Boba vs Bubble Tea

Is it called Boba Tea or Bubble Tea? 

That can be a hard question to answer and while both are widely used today, calling it Boba Tea is technically more accurate than Bubble Tea because boba comes from the Chinese word bōbà 波霸.

To understand why people call it Bubble Tea 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 “bubbles” actually refers to the “bubbles” (or 泡泡) that are made by shaking tea, not the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the cup.  However, for most people, Bubble Tea refers to the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the cup so 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 mistakenly call this bubble tea.  But remember, bubble tea actually means the “bubbles” (or 泡泡) that are formed from shaking 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.


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


Whatever you want to call it – Bubble Tea, Boba Tea, Pearl Milk Tea, etc. is up to you!  If you’re interested in learning more about bubble tea or learning how to open your own bubble tea shop, sign up for our free e-book below!

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