Does Bubble Tea Have Caffeine? (Explained)

Bubble tea is a broad range of Taiwanese tea-based beverages that are characterized by tapioca balls. Does bubble tea have caffeine? Read on to find out more.

Does Bubble Tea Have Caffeine - a cup of bubble tea with tapioca balls
Bubble tea is a broad range of Taiwanese tea-based beverages that are characterized by tapioca balls

It is everywhere. Bubble tea or boba tea is one of the most fun, versatile, and delicious dessert beverages that can be found in America. In recent years, though, there has been some concern over whether children and expectant mothers should consume bubble tea since it has caffeine in it.

So, the bubbling question here is – Does bubble tea have caffeine and the short answer is Yes, A standard cup of bubble tea may contain anywhere between 100 mg – 160 mg of caffeine. It is usually a blend of tea, fruit, milk, and chewy tapioca balls. Therefore, Bubble can contain quite a high amount of caffeine.

The tea in bubble tea is a concentrated form, and the most popular type of tea they use in shops is black tea. Unlike coffee, the level of caffeine in tea is not absorbed all at once but gradually.

The good news is that – even though there are many flavors of bubble tea that have caffeine, today, there are many modern versions that do not have caffeine or any tea at all.

If you would like to enjoy bubble tea with less caffeine, we would suggest you try a tea latte that contains less tea than milk tea

Before we go further, you first need to understand what bubble tea is.

What Is Bubble Tea?

Women drinking bubble tea outside.
Bubble tea is a popular beverage served across restaurants and cafes in Taiwan, in Asia, and also in the west

For those of you who are late to the party, bubble tea is a broad range of tea-based beverages that were originally made in Taiwan. The Taiwanese-style milk tea is a popular beverage served across restaurants and cafes in Taiwan, Asia, and also in the west.

In its place of birth, the beverage is known as zhenzhu naicha or pearl milk tea. What makes it different from other types of tea is that the beverage contains chewy tapioca pearls that lie at the bottom of the cup

Consisting of tea, condensed or evaporated milk, fruit, jellies, and syrups, bubble tea is one of the most colorful and fun dessert beverages that rival the likes of the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino.

A lot of people think that the name “bubble tea” originates from the presence of the round, bubble-like tapioca balls in the bottom of the cup, but it actually refers to the foam at the top of the drink.

Bubble tea was first made by taking tea, milk, and sugar (but no Tapioca balls) and blending the mixture in a cocktail shaker in Taiwanese specialty restaurants. The rigorous shaking resulted in a layer of froth at the top of the drink, which gives the drink its name.

However, these days there are many variants that do not use tea as the base of a drink at all (therefore, no caffeine) and instead use only milk or flavored syrups. We'll go over these later in the article.

Although some bubble tea shops use dome-shaped lids to cover the drink, much like the ones you get at Starbucks, more authentic bubble tea bars serve it in cups that are completely sealed in plastic wrap. This allows the customer to shake the tea in a spill-free way before opening it. The wrap is then punctured by an extra-thick straw designed to let the tapioca balls and other toppings pass through.

The drink gained immense popularity in Taiwan, where boba drink shops are found at every corner. It soon spread to neighboring countries like Japan, Mainland China, and South Korea, and by the mid-90s, arrived in the United States.

Too many people in the West boba tea is still a bit of a mystery, but it is becoming increasingly popular. In the U.S. alone, there are now over 800 boba shops, many of them in the states of California and New York.

But before you make a mad dash to these shops, here are a few things you should understand about bubble tea:

  • Does bubble tea have caffeine?
  • How much caffeine does it have?
  • Do some varieties of bubble tea not have caffeine?
  • What other ingredients are present in bubble tea?

Does Bubble Tea Have Caffeine?

Black tea, tapioca balls and milk- Bubble tea's main ingredients
In its most traditional form, bubble tea consists of black tea, condensed milk, and tapioca balls

In its most traditional form, boba consists of black tea, condensed milk, and tapioca balls, all shaken together to produce bubbles (which gives the tea its name) and served hot. It comes in a long cup with an extra-wide straw that allows you to slurp the chewy tapioca balls at the bottom. This basic black bubble tea is still the reigning favorite in Taiwan.

