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Boba vs Bubble Tea?

Boba or Bubble Tea

Boba vs Bubble Tea?

Boba Tea or Bubble Tea? (Boba vs 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 1980s and “bubbles” actually refer to the “bubbles” (or 泡泡) that are made by shaking tea, not the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the cup. For most people, Bubble Tea refers to the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the cup. This article will focus on that.

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 tapioca pearls is bōbà 波霸.

Are Bubble Tea and Boba Tea the same thing?

There is some disagreement over what to call the popular drink known as boba or bubble tea. Some say it depends on where you are in the world. In the USA, on the west coast, and especially in LA, everyone calls it Boba. On the East coast, many people refer to it as 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 is 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 is actually pronounced with a “short o” in Chinese like song 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 careful the next time you ask for some boba!

What is 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 every day with new shops opening all around the world.


boba or bubble tea

Boba vs Bubble Tea Conclusion

Whatever you want to call it – Bubble Tea, Boba Tea, Pearl Milk Tea, etc. is up to you!

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6 Responses

  1. I must admit that this is very politely written. Being from the West Coast, LA to be specific, it wasn’t until I arrived in Texas that I heard Boba tea being referred to as Bubble Tea. As US history has shown us, many Southern States inaccurately pronounce the written word. Some will attempt to argue, however, history books will reflect that southern states did not place an importance upon education. So in turn many words are mispronounced and misinterpreted. Boba being one of those words. Boba which specifically means little pearls as it was intended, can not mean Bubble. There are no bubbles in Boba Tea. This reference to bubbles has arisen by misinterpretation or a misunderstanding as to what the actual drink is, and its origin. To consider Bubble Tea as Boba Tea is an acceptance of the ignorance to the meaning of the word, it’s origin and the drink it’s self. Boba tea is just that, large pearls (of tapioca) as the original creation intended. Educate rather than pacify. Ntw, I’ve been enjoying Boba Tea since the early 90’s.

    1. And how do you pronounce Shanghai or Beijing or Sichuan or maybe even Yangtse because what you’ve been calling it all your life actually demonstrates your lack of education. So hop off the box ok? I wont complain about you calling it seshwahn you don’t complain about me calling it bubble. And to complain about how words change depending on regional use is to blindly misunderstand how dialects naturally form over time and by extension new languages. No, I’m not from the South. Mike here even so graciously suggested the Taiwanese refer to it as bubble tea when using English and they invented it so maybe the correct way to go about it is to call it bubble tea or bo ba nai cha but not a butchering of both.

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