Most of us are familiar with the sight of cups of brightly colored tea, filled with shiny black tapioca pearls or bits of jelly fruit, and featuring an unusually thick straw.
Bubble tea is a tea-based drink that was developed in Taiwan in the early 1980s. It then began to spread across the world like wildfire.
Traditionally a hot Taiwanese black tea with condensed milk, syrup, and tapioca pearls, bubble tea is now usually sold as an iced drink.
In addition to the standard milky varieties, bubble tea now comes in a wide variety of water-based fruity flavors.
Alongside typical tapioca pearls, bubble tea now commonly also contains fruit jellies, or other kinds of starch boba, including ones made with taro root or sweet potato.
Some bubble tea cafes now offer creative versions of the drink. There are blended tea drinks, which are similar to milkshakes and feature tea and milk mixed with ice cream and topped with boba.
There are also smoothies that feature tea blended into frozen fruit. Some places even offer a topping of cream cheese foam!
Unsure where to begin? Here is a list of the 12 flavors most beloved by bubble tea enthusiasts. Start your bubble tea journey with a classic black, milky tea with tapioca pearls, or throw yourself straight into the deep end with something more extravagant.
The 12 most popular bubble tea flavors
- Black tea
- Iced Thai tea
Ah, nothing beats classic milky tea. The OG bubble tea has a base of delicately brewed black tea, which is shaken up with milk and ice.
Black bubble teas usually feature tapioca pearls or boba, which are made from cassava root.
Tapioca boba are about ¼-inch in diameter, whereas tapioca pearls are smaller and measure about 1/12th-inch in diameter.
To make the boba, tapioca starch is extracted from cassava, formed into balls, and then boiled. After this, the boiled starch balls are steeped in rich brown sugar for hours at a time. This gives them their shiny black color.
The texture of the boba and pearls is considered extremely important.
The same untranslatable Taiwanese word, “Q” or “QQ”, that is used to describe the consistency of good mochi and noodles, is also used to describe good boba.
2 Matcha tea
Another Asian tea trend that has skyrocketed in popularity internationally in recent years, is Matcha. Matcha is a Japanese powdered green tea taken from the Camellia sinesis plant.
Every Starbucks now has a matcha latte. Matcha-flavored desserts, smoothies, and juices feature heavily in many health food cafes and coffee shops.
Unlike standard green tea, which is made by drying tea leaves, matcha powder is made by removing the stems and veins from the plant’s leaves and grinding them up into a dust-like powder.
Matcha contains more antioxidants than green tea, and preliminary studies have found that consuming matcha may help prevent liver disease and promote heart health.
Most excitingly for the bubble tea enthusiast, matcha makes a mean bubble tea.
To make the tea, the power is whisked together with a small amount of milk using a bamboo matcha whisk, also known as a chasen.
This mixture is then shaken up with more milk, syrup or sugar, ice, and tapioca boba.
As with all milky bubble teas, matcha tea can be made using any number of milks or milk alternatives.
Aside from full fat, skim, or condensed dairy milk, it is now frequently also made using non-dairy drinks, such as oat, coconut, soy, or rice milk.
3. Thai iced tea
Thai iced tea is a favorite among tea enthusiasts. Thai tea is widely drunk in Southeast Asia, and even outside of Asia, this tea’s distinctive orange color is widely familiar.
Thai tea is traditionally brewed from a mixture of Ceylon and Bai Miang tea. This black tea mixture is then combined with orange blossom water, crushed tamarind, and star anise.
Thai tea is usually sweetened with sugar and condensed milk, after which it is mixed with either whole milk or evaporated milk, which is unsweetened condensed milk.
If served cold, the Thai tea is shaken with crushed ice.
When made into a bubble tea, this traditional tea flavor is commonly paired with small black tapioca pearls.
Different tea vendors and cafes will of course have different methods for transforming Thai iced tea into bubble tea.
If a bubble tea cafe offers non-dairy milk alternatives, they may make up for the missing sweetness caused by the lack of condensed milk by using other sweet ingredients.
A chai latte is now almost as common a menu item in the United States as a cappuccino. The sharp, cinnamon-y smell of this mixed spice tea is familiar to everyone from tea connoisseurs to tea novices.
“Chai” means “tea” in Hindi, and the chai lattes now commonly drunk outside of Asia are inspired by the kind of tea typically served in India.
An Indian chai is made of a strongly brewed Assam or Darjeeling tea steeped in cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and black pepper. It is often sweetened with sugar or honey.
The tea, spices and sweeteners are left to simmer in milk for hours.
This chai is then served by the cup by street vendors or poured out to be enjoyed by household guests.
Generally speaking, chai bubble tea has much more in common with your average American chai latte than with traditional ayurvedic Indian chai.
However, this unmistakably spicy, milky black tea pairs deliciously with tapioca boba.
Yuenyueng bubble tea is unlike any other kind of tea!
For anyone who likes the idea of bubble tea, but really considers themselves to be more of a coffee person, yuenyueng might just be the drink for you.