Newer variants of bubble tea give you the option of choosing among black teagreen tea, Thai tea, Pu-erh, and Darjeeling or oolong tea. All of these teas contain a certain amount of caffeine.

If you have the happy chance of going into a bubble tea shop, you will be given a huge selection of teas (with milk and without milk) to choose from. 

Once you make your choice, the tea is dispensed from large tanks. These tanks steep the tea for long hours to make sure the tea’s own distinct flavor shines through even with all the condensed milk and tapioca pearls added.

The longer the tea is steeped, the more it will extract the caffeine. This is not just true for hot brews but cold brews as well. However, since tea naturally contains much less caffeine than coffee, the impact of steeping the tea will be minor when compared to coffee.

Because of this, bubble tea can be taken by children and expecting women in moderate amounts.

In fact, tea is packed with antioxidants, which can help boost your metabolism, shed belly fat, fight inflammation, and reduce the risk of heart disease.

How Much Caffeine Does Bubble Tea Have?

A happy man with Bubble tea
The Taiwanese milk tea or the bubble tea followed with caffeine content ranging from 100 mg to 160 mg

The Hong Kong government conducted a research study on boba tea and found out that a cup of bubble tea may have caffeine ranging anywhere from 100 to 160mg.

The study based itself on the comparison between the caffeine content found in coffee, café-style tea, and bubble tea. It found that one cup of caffe latte can have 54 mg of caffeine, while a cup of regular coffee can have 380 mg.

Following regular coffee, Hong Kong’s famous café-style milk tea was found to have a caffeine content anywhere between 73 mg to 220 mg in a cup.

Taiwanese milk tea or bubble tea followed with caffeine content ranging from 100 mg to 160 mg.

If you do the math, your bubble tea has less than half the caffeine content of a regular cup of coffee. This means the caffeine in boba tea poses no health concerns for people who drink it. In fact, even pregnant and lactating women may drink it if they limit their consumption to about 200 mg per day. A single cup of bubble tea contains less caffeine than that.

As for children below the age of 12, they should not consume more than 2.5 to 5 mg per kg of their body weight of caffeine in a day.  This is not exclusive to bubble tea, but to all caffeine-based beverages. Even a 12-oz can of Coca-Cola contains 34 gm of caffeine.

Are There Bubble Teas That Do Not Have Any Caffeine at All?

Bubble tea with different flavors
Bubble teas are now being customized according to the customers’ preferences

Bubble teas are now being customized according to the customers’ preferences. Boba has come a long way from the classic black tea with tapioca balls and transformed into an endless variety of styles.

In general, although the base of the beverage is usually tea, customers can switch it up. For Americans who prefer coffee to tea, bubble teas are being made with coffee. This type will probably have caffeine equivalent to what you get in a cup of regular coffee.

However, many bubble tea shops also sell Asian-style smoothies, which consist of a dairy base flavored with fresh fruit, fruit syrup, or fruit powder, which creates many fruity flavors like watermelon, lemon, honeydew, strawberry, banana, and more. What’s more, there is no hint of tea in this version of boba so they are free of caffeine as well.

What Other Ingredients Are Found in Bubble Tea?

As mentioned above, the great thing about bubble tea drinks is that they are very versatile and can be customized in countless different ways. Bubble tea shops can make the tea with extra toppings, with or without milk or dairy, with or without sweeteners, or even without actual tea.

Tapioca Pearls

For those of you who haven’t enjoyed the pleasures of boba, tapioca is the dark brown or black balls found at the bottom of your tea. These are the defining feature of bubble milk tea.

Tapioca balls in a clear bowl
Tapioca are the dark brown or black balls found at the bottom of Bubble tea

The pearls are made from tapioca plant, which is extracted from the South American cassava root plant. It arrived in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation, sometimes in the late 19th century. The tapioca balls made from the starch are originally hard, white and tasteless and are boiled and steeped in caramel for hours until they gain their black, bouncy, and slick appearance.

The tapioca balls are chewy and sweet and have a texture that can make you want to chew on them for hours. In Taiwan, this texture is known as “kue kue” or simply “Q” and is also found in food like mocha or fish cakes.

Jellies

Bubble teas are also topped with various fruit jellies. One of the most popular kinds of jelly is called “nata de coco” and is from the Philippines. These jellies are made from coconut water that is allowed to ferment and gel naturally. 

