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What exactly is Bubble Tea?

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

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  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.

              2. I think for many people, like myself, bubble tea was a fad whose novelty quickly wore off. As a tea lover, I was forced to admit the "tea" in bubble tea was usually bad, elusive, or absent altogether. Admittedly, the places where I got my bubble tea were undoubtedly using mixes. In my neck of the woods, Vietnamese restaurants were early adopters of the bubble tea trend, so I was pleased to see a bubble version of Vietnamese iced coffee (cafe sua da). After trying it, however, I decided I liked the pure, rich experience of cafe sua da unadorned by boba (and the occasional annoyance of having one's straw clogged by them).

                The whole food-in-your-drink concept is an interesting one. There was a bottled beverage that came out a few years ago that featured little candy bits suspended in it. I think it may have been called "Orbitz," not to be confused with the gum. It disappeared off the shelves before I ever tried it. Some old-time Southerners still drink bottles of Coke or Pepsi with a bag of salted peanuts poured down the neck. Anyone else think of any examples?

                2 Replies
                1. re: Low Country Jon

                  What a keen observation with respect to the food-in-the-drink concept, which I didn't really consider previously. I'm not familiar with the Coke/Pepsi + peanuts phenomenon, but I am too familiar with the coffee drink craze, which essentially combines coffee with chocolate, whipped cream, caramel, and loads of other junk and empty calories. Basically, these "coffee" drinks contain more sugar and other fillers and little coffee. They're almost like coffee shakes (e.g., the Frappucino), only worse. The coffee drink fad positively sickens me...physically and otherwise.

                  I believe boba tea originated in Taiwan years and years ago, but someone please correct me if I am mistaken.

                  1. re: Pamela

                    It did originate in Taiwan, during the early 1980's at tea stands outside schools. Basically it was invented for children, to make their afternoon tea more fun.