Cold and frothy, this incredibly unique Taiwanese tea delicacy has topped the tea menus worldwide. Unlike any other iced tea where the creator gets the liberty to play around with its ingredients, bubble tea comes with a few essential elements to make its identity. These elements include brewed tea, milk, sweetener, and toppings. Even with these simple elements, there are hundreds of ways to create customized versions of this tea. As a result, the concept of bubble tea has reached soaring popularity and sets new trends in the beverage industry every day. The backstory of bubble tea is as delicious as the tea itself & let's now move to answer the core question of this article, what is bubble tea?
What Is Bubble tea?
The concept of bubble tea looks trendy and vibrant. It comes in all different teas and flavors & is loved by many young consumers today. But, did you know that the origin of bubble tea goes back to the 1980s? Yes, this trendy-looking brew is much older than we think. It all started at a small tea stand in Taiwan. An innovative tea lady wanted to create something fun and flavorful with her tea, and this marked the origin of bubble tea. The tea has many names, such as boba tea, boba milk tea, pearl milk tea, boba drink, or simply boba.
To understand the concept of bubble tea first, we need to understand its elements. A typical cup of bubble tea contains a milk tea base and bubbles made from tapioca pearls. With the evolution of bubble tea, this milk tea base has expanded with many different milk options, flavors, and fruit juices. In contrast, the chewy tapioca balls or boba remain almost the same, while some bubble tea shops attempt to change it. Even if you are not familiar with the concept of bubble tea, this iconic brew is super easy to recognize. The tea comes in clear cups filled with colorful teas. There you can see a unique layer of tapioca pearls laying at the bottom of these cups. This tea usually contains a jumbo straw to help you enjoy the tea with chewy tapioca pearls.
What is bubble tea made of?
As explained before, bubble tea contains a few core elements. When considering the tea base, it could be any tea ranging from black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or white tea. Then for the milk component, variations like cow's milk, almond milk, or non-dairy creamers are used according to the customer's preference. The signature element, tapioca pearls, plays a vital role among the ingredients. These boba pearls typically come in black color. However, innovative boba versions have evolved today, with other materials like coconut meat, sweet potato balls, red beans, and fresh fruits instead of tapioca powder. These boba pearls are made in larger sizes to enable chewing as you sip this tea. Apart from its role in adding different textures to the tea, these pearls add a unique flavor as well to the boba tea.
The sweeteners and flavor agents come last to add more flavors to this tea. Here the possibilities are countless, and it all depends on the creativity of the tea maker. Popular boba flavors include chocolate, almond, coffee, and fruity versions like strawberry tea. Now, let's look into these individual core elements and answer the next question we have. Which is, What is bubble tea made of?
Milk tea essentially makes the “body'' of any classic bubble tea recipe, and this component includes tea & milk. As we discussed before, tea could be almost anything from black, green, white, or oolong. The tea component can go as wide as up to flavored or herbal teas, & we will discuss this separately.
When it comes to milk, the authentic version of boba tea uses cow’s milk. However, with the popularity of this brew, bubble tea shops use alternative versions like soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, and more. This milk tea base contains sweeteners to balance the overall flavors. Sweet milk combinations like honey milk tea and strawberry milk tea are also on a rising trend among new tea drinkers.
As we discussed before, the boba concept originates essentially with milk tea. However, as consumer preferences are always diverse, today we can see boba tea made with only the flavored tea base and no milk. In this case, some boba places use tea with sweeteners to make the tea base for boba tea. It is absolutely fine to use unflavored teas for this, but most popular boba drinks begin with flavored teas. Jasmine green tea, honey black tea, and Earl Gray tea are popular as flavored tea versions.
Some creative bubble tea stores use different juices instead of added milk, and the outcomes are really vibrant. The basic tea base makes the drink stay light and mild, so the vibrant colors and the flavors of the fruit juice can stand out. Popular juice-based boba teas include passionfruit, lychee, mango & strawberry-based boba versions.
Interestingly, we can find some boba tea versions, even without a tea base. They use pure fruit juices, toppings, and sweeteners to create twisted versions of bubble tea.
Bubble tea Flavors
The art of tea depends heavily on different flavors, and for authentic teas, their flavor profiles play a vital role. When it comes to bubble tea, the flavor combinations are countless and often straightforward. If we are to describe the flavor of this iconic tea, the prominent terms would be sweet and milky. However, these two flavor edges are not overpowering at all & this balance allows the tea flavors to be in the spotlight. So, depending on the tea type, the underlying flavors could vary as fruity, earthy, or floral.
If you are a boba tea fan, you will realize that tapioca pearls also have a flavor. As you chew these boba pearls, you will start tasting the flavor, which adds a different dimension to the tea. As initially explained, a traditional bubble tea contains four essential elements: tea, milk, sweetener, and toppings. But there is always a chance to twist things up and you can play around with these ingredients. To truly answer “What is bubble tea” and understand the secret behind its flavor; we’ve provided the recipe and steps on how to make bubble tea, so you can try to make it on your own.
Bubble tea Ingredients
Below are the core ingredients you need for a delicious cup of boba tea.
- 8-10 tea bags or three tablespoons of loose leaf tea of your choice
- 7-8 cups of hot water
- 4 cups of water for cooking tapioca balls
- ¾ cup of water for cooking tapioca pearls
- Flavoring syrup (optional)
- One bag (8.8 oz) of tapioca pearls
- 1/2 cups granulated sugar or other sweeteners of desired quantity (optional)
- Whole milk (or any other milk of your choice)
- Ice cubes
How to make boba?
Here’s a basic recipe for a traditional bubble tea version:
Brew your tea
- Steep the tea bags or loose leaf tea with four cups of boiled water (3-5 minutes)
- Strain the tea bags/loose tea leaf from the brew & let it cool down
- If you plan to add any flavoring agents like vanilla, add those into the tea at this stage (before the tea cools down completely)
Make Simple Syrup
- Add one cup of water into the saucepan and let it simmer
- Add sugar into the pan and quickly stir until sugar dissolves completely
- Turn off the heat and let the sugar syrup cool down
Prepare The Tapioca pearls
- Add four cups of water to a pan and bring to boil
- Add the tapioca pearls into the boiling water and stir the mix
- Stir until tapioca pearls float on the top of the pan & cook for another 5-8 minutes
- Test if the pearls have reached the desired level of softness & stop cooking
- Quickly remove the pearls from the hot water and rinse them with water
- Discuss bringing water to a boil and adding tapioca pearl.
- Let it drain and transfer into a new bawl
- At this stage, you can add some syrup or honey into the tapioca pearls for added flavor
Assemble the Tea
Now, the most exciting part!
- Add the cooked tapioca pearls to the bottom of the glasses
- Place a layer of ice cubes into the glasses
- Pour one cup of tea into each glass
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk and around 1 ½ tablespoon of simple syrup into the mix
- Stir and taste the flavor balance.
- Adjust with more milk or syrup to match your desire
- Get large boba straws and enjoy!
As you sip your bubble tea…
The concept of bubble tea truly flourished in the 1980s, but it is still a popular trendsetter even today. So Tea J Tea’s take on the question ‘What is bubble tea’ is that it's a creative drink popularized in Taiwan four decades ago and consists of a combination of simple core elements such as tea, milk, syrup & boba. Within the article we’ve also provided the simplest recipe to prepare your own bubble tea, but remember, this is just a blueprint. From here onwards, it is all about your creativity, and we urge you to create many bubble tea versions from the comfort of your home. Don’t forget to try your next boba concoction using Tea J Tea origin, fruity or floral, and explorer tea! Your tea journey should be fun so we’re here to help with just that! Enjoy!