The jelly balls are flavored by adding fruit syrups or juices to them. These jellies are 100% gluten-free and vegan.

Popping Bobas

Another type of topping is known as popping boba. These are fruit or fruit juice-filled spheres that you can find in many fancy East Asian restaurants. 

Popping bobas are made by dropping fruit juice in an algae cellulose calcium solution that wraps around the drop of fruit juice forming a skin that holds the juice drop inside. When you place these popping bobas into your mouth, they break open with a burst of flavors.

Dairy Or Non-Dairy Varieties

Kinds of Non-dairy milk
Many bubble tea shops are now offering dairy-free milk choices, like soy, almond, coconut milk, or dairy-free creamers

The first kinds of bubble teas had milk in them. The milk can be fresh, condensed, evaporated, or milk powder. However, with the increasing number of Americans who suffer from lactose intolerance, many bubble tea shops are offering dairy-free milk choices, like soy, coconut, almond milk, or dairy-free creamers.

The drinks can be iced or hot. Some varieties even have the option of adding ice cream. Many types of bubble teas, especially the ones with fruity flavors, work well without milk.

Flavorings And Variants

Far from its basic pale light beige form, bubble tea is now served in a variety of endless colors. This is where the struggle gets real. There are so many flavors that it becomes really difficult to choose a single combination. Additionally, with customization options, it becomes tricky to control the taste and color of your drink.

Today, you get all sorts of flavors, including cherry, rose, salted caramel, cookie dough, chocolate, strawberry, almond, lavender, peppermint, sesame, taro, mango, and even coffee. If you prefer real fruit in your beverage, you can add chunks of strawberry, mango, blueberry, jasmine, pineapple, peach, orange, pomegranate, and so many more.

Fruity flavors work well with plain tea, while earthy neutral flavors like coconut, caramel, and chocolate go well with milk bubble teas. One of the best flavors is matcha, which works well with traditional boba milk tea.

Another great variant is cheese tea. Although it sounds gross, it tastes heavenly. The sweet tea is topped with a layer of mousse that is made by blending cream cheese with condensed milk. In fact, cheese tea is on its way to make it big in America.

Sugar

With the amount of sugar in the tapioca pearls, the fruit, the syrups, and the tea itself, the general perception is that bubble tea is not very healthy. However, you can control this too.

Many bubble tea shops offer you clearly defined sugar levels like 25% sugar, 50% sugar, 75% sugar, or 100% sugar. If you do not let them know what type of sugar level you want, the default standard is 100% sugar. 

If you want, you can also ask your shop to give you a sugar-free version by leaving off white or brown sugar, fruit syrups, and tapioca from your drink. Another healthy option would be to add some honey to your drink.

The Last Word On Caffeine In Bubble Tea

Now that you understand the different types of bubble tea available, you can easily control not just the amount of caffeine but also the amounts of carbs in your drink.

Don't be afraid to ask employees at a boba stand questions about the drinks, they are there to help you find exactly what you need. 

You should be able to order a caffeine-free boba at any shop. Don't be afraid to try something new, you may like it!

Related Question

Does steeping increase the level of caffeine in bubble tea?

Just like cold brew coffee, the level of caffeine in bubble tea also increases by steeping the tea bag for longer. However, the amount of caffeine in tea is still considerably less than in coffee.

Which type of bubble tea has the most caffeine?

The most popular type of tea used in bubble tea shops is black tea, which is the most oxidized form and so more caffeinated. Oolong and green teas have comparatively caffeine.

What other types of bubble tea have no caffeine?

Most herbal teas and fruit teas do not contain any caffeine, but if you are sensitive to caffeine, we would recommend that you opt for oolong or green tea. If you don’t like tea, you may try tapioca pearls in slushies, smoothies, or juices.

See Also
Vanilla Syrup Vs Vanilla Extract: What You Need To Know
Why Can't You Microwave Starbucks Cups
What Makes Vietnamese Coffee Different?

Author

  • A E Inman is a direct response copywriter and humor blogger. When she's not poking fun at her attempts to start a writing business, she can be found in the tea aisle of her local import store, arguing with strangers over the merits of rare tea varietals. She enjoys writing copy while consuming copious amounts of coffee and gunpowder tea.