Yuenyueng originated in Hong Kong. It is made from three parts coffee and seven parts milk tea.
The name means mandarin ducks and is a reference to the fact that male and female ducks, despite looking so different, usually walk around in pairs.
Just like coffee and tea in a yuenyueng drink, their dramatic differences do not stop them from being a beautiful pair.
Yuenyueng bubble tea is usually served warm with tapioca pearls. That said, it can of course also be served shaken and iced.
Taking the idea of mixing coffee into your bubble tea one step further (and in fact, removing the tea altogether), another popular drink served with tapioca boba, is iced mocha.
A mocha is a deliciously decadent mixture of cacao, milk, and espresso.
Typically served warm as a “mocha latte,” this delicious blend of rich, sweet chocolate and strong coffee is enough to wake anyone up.
Even though it contains no tea, the mocha has somehow weaseled its way into the world of bubble tea, and onto the menu of many bubble tea cafes.
A shaken, iced mocha pairs deliciously with either the normal tapioca pearls or with taro balls, which are made from the taro plant. Taro balls are boiled and then stewed in brown sugar. They taste like heaven when mixed with chocolate!
For those looking to indulge themselves even more, bubble mochas taste great when mixed with a cream cheese topping.
Much like the frosting on a carrot cate, the cream cheese topping traditionally served with bubble tea is a gorgeous combination of sweet, salty, and savory flavors.
The cream cheese topping is made with cheese powder and added to fresh cream before being whipped into a light froth.
If cheese whip isn’t really your thing, you could always add in some ice cream, which many bubble tea cafes now serve!
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by the smell of blossoming jasmine? If so, you know how vividly fragrant its aroma is.
It comes as no wonder, therefore, that it is such a popular tea flavor. Typically paired with green tea leaves, jasmine tea is particularly widespread in China.
Jasmine is usually grown at high elevations in the mountains.
The process by which jasmine tea is flavored is a beautiful tradition. Green or white tea leaves are collected in the spring.
They are then stored in a cool place until late summer when the jasmine flowers come into bloom. The jasmine blooms are picked when their petals are closed.
This picking process usually takes place in the early hours of the morning. When the flowers open at night, they are used to scent the tea leaves by being put on top of one another in alternating layers.
This scenting process is repeated six or seven times. After being scented, the tea leaves are left to dry out again.
Jasmine green bubble tea is a delicious drink. It can either be served with milk, or else without milk and with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Either way, it pairs deliciously with black tapioca boba. If served as a water-based iced tea, it also tastes great with pieces of fresh mango.
While milky bubble teas have delightfully silky, creamy flavor to them, there is something to be said for a sweet, iced tea with no milk.
Some people prefer to have their lychee bubble tea with milk, and typically pair this with standard black tapioca pearls.
However, lychee tea is also served as a fruit tea with no milk, and with fresh lychee pieces instead of tapioca balls.
One of the most popular fruit teas is a lemon-flavored black tea. Served either with black tapioca balls or fresh fruit, iced lemon bubble tea is deliciously refreshing.
While fruit tea that does not have milk in it will still sometimes feature tapioca boba, there are a wide variety of other topping options that have the right “QQ” for bubble tea.
Among these options are longan, which is a dragon fruit soup that has been solidified and cut into pieces. There are also a large number of jelly options that pair well with fruit flavors. These include coconut jelly pieces, herbal grass jellies, and aloe vera jellies.
There are also “popping boba,” which are tapioca balls filled with a fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate. These usually come in a wide variety of fruit flavors.
Many bubble tea cafes also offer their customers the option of putting fresh fruit into their teas.
The most common way for a fruit tea to be made and served, is for a tea base, usually either black, green, white, or oolong, to be mixed with a fruity simple syrup.
This mixture is then combined with ice and the topping of the customer’s choice.
Some bubble tea shops however, use real fruit juice instead of syrups, to flavor their tea.
Another deliciously refreshing fresh fruit tea that makes a great bubble tea is a mango green tea.
Paired with coconut jellies or fresh lychee pieces, a shaken, iced mango tea is the perfect tropical drink to pick up on a hot summer day.
You can of course also opt for a different tea base, such as black or white tea.
The strong aftertaste of lavender tastes best when softened by sugar and milk. Lavender pairs deliciously with chewy taro or sweet potato boba.
Floral teas can either be served with milk or as sweet, water-based iced teas.
Before you decide that a floral tea doesn’t pair well with the creamy flavors of milk, however, consider giving a milky lavender bubble tea a chance.
Another delicious floral flavored tea option that can be served as a water-based iced tea or as a milky lassi-like beverage, is rose tea.
Rose tea is an aromatic, herbal beverage that is rich in antioxidants.
Served as a water-based drink with fresh lychee pieces, rose black tea is reminiscent of the famous Pakistani drink Rooh Afza, which made using a South Asian rose concentrate.
When served cold with milk, rose tea pairs well with tapioca or taro boba. You might also treat yourself by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to your milky rose bubble tea.