texture is not everyone's cup of tea. In some bubble tea shops, the black pearls can be substituted for more colorful rainbow pearls, coconut jelly or other flavored jellies made from carrageenan or agar. Most restaurants serve the drink cold, but it is also enjoyed hot or super cold as a slushy-type drink using crushed ice. A jumbo straw complements the drink for maximum slurpability.

For more on the tea's ingredients and where to find them, please visit the ingredients page.

anatomy of a tapioca pearl

The tapioca pearl exposed

A pearl? From tapioca?

The staple of the drink, the tapioca pearl, is shaped from tapioca starch. This starch comes from the tapioca plant, also called cassava, yuca or manioca. The tapioca plant is native to the Amazon in South America and was first introduced to Asia during the 19th century.

The drink with many names

Boba tea is known by many names throughout the world. Some of these names are:

  • Bobà Nǎichá (Chinese: "Boba Milk Tea")
  • Pearl Tea
  • Momi Tea
  • Tapioca Ball Drink
  • Black Pearl Tea
  • Jhenjhu Nǎichá (Chinese: "Pearl Milk Tea")
  • Tapiokatii (Japanese: "Tapioca Tea")
  • Frubble
  • Té de burbujas (Spanish: "Bubbles Tea")
  • Suco de Pobá (Portuguese: "Boba Juice")
  • Ságo at Guláman (Tagalog: "Tapioca Pearls and Agar")
  • Tapioca Smoothie

Flavor flav

Since the ingredients in boba tea are so versatile, there is no end to the number of flavors and the combination of flavors that can be made. Some of the most common flavors include almond, strawberry, taro, royale and coconut.

Vicky Lasavath, an employee at the Bento Cafe in Gainesville, Fla., gave this advice to first-time tea drinkers: "Taro is usually a hit-or-miss flavor. One of our most popular flavors is almond, but people really like to mix the flavors. We have one called "Lovers" that is strawberry and mango which is also very popular."

You can find more information about the different flavor and texture combinations for the drink on the variations page.