Bubble tea goes by many names, including “Boba Tea” and “Pearl Milk Tea”, but whatever the name, the end product is usually the same. It is a Taiwanese tea that was invented as recently as the 1980s and has since swept across the world, with boba tea locations now in the UK, US and everywhere else good tea is served.
But just what is this tea, what’s it made from and how can you make your own bubble tea at home?
What are the Bubbles in Bubble Tea?
The “bubbles”are actually balls of tapioca starch and, occasionally, fruit juice. This is the combination that creates the look, the texture and the sweetness that boba tea lovers crave, but the simplicity of it means it’s fairly easy to make boba tea in your own home, as discussed a little further down.
What is in Bubble Tea?
The starch balls are what makes bubble tea and what distinguishes it from other teas, but the drink in which the balls sit are also pretty unique. It’s usually made from a sweet and milky black tea base, but can also be made from green tea. It’s not unlike a cold, sweet chai tea, albeit without the spiciness often added to such drinks.
Some boba tea producers will add ice to the drink and then blend everything together before dropping the starch balls in. This gives the tea a slushy texture, while still maintaining the integrity of the balls. It can also be served hot and the very first bubble teas ever made were actually served hot, but these days it tends to be made cold and served in plastic takeout cups.
Syrups, fruit concentrates, honey and condensed milk are also added to the tea to give it an extra fruity, sweet, milky kick. If you don’t like your tea sweet and creamy then this is probably not for you. In fact, any tea drinkers that balk at the idea of drinking black tea with milk or sugar will likely see bubble tea as an affront.
But you can’t please everyone! And if you’re that way inclined you can always just buy yourself some other Eastern teas, such as Pu-erh.
What is Vivi Bubble Tea?
Vivi Bubble Tea is a chain of tea shops that introduced this Taiwanese tea to the United States and has steadily spread across the country ever since. Their very first US location was in New York and they can now be found in over 20 locations as of 2018, most of which are in the New England area.
How to Make Bubble Tea
You can buy bubble tea gift sets that allow you to make your own tea and contain everything you need to do so. But as is usually the case with these “make your own” kits, you pay a premium for convenience and it’s simply not worth it. It’s not needed either, as it’s very easy to create your own bubble tea at home.
The tea itself is the easiest part as it’s just a milky iced tea that you can also drink warm or hot if you prefer. Just brew-up a batch of black or green tea (we recommend a second flush Darjeeling and if you want to avoid caffeine, a nice Honeybush tea), add sugar/honey and milk and you’re good to go. You can also add a little condensed milk or cream to make it extra thick and creamy.
The bubbles are just tapioca starch, as mentioned above. You can find bags of sweetened tapioca starch balls in grocery stores. They cost a few dollars and you have enough to last you for a dozen cups. You can make these balls yourself, but it’s time consuming and laborious, so it’s much easier—and still very cost-effective—to just buy the tapioca pearls separately. Thanks to the popularity of boba tea there is no shortage of these in grocery stores and online retailers.
Calories in Bubble Tea
Bubble tea is loaded with calories and is not going to do your diet any favours. It’s loaded with simple sugars, both from the super-sweet tea and from the starch balls. It’s far from healthy and it gets worse if you add condensed milk or cream.
The actual calorie content of your boba tea will depend on a number of factors and is hard to pin down. There are so many varieties out there, so much that you can add or take away from each one and then you have the different sizes. It’s like asking Starbucks how many calories are in a cup of coffee.
On average, you’re looking at around 150 calories for a plain, medium boba tea without milk, cream and without an excessive amount of sugar. Considering it’s a basic option that’s still a lot of calories, but if you add the extras and get a flavoured large bubble tea then you could be consuming as much as 350 calories, most of which is sugar.
Tea is healthy. We have discussed that many times on this site. But it stops being so healthy when you add an excessive amount of sugar, starch and fat. You will still get the antioxidants from the tea, but don’t fool yourself into thinking this is in anyway healthy.
Flavours of Bubble Tea
There are many flavours of boba tea and if you drop by a local chain then you’ll be given dozens to choose from, with more seemingly added every week. These include some basic green and black tea options, as well as ones sweetened with all kinds of fruit concentrates and ones that use a base of decaf tea, white tea, jasmine tea and more.
So it’s time to get out there, find your nearest bubble tea location and start experimenting. It’s a fairly affordable drink and it makes for a great sweet treat. And a treat it definitely is, because this is a far cry from healthy drinks like plain tea, smoothies and even fruit juices, which haven’t been getting the best rep lately.
Try swapping a creamy hot chocolate with a boba tea every now and then but don’t go overboard.