Boba Tea & Bubble Tea...
What's The Difference?
How are boba tea and bubble tea different? This is a tricky question because, well, they aren't! Bubble tea, a popular beverage that originated in Taiwan, is known by many names. Bubble tea can be called ‘pearl milk tea,’ 'boba tea,' ‘tapioca tea,’ or simply 'boba.' The name most popularly used for this drink will vary in different regions. The good news is that no matter what you call it (tapioca tea vs boba vs bubble tea... etc) you will still get the same basic drink!
Bubble Tea 101
Bubble tea/boba tea is typically a rich milk tea that contains chewy balls of tapioca (called ‘boba’ or ‘pearls’), which provides a fun and unique texture to the drink. That said, there are so many different variations of the beverage that every new bubble tea shop could be an entirely new experience! Much like the 'boba vs bubble tea' name variations, there are many different ways to make the same drink. The number of ingredients that can be changed to make a unique boba tea leads to endless possibilities!
Bubble tea can be made using any kind of tea! Black, green, and oolongs are all very popular choices, either as straight teas or more flavorful blends. Many also make the drink using caffeine-free alternatives, such as herbal teas (like Healing Honeysuckle) or fruit tisanes (like Strawberry Shindig). Each choice gives your boba’s tea base an entirely different flavor, before you even add the milk!
The milk tea base of a bubble tea can also vary wildly. Some prefer to use a creamer (half & half or even heavy whipping cream), while others prefer milk, skim milk, or 2%. Some even make their milk teas using condensed or powdered milk! Each of these provides a different flavor and texture to the tea.
While most people enjoy this popular beverage as a milk tea, you can also make it dairy-free! You could try your boba with no cream at all or swap out the milk for a dairy-free alternative. We love it best with almond milk, but give it a try with coconut, oat, or soy milk as a fun experiment!
Tapioca and More
Now that you’ve picked out the two basic parts of the milk tea, the only thing that’s left is to add tapioca pearls and enjoy, right? Well, even that depends! While traditional boba is made with chewy tapioca balls, there are alternatives that you may run into at different boba tea shops. Some pearls are made with green tea while others use seaweed extract. At some places, you can get ‘popping boba,’ which have a thin gelatin-like shell around a fruit juice or syrup so that they ‘pop’ in your mouth. This type of boba is very popular as a topping for frozen yogurt or ice cream, but is very different from the traditional tapioca pearls.
Even after the pearls have settled into your milk tea, you can add other ingredients to make your drink unique! You can add sweet jelly, ice cream, fresh fruit, whipped cream, sweeteners, juice, or flavored syrup. Find the perfect combination of ingredients for your boba tea or try making something unique every time! The differences make every new bubble tea just as fun (and delicious) as the last.
The History of Bubble Tea
'Boba vs Bubble Tea' Origins
Boba tea started to become popular in Taiwan in the late ‘80s. At this time, milk tea was already a popular beverage! And two of the most popular desserts were tapioca pearls and shaved ice. Then a food stall vendor had a great idea: combine the three! They started selling tapioca pearls topped with shaved ice and milk tea. This was the perfect drink for a hot summer treat. After that, boba tea began to grow in popularity at Taiwanese night markets and more and more varieties became available. Fruit bobas, milk teas with jelly toppings, and more!
Bubble tea spread to the United States in the 90’s, where it had a brief surge in popularity. The drink stuck around in a few places under a few different names (most commonly called 'bubble tea' on the east coast, but 'boba' on the west) but it didn’t have much of a following. Then, in the early 2010’s, more places started to offer boba made with high-quality ingredients and a comfortable, coffee-shop atmosphere in which to sip. A wave of new boba lovers found these gems and started giving the drink popularity in the U.S. once again. Now it’s one of the most popular beverages around!
Our Favorite Boba Tea
We at Piper & Leaf prefer to stick to the classic components of a boba drink: tea, cream, and tapioca pearls. But that certainly doesn’t make our bubble tea boring! We use the traditional tapioca balls to enhance the deliciousness of the other ingredients. For the cream, we prefer to use half & half, but sometimes we mix it up by using almond milk or oat milk. As for the tea… that’s where we get creative!
Any of our blends makes for an amazing bubble tea! Choose from 15 different blends (plus our rotating seasonals) to find the taste that matches you best. Our favorites for bubble tea are Capri Cream (milk oolong with apples, persimmons, and citrus) and Strawberry Shindig (caffeine-free! Strawberries, apples, and hibiscus). Once you’ve chosen, it’s time to do what Piper & Leaf does best: brew Concentrated Tea!
Concentrated Tea is our favorite method of brewing because it’s easy, versatile, and lasts a long time! Once you’ve brewed a tea into concentrate, you can mix just 1 ounce of the concentrate with 7 ounces of water to have a ready-to-drink tea. It’s that easy!
You can mix with warm water for a hot tea, cold water for an iced tea, or other ingredients to make a special-tea drink (like bubble tea). So we recommend you always have a batch of this goodness in your fridge to easily satisfy any tea cravings.
Once you have your concentrated tea, all you have to do is mix a little bit with your milk, sugar (if desired) and tapioca pearls to have a delicious boba tea. If you have more than one blend brewed into concentrate, you can get creative by mixing the two together and making your drink a wonderful combination of flavors!
Making Boba Tea
The Piper & Leaf Way!
After you're finished preparing your Concentrated Tea, it's time to get your boba pearls ready! This is the most important part of bubble tea, since the texture of the tapioca pearls can make or break a cup of amazing milk tea. Here's our recommended method for cooking the boba part of your boba tea!
Please note that these instructions were created for the type of boba we sell! If you are using another brand of tapioca pearls, you may need to adjust the instructions to get the best results.
Preparing Boba Pearls
- Put 2 Cups of water in a small saucepan* on high heat
- Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add ¼ Cup of Boba Pearls
- Stir until all the Pearls are floating, then cover the pot with a lid
- Set a timer for 5 minutes and let the Boba Pearls boil (there is no need to stir!)
- When the timer ends, turn the heat to low (without removing the lid)
- Set another 5 minute timer and allow the Pearls to simmer
- When the timer ends, pour the Boba Pearls into a colander to strain out the water
8. Rinse the Boba Pearls in the colander with lukewarm water until they are no longer steaming hot (the Pearls should be a little warmer than room temperature)
9. Pour the Boba out of the colander into a bowl and coat the Pearls in Simple Syrup
10. Your Boba Pearls are ready for drink mixing! It is recommended to use your Boba within a couple of hours, as the Pearls will harden over time
*note that if you are using a wider pot/pan, you may need to add more water to ensure it is deep enough for the boba pearls to properly cook. Think of it like making pasta!
Mixing a Bubble Tea
In a Pint Jar (16oz)
- Add ¼ Cup (2oz) of prepared Boba Pearls to the bottom of your pint jar
- Pour in 1.5oz of Concentrated Tea
- Add 1oz of Simple Syrup (for full sweet)
- Mix in 2oz of Half & Half Creamer and 3oz of water*
- Add enough ice to fill up your jar
- Stir, shake, or swirl until it is all mixed together
- Grab your Boba Straw and enjoy!
*Instead you can try 5oz of regular milk, almond milk, or any other milk substitute! Make the boba tea Your Way!