Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jun 29, 2006 01:17 PM

What exactly is Bubble Tea?

I have heard it mentioned several times here.. What's so special about it?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. In my opinion, there's nothing very "special" about it.

    It's cold/iced tea, sometimes flavored and always very sweet, with tapioca balls mixed in with the liquid. The tapioca balls are the "bubbles."

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kirk

      it in itself isn't really all that special, it's interesting and i would get it as a replacement to traditional north american cold beverages because i personally enjoy the bubbles and sickly sweet fruity flavour.

      but i started drinking it partially for the bubble tea houses that were cropping up in my asian-ified area of town and that it would be our alternative to the coffee shop (especially since we were underage). we'd sit in booths with bubble teas, rice bowl snack meals or other items, play cards, talk... however long we wanted. it was fantastic.

    2. Not special, but I love to drink this is the summer, as its really refreshing. A lot of people who've never had it before have a hard time eating the dark brown, slimy tapioca balls, but I think they're delicious!
      Its usually just made with water, tea, powder, and the tapioca. I find the best one to be honey dew green milk tea.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jayseeca

        I agree jayseeca, that's the best flavour. yummy.

      2. It's actually called "boba tea." Americans call it "bubble tea." As jayseeca indicated, most of the joints that make boba/bubble tea use powder, which is so unfortunate. The good joints, which are very hard to find, do NOT use power; they use fresh ingredients (e.g., fresh fruit, etc.).

        In Southern California, there is a joint called Boba Loca, which, in my opinion, makes the absolute worst boba teas ever. Their teas taste too powdery/chemically, and the tapioca balls are often frozen or hard. Invariably, I always end up with a stomach ache after drinking one of their "teas." Avoid this chain if possible.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Pamela

          Now that the Boba Bar in Studio City and Boba Nei Nei Cup in Sherman Oaks have closed, you're absolutely right, Boba Loca is the worst boba in the area.

          It's also called "QQ tea" because "boba" is... not polite in Taiwanese.

        2. well, i know it's not bubble tea any more if you don't have the tapioca in it. There are lots of places that offer fruit flavoured jelly as an alternative for the tapioca so i guess it's the alternative for those that don't like the tapioca. The real fruit bubble tea is fabulous and hard to find but it still exists.

          5 Replies
          1. re: littlestone

            If I'm not mistaken, "bubble tea" is named thusly due to shaking in the tea and bubbles form... it's a common misconception that "bubbles" are the tapioca, which is not actually the case. (though in the name, "pearl milk tea," pearls do indicate the tapioca)

            1. re: jlunar

              In Chinese, bubble tea is indeed tea that's been shaken so there's a lot of foam on top. The Chinese words actually mean something more like "foam tea." But I've seen plenty of people call boba tea bubble tea. It's just something that happened. So if you order bubble tea in English, you might or might not get the tapioca balls. If you order "pao muo" tea in Chinese, you'll get a shaken drink with no tapioca. A "pao muo boba" tea will get you both.

              At authentic tea shops, bubble tea is delicious and comes in all kinds of flavors. Tea shops in Asia have more flavors than ice cream shops in the US. That's why it actually means something there. Here, there's usually just black, green, and a few flavored teas. Plus, they don't really shake it or use the right kind of ice to achieve a thick foam, and the tea is bland and overpoweringly sugary. So for Americans, it seems pretty stupid to order a bubble tea.

              Boba tea is the tea with big brown tapioca balls in it.

              Pearl tea has the little tiny tapioca balls in it, like tapioca pudding (very hard to find these days in restaurants, at least in the US.

              1. re: jlunar

                I think the name is actually "Ball Ba Milk Tea". "Ball Ba" refers to a large number of "balls", e.g. tapioca balls.

                1. re: PeterL

                  No, it's "boba"... it's an indelicate Taiwanese word meaning "large nipples".

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Actually, I'm pretty sure it just means "Well endowed." As in, it would only be slightly crass to say "She's pretty bo (actually sounds more like puo)," but no more crass than "Hey, check out thost ___" in English. But it would just be bizarre to say what you said.

                    Back on topic. Someone else mentioned its nickname, QQtea, which gets its name because there's a word in Taiwanese pronounced Q that indicates the elasticity, bounce, and mouthfeel that's desirable in things like noodles and starchy products. If nooodles aren't Q, they're poorly made or overcooked. Boba, of course, also needs to be Q.

            2. If you go to the right place, it's absolutely wonderful. I've ordered it from some places and it tastes like pure chemicals, but others (St. Alps Tea House in NYC comes to mind) it's just delicious. There's nothing like it on a hot day. And an added bonus is that the tapioca pearls are REALLY fun to spit out. (Just make sure no one is around) : )

              1 Reply
              1. re: Misscox

                If you make sure no one's around, who will have a tapioca spitting contest with you?!

                So many places make their milk tea too sugary and milky that I never buy it out anymore. I get the vacuum packed boba in supermarkets. They're parboiled so I only need to boil them for 5 minutes. I can control how firm or mushy I want them, and how many go in each cup of tea. But best of all, I can make the tea exactly how I like it.