Boba Tea vs Bubble Tea: What’s The Difference?

boba tea vs bubble tea

Boba tea vs Bubble teaIn this article, we compare the two so you can make the right choice.

There’s nothing quite like having a sweet, tasty, milky drink… to chew on! That’s why I love a bubble tea. I first had one of these tantalizing cold beverages at a restaurant and, upon noisily slurping the giant tapioca balls up through a big fat straw, I was instantly hooked.

It was, I soon realized, more like dessert than just a drink. I have since discovered a local café that is dedicated entirely to bubble tea.

The menu is daunting at first, and the flavour options are almost endless. Bubble tea is a bit like a milkshake in that it can be as simple or as decadent as you choose, and it can be pretty much any flavor. 

I recently heard of the name ‘boba tea', and wondered if it was different to bubble tea. It turns out that the names are used interchangeably.

There are other names for the same drink, as well, including pearl tea, pearl milk tea and tapioca tea. Let’s dig a little deeper into the linguistics.

Whether you call it boba or bubble tea seems to be a matter of geography. In Taiwan, where the drink originated, and elsewhere in Asia, it’s called boba. 

Boba tea vs bubble tea – let's see if there's a difference.

The Spread of Boba Tea

boba tea vs bubble tea
The popular boba or bubble tea

Boba tea is the drink of choice in Taiwan and around the world, many belonging to chains such as Sharetea and Chatime. In Canada and the UK, I’ve generally heard it called bubble tea.

In the US, it tends to be called bubble tea in the East, and boba in the West. The term ‘boba’ can apparently refer to either a wide range of chewy drinks or to the tapioca pearls or balls that lurk at the bottom of the beverage.

The balls are typically marble-sized and caramelized. Some say the bubble in bubble tea actually refers to the bubbles at the top of the drink rather than the tapioca balls.

The bubbles form when the tea is shaken. In the modern iteration of bubble tea, many bright-colored drinks are designed to appeal to the eye, making them Instagram-worthy.

But let’s start with the basics.

Bubble Tea Ingredients

In its most basic form, bubble tea consists of black tea, milk, tapioca pearls, and ice, shaken together and served with a fat straw.

1. Tea

Most bubble teas are made with black, green or oolong tea. Black tea, especially Earl Grey, is the most popular option. Green tea is another option. Jasmine green tea and matcha powder are popular among those looking for healthier options. 

Tea-free variations include snow ice (a powdered-coffee-based, frozen blended drink), cream-based drinks, and fruit-based drinks. 

2. Milk

Milk and milk alternatives are often added to give bubble tea its creamy texture and flavor. In addition to fresh milk, options can include condensed milk, ice cream, almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk or non-dairy creamer.

Some of the sour fruit-flavoured bubble tea is prepared without milk because the acidity of the fruit syrup can curdle the milk.

3. Boba/Balls/Pearls

The tapioca balls or boba that provide the chewy component are what set bubble tea apart from other drinks. Something called the Q factor determines the perfect level of chewiness.

Many toppings (which, ironically, often sink to the bottom) are added to teas for the Q factor. The tapioca balls come in all kinds of quirky flavors, including sea salt, cheese, quinoa, chocolate, jujube and Sichuan pepper.

There are now all kinds of other toppings, including watermelon cubes, passion fruit seeds, grass jelly (which seems to be quite popular), aloe vera, custardy egg pudding (also popular), adzuki beans, panna cotta, and chia seeds. 

Fun fact: boba apparently means big boobs in Taiwanese slang.

Variations

Bubble tea is often sweetened with syrup. Sometimes alternative sweeteners are used, such as organic honey, agave nectar, or stevia. 

For a sweeter version of this fun and fancy beverage, try brown sugar Boba tea. For an unusual purple color and earthy, coconut-like flavor, try taro  bubble tea. 

Taro is a root vegetable similar to a sweet potato, so it also acts as a thickener. There are also fresh fruit-based boba drinks. Popular flavors include mango, lychee, lemon, and tomato.

Bubble tea is usually served cold, but there are some hot options, including Hong Kong Milk Tea and Yuanyang, which is Hong King Milk Tea and coffee. ‘Milk smoothies’ are basically bubble tea minus the tea. ‘Snow Bubble’ is a bubble tea without the tea.

It is typically made with blended ice, non-dairy creamer, flavors, and boba. There are various bubble tea smoothies and milkshakes available. Bubble coffee or ‘Snow Ice’ is made with blended ice, powdered coffee, and added flavor. You can also have a decaf bubble tea.

Boba Tea vs Bubble Tea Pros and Cons

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Pros

  •  Trendy drink
  • Healthy options (eg matcha, less sugar, etc.)
  • Customizable toppings, sweetness level, amount of ice 
  • Choose iced/warm/hot drink
  • Fun date idea
  • Instagrammable!
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Cons

  • Some varieties can be calorific
  • May contain lots of sugar
  • Not everyone likes the chewy texture
  • Menu options can be daunting
  • May have to try several before finding what you like

The Final Word on Boba Tea  vs Bubble Tea

Given that boba tea and bubble tea are different names for the same drink, the question is more which variety should you try. Why not sample a few and see what you prefer? 

Bubble tea is a strangely nourishing drink and, in some cases, a veritable oeuvre d’art.  Maybe you’ll find a wild and wacky variety you love, or perhaps you’ll create a brand new version.

Or maybe you’ll decide, as is often the case, that the original is the best: black tea, shaken with frothy milk, crushed ice, and a few handfuls of chewy tapioca pearls.

After all, the possibilities are endless.

Author

  • Mel Farrimond loves all kinds of writing: creative, academic, freelancing, and blogging. She has her own blog, The MONDAY Blog at www.themondayblog.com, covering music, oeuvres, news, dining, art and yoga.