Is it Boba or Bubble Tea?

Is it called Boba Tea or Bubble Tea? 


That can be a hard questions to answer because hey’re both right!  To get to the heart of the matter we’ll have to learn a little bit about the History of Bubble Tea.   Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan in the 1980’s and actually refers to the “bubbles” that are made by shaking tea, not the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the cup.  However, since most people are referring to the tapioca on the bottom of the cup, that’s what we’ll focus on in this article.

The balls in the bottom of the cup are made out of tapioca pearls and look like bubbles so many people will call this bubble tea.  In places of the country with more Taiwanese or Chinese immigrants, it is usually called Boba Tea.  This is because the Chinese word for the tapioca pearls is bōbà 波霸.

So while it can be confusing if it’s called Boba or Bubble Tea, actually both are correct!


Are Bubble Tea and Boba Tea the same thing?


Calling it Boba or Bubble Tea really depends on where you are in the world or how you get introduced to the drink. In the USA, on the west coast and especially in LA, everyone calls it Boba. On the East coast many people refer to it Bubble Tea. In Taiwan they also call it Bubble Tea in English and波霸奶茶(bōbà nǎichá) or 珍珠奶茶(zhēnzhū nǎichá) in Chinese.

So it is really up to personal preference and depends a lot on your region. The pronunciation is also different in different places. The correct way to say Boba in Chinese is bōbà like (bo ba) but most people call it boba(bo buh) in America. This is a minor mispronunciation and very common when translating Chinese into English. Another example is Shanghai which is usually pronounced with a “long a” sound in the US, but Shanghai but it is actually pronounced with a “short o” in Chinese like shong hai. The “o” is like the “o” in octopus.

Another interesting fact is that bōbà is a slang word for boobs in Chinese, so better be care the next time you ask for some boba!


Why is it called Pearl Milk Tea?


Pearl Milk Tea is another name for boba or bubble tea.  This name comes from another translation directly from Chinese which is 珍珠奶茶 (zhēnzhū nǎichá).  珍珠 (zhēnzhū) is another name for the tapioca pearls and is literally translated as “pearl”.  奶茶 (nǎichá) is translated as milk tea so when you put them together you have Pearl Milk Tea 珍珠奶茶 (zhēnzhū nǎichá).

So bubble tea, boba tea and pearl milk tea all mean the same thing.  Not only that but bubble tea is becoming more everyday with new shops opening all around the world.


boba or bubble tea


What exactly is bubble tea anyways?

Is Bubble Tea Safe? In May 2012 Taiwan’s food and beverage industry was hit by a devastating food scandal.  Some drink producers were trying to save a few bucks by adding a carcinogenic chemical known as plasticizer or DEHP.  This chemical is traditionally used to make plastic but some shady drink manufacturers realized that it could be used as a drink stabilizer and started putting it into many bottled drinks and syrups.  Some of these drinks and syrups were exported to the US and Europe and were promptly banned when word of the scandal got out.  Now the Taiwanese FDA has new stringent guidelines and testing procedures making it harder for illicit manufacturers to get away with such practices.  “Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration confirmed in September that in a second round of tests conducted by German authorities, Taiwanese bubble tea was found to be free of cancer-causing chemicals.”

is bubble tea safe

Skip ahead only two years and the bubble tea community is rocked again by “Boba-Gate”.  This time, maelic acid was the culprit and it was directly affecting the delicious pearls that make bubble tea.  Again, an unscrupulous manufacturer tried to cut corners and save a few dollars by mixing this with boba.“Maleic acid is a dicarboxylic acid. It is mainly used as a detergent in surface cleaning! It’s applications include being used as sizing agents for the textile industry, photographical chemicals for quick-photo processing, making maleate salts in the pharmaceutical industry, dying auxiliary, and as an oil and fat preservative. It is also used for manufacturing polyester resins, pesticides, tartaric acid, and succinic acid!”This industrial cleaner should obviously not be anywhere near food and it is absolutely despicable that anyone would ever try to profit by slowly poisoning massive groups of people.  Unfortunately this is a problem no matter where you are in the world.  From unsafe lead levels in toys from China, GMOs, bleached McDonalds hamburger meat all the way to whatever they put in hot dogs. Your food, clothes, toys etc are only as safe as the agencies that regulate them are.  So if you’re worried about what’s in your boba make sure that you ask to see some proof of testing.  Here is an example of a major chain providing a certificate of testing by the SGS in Taiwan. 

bubble tea safety

Fortunately, once the dust has settled and all the ingredients have been rigorously tested, Boba is probably the safest that it’s ever been.  Big chains are unwilling to take the risk of another controversy and now demand regular and proper testing on all supplies. 

Bubble Tea Nutritional Information:


bubble tea nutritional info 3

I’ve had lots of people asking the same question, “What is boba, exactly?”.  They are basically just little balls of starch or carbohydrates.  Check out the nutritional information for uncooked boba below.  Basically, a serving of boba will have 110 calories and 27g of carbs.  No fat, no protein and a negligible amount of sodium.  This makes it a pretty harmless indulgence and shouldn’t be a problem for someone who gets their boba “fix” a few times a week.Nutrition facts:1/3 cup (50g) Servings: 5 Cals 110 Fat 0g Cholesterol 0g Sodium 60mg 3% Total carb 27g 9% Dietary fiber 1g 3% Sugars 0g Protein 0gIngredients(in the exact order that they appear): tapioca starch acetylated starch caramel sodium carboxy methylcellulose(CMC) guar gum water dehydroactic acid(DHA) sodium hydrogen(SDA) 
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