What Is Boba?

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Boba is the name of chewy, bouncy tapioca pearls as well as the delicious drink that contains them. Learn more about boba, from its origins to the many varieties.

Bubble Tea in a cup with a big straw.

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What Is Boba?

Boba is both the name of an ingredient and a drink that’s also known as bubble tea or milk tea.

As an ingredient, boba refers to tapioca balls. The bouncy black pearls, sometimes called bubbles, are made from tapioca starch that is extracted from cassava root.

Bubble tea is a beverage (usually iced) that contains boba and tea. It can come in creamy variations such as milk tea or as dairy-free fruit teas.

Boba is pronounced BOE-BAH.

RELATED: 17 Best Milk Tea Recipes

Dried tapioca balls for making bubble tea.
Dried tapioca balls.

Where Is Boba From?

Boba originated in Taiwan during the 1980s. Two rival teahouses claim they made up the beverage and have differing stories on how the pairing of tea and tapioca balls came to be.

In one story, a teahouse owner added boba to a cup of tea after seeing them at a market. In the other, a tea room employee placed tapioca pearls meant for shaved ice into an iced tea.

Bubble tea quickly gained popularity in Taiwan and has become a global phenomenon.

RELATED: Bubble Tea with Cold Foam

Cooked and strained tapioca balls.

Tapioca Balls

Boba is made from tapioca starch that comes from cassava, a root vegetable that grows in tropical climates.

Chewy and bouncy tapioca balls (also called tapioca pearls) are commonly referred to as “QQ” in Taiwan, a word used to describe foods with a distinctly springy texture.

Tapioca is originally white in color, but boba gets its black color from either brown sugar or caramel coloring. This gives the pearls a sweet flavor.

Because of their size and shape, boba is best enjoyed with a wide straw so each sip has some tea and tapioca bubbles.

Tapioca balls are meant to be chewed instead of swallowed whole.

RELATED: How to Make Bubble Tea

Dried tapioca balls in a bowl and spoon.
Dried tapioca balls.

Types of Boba Tea

Boba tea comes in a variety of flavors that typically fall into two categories: milk tea or fruit tea.

There are caffeine-free options, such as beverages made with just milk, fruit, or Yakult (the Japanese probiotic drink).

Here are some bubble tea variations:

Bubble Tea
Milk tea + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Brown Sugar Bubble Tea
Milk Tea + Brown Sugar + Ice + Boba

Jasmine Bubble Tea
Jasmine Green Tea + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Iced Coffee Boba
Iced Coffee + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Taro Bubble Tea
Taro Powder + Green Tea + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Strawberry Bubble Tea
Strawberry Syrup + Green Tea + Milk + Ice + Boba

Matcha Bubble Tea
Matcha + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Black Sesame Bubble Tea
Black Sesame Paste + Milk + Sugar + Ice + Boba

Cooking tapioca balls in water.
Cooked tapioca balls.

Boba at Home

Both boba (tapioca balls) and boba (the drink) can be made easily at home using store-bought tapioca balls.

Tapioca balls are packaged dry and are ready in minutes when cooked in boiling water. Once cooked, the tapioca balls can be added to any iced beverage (with or without tea) to make it a bubble tea.

Many boba shops use powdered tea and powdered milk but homemade ones can be made better by using brewed tea and fresh milk.

Cooking boba in brown sugar can add an additional layer of flavor and sweetness to a drink.

My trick to making the best bubble tea is to serve the bubbles while they’re quite warm (but not burning hot) for the best chewy, soft texture.

RELATED: 10+ Easy Bubble Tea Recipes

My Tapioca Balls Pick

Photo Credit: amazon.com

The tapioca balls I use to make bubble tea at home.

Questions You May Have

Is there caffeine in boba?

There’s no caffeine in the tapioca balls but there may be caffeine in the boba drink if it’s made with black, green, oolong, or white tea.

Is boba sweet?

Yes, usually. The tapioca balls (boba) are usually cooked in sugar and water to make them taste sweet.

Is boba the same thing as bubble tea?

Yup, the boba drink is also called bubble tea.

Brown sugar boba in a cup with a black straw.

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