What Is Boba Tea And Is It Nutritious?

You may know boba as the fun and — let's be real — aesthetically pleasing drink all over social media. Frothy, milky, chunky, sweet, all of these words could be used to describe boba tea, but what actually is it? 

Boba tea isn't a new beverage, in fact, it's been around for nearly 40 years. Served hot or cold, other common names for this drink include bubble tea, pearl milk tea, or tapioca tea.

Originating in Taiwan in the early '80s, boba tea has expanded into a catch-all term for chunky drinks. As Eater describes, even juice with fruity bits can be considered boba tea. However, the most common variation of boba tea consists of black tea, milk, and chewy tapioca balls. Confusingly, these balls are also called boba. It's usually served cold with a characteristically wide straw to slurp up the tapioca balls.

Still, everything can be customized, drinkers can change the type of tea, milk (or lack thereof), and type of chunky mix-in to create dozens of different flavors and styles. But however way you take it, boba is surely delicious!

How is boba tea made?

Since tapioca is the most common inclusion, it's not surprising to wonder how these little, sweet balls are actually made. The boba is made from tapioca starch, that when mixed with boiling water, becomes a dough, according to Thrillist.

The dough is then cut and rolled into small balls and boiled again until they become the soft and chewy treat found at the bottom of your bubble tea. Per Eater, many places will coat the boba in a brown sugar syrup before adding it to your drink to create the sweet flavor so many customers love.

While the standard base in boba tea is black tea, you don't have to stick to the original all the time. You may also want to try your drink with green, taro, oolong, matcha, or even a fruit-flavored tea.

Traditional boba tea usually includes milk as well, but you can always opt-out of dairy if you prefer more of a standard brewed tea. Still, trying boba with a milk substitute is never off the table if that's your preference as well.

Is boba tea nutritious?

As Healthline explains, the tapioca pearls have very little nutritional value. Consisting of mostly carbohydrates, it may give you quick energy, but it won't add any significant value to your diet.

While black tea on its own is usually considered fairly healthy, boba tea is characteristically sweet and loaded with sugar. If you order boba out, most stores will allow you to customize the amount of sugar using a percentage method, you can choose anything from 100%, the sweetest, to 75%, 50%, or 25% sugar, the least sweet, according to Eat This Not That. While the milk can also add nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, it's unlikely the significance of this outweighs the sugar and carbs in the boba balls and tea. 

This all means boba tea can vary from a nutritional standpoint. A lightly sweetened version with green or black tea is going to be healthier than a version that's loaded with sugar and extra boba balls, but it's likely not the drink you want to have multiple times a day.

Boba vs. bursting boba

If you're ever in a boba tea store, you may see the option to order "bursting boba" in your drink. While there are similarities in boba and bursting boba — they're both sweet inclusions in the bottom of your drink — they're not really the same thing.

Unlike regular boba, bursting boba, or popping boba as it's called in some places, is not chewy at all. Bursting boba is a juice-filled boba ball that will pop when bitten, according to Fanale Drinks. The exterior is made mostly from a seaweed extract with everything from strawberry, mango, passion fruit, lychee, or kiwi, depending on the vendor, available as a flavor.

Other inclusions include jelly, fruit bits, aloe, and even frozen yogurt, per Spoon University. All of these inclusions can change the flavor and consistency of the drink. Some places may even let you mix and match your inclusions for a unique-to-you drink, but before asking them to throw everything in, it's good to know how the differ from each other. 

What does boba taste like?

The tapioca pearls themselves usually don't have that much flavor, according to Eater. They're sweet, but in the beverage itself, most of the flavor is going to come from the tea. However, the tapioca balls are incredibly chewy, making them the most fun part of the drink.

If you opt for bursting boba, you'll likely have a sweet, fruit-flavored ball at the bottom of your drink. Depending on what flavor you choose, the boba will generally taste like the artificial variation of that flavor. If you order strawberry bursting boba, for example, while it may not taste exactly like the actual fruit, it'll taste similar to your favorite strawberry-flavored candy.

Since there's so many ways to make boba, there's no universal answer to what the whole drink tastes like. But going off of the standard recipe, it tastes like a well-balanced sweet black tea latte. While the milk certainly adds a creamy quality, it's not overly thick or dairy-heavy. You should still be able to taste the dark and earthy quality of the black tea mixed with sweetness from the sugar. 

Where can I buy boba?

Because of its increasing popularity, there are a growing number of boba tea shops across the country offering various flavors and drinks for people to try. However, if you're looking to make boba at home, there are plenty of options for this as well.

While black tea and milk are easy ingredients to find at the grocery store, the tapioca pearls may be a little harder to source. International grocery stores may carry boba pearls, but the most guaranteed way to get tapioca pearls is usually to order them online and places like Amazon. If you go this route, you'll only have to boil the balls and save time without making the dough or shaping the balls yourself.

If you want to make boba completely from scratch, you'll need to find tapioca flour. Stores like Target carry tapioca starch, although you'll also likely be able to find a version in the baking aisle at your local grocery store. Tapioca starch is commonly placed near gluten-free flours, so this is always a safe place to begin the hunt. Otherwise, similar to the boba pearls, it's fairly easy to order this ingredient online.