Ummm…it looks like you have a little something floating near the bottom of your drink there, buddy!
Wait, wait, now it’s traveling up the length of your straw!
And now…wait…are you eating it?
What on earth is going on? There is a good chance that you have just watched someone drink boba tea for the first time! Boba, which Americans sometimes call bubble tea, is the trendy drink-and-snack-in-one that the world is obsessing over!
Are you interested in taking this new drink trend for a spin but not sure what to expect? With so many flavor combinations and variations, ordering your first bubble tea can be overwhelming! If you love sweet, Asian-inspired flavors and dynamic textural experiences, boba tea is more than worth the slight learning curve!
Luckily, we took the time to break it down and give you the scoop on where to find bubble tea at your favorite chain coffee shops, plus tips on making it at home! Keep reading to become an expert on all things bubble tea so that you can start chewing your drinks, too!
What Is Boba Tea?
There isn’t a more appetizing way to explain this: at its core, boba tea is the blanket term for a “chunky drink.” Try to resist the urge to make a face! Boba refers to everything from iced tea loaded with tiny, delicious chunks of fruit, to creamy milk teas studded with tapioca bubbles.
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, you’ve probably heard this drink called bubble tea. The terms are essentially interchangeable. What they have in common is their origin in Taiwan, where this chewable beverage trend has been popular for years.
In Taiwan, the chewier a food is, the better. They refer to the chewiest, most texture-rich foods as “Q.” Boba tea has an almost addictively chewy texture that fits this description perfectly!
The most common version of boba is a mix of black tea, flavoring, milk, and chewy spheres of tapioca. If you’ve ever tried tapioca pudding, it’s the same stuff, only bigger and sweeter. These pearls have a texture somewhere between a gummy bear and a maraschino cherry, and a vaguely sweet flavor.
After you mix the ingredients, the heavy pearls settle at the bottom of the cup. You will often see boba tea served with an extra thick straw so that you can slurp the bubbles up when you take a sip! The most common type of tapioca pearls are black or deep brown, but it’s possible to find flavored variations in a range of shapes and colors.
Variations on Bubble Tea
When you get to the boutique bubble tea shop, what do you order? Even the smallest hole-in-the-wall is likely to have a lot of options. The truth is that you really can’t go wrong, and trying different combinations is half the fun!
A lot of the most popular flavors are Asian-inspired. You can order boba tea flavored like matcha, taro, almond, lychee, coconut, honeydew, and more. When the flavoring combines with the milk, it becomes an Instagram-worthy pastel color that is as cute as it is delicious!
You can find some wild and wonderful variations on bubble tea when you visit specialty shops. Brown sugar milk tea, flavored with a thick brown sugar syrup, is popular. Fruit teas forego the milk and offer a refreshing, dairy-free drink with the same addictive Q texture.
Dessert bubble teas are becoming more popular in the United States, too. They are more like milkshakes and are often blended with Oreos or Biscoff cookies. “Cheese tea” has a fluffy layer of foamy whipped cream and cheese that looks like a cloud and tastes like the best cheesecake you’ve ever had!
Today, even the most basic bubble tea shop will offer you a range of “bubbles” or “pearls” to choose from. In addition to traditional tapioca, you can find “popping bubbles” loaded with a gush of syrup or juice. These pearls explode in your mouth when you chew, similar to Gushers!
Can You Order Bubble Tea at Dunkin?
If you walk into Dunkin and say “One bubble tea, please!” your server will probably look at you funny. Even so, it’s possible to get a drink resembling traditional Taiwanese bubble tea at your local Dunkin if you know what to ask for.
Dunkin offers strawberry-flavored “popping bubbles” that aren’t unlike the popping boba that you can get at a bubble tea shop. You can add them to any iced drink on the Dunkin menu. Keeping in mind that the bubbles only come in a super sweet strawberry variation, you have a few options that work.
Consider adding Dunkin popping bubbles to:
- An iced matcha latte
- Coconut refreshers beverages
- Standard refreshers beverages
- Iced black or green teas
- Raspberry or blueberry iced tea
Can You Order Bubble Tea at Starbucks?
While your favorite Dunkin server will look at you funny if you order a bubble tea, your Starbucks Barista won’t even know where to begin! Currently, Starbucks doesn’t have anything on the menu that emulates this chewy treat. Recent press releases suggest that something new is in the works that might finally allow coffee fans to embrace that addictive Q texture!
Their contribution to the boba world will be in the form of “coffee popping pearls.” These are the perfect accompaniment for less traditional iced beverages. Rumor has it that these include an iced chai tea latte and a cold brew drink with added espresso.
The popping pearls supposedly have a combination of salty and sweet flavors. That certainly makes them unique compared to traditional tapioca bubbles!
How soon can Starbucks fans get a hold of this “bubble coffee?” Right now, Starbucks plans to give the product a test run at two California-based locations. If you manage to find these drinks at your local Starbucks, comment below and let us know what you think!
How Do You Make Bubble Tea at Home?
Once you pop it’s hard to stop! Many boba tea fans have been eager to learn how to craft bubble tea drinks at home. Luckily, it’s not as tricky as it looks.
You can even buy extra-large straws and other accessories to have an authentic at-home boba experience!
When shopping for ingredients, the best place to begin is at your local Asian supermarket. This is where you can find tapioca pearls to cook at home, which is the closest you can get to making boba tea bubbles from scratch. You don’t need any other special ingredients, but you should definitely pick up some unique snacks while you’re there!
To prepare your bubble tea you will need:
- A full-flavored black or green tea
- Milk or dairy substitute of choice
- Ice cubes
- Tapioca pearls
Start by brewing your tea. Remember, you will be diluting it with dairy, so you will want to make it nice and dark. It’s helpful if you brew the tea in advance to give it ample time to cool.
Next, follow the instructions on the package to prepare your tapioca pearls. They often come in both traditional and quick-cooking varieties, so prep time can vary. Do note that traditional tapioca pearls can take as long as an hour to cook, so plan ahead.
Once your pearls have cooked, put them in a small bowl and coat them with honey to add sweetness. After soaking them for about five minutes, add the pearls to the bottom of your glass.
Finally, pour your brewed iced tea over the top. Add your dairy of choice (we love whole milk, but non-dairy milk and even half and half will work). Add a few ice cubes and you are ready to enjoy your delicious homemade bubble tea!
Consider making boba tea using flavored teas, or blending your tea with fresh fruit before adding to the glass! If that seems like too much work, you should be able to find flavored tea powders while you’re in the Asian market. These will closely emulate the flavors that you find at the bubble tea shop!
This Trendy Drink Is Popping Off
When it comes down to it, boba tea is just plain adorable! From the pleasant pastel colors to the oversized straws, there is so much to love about the aesthetic, the flavor, and the novelty! Now you have all the knowledge you need to go forth and try every delicious variation under the sun!
After you slurp up your tapioca pearls, come back to the blog and check out the rest of our posts about everything coffee! You can start with our sweet and satisfying recipe for vanilla coffee syrup, then comment below to let us know if you plan to give bubble tea a try!