How to order Boba Tea
Another key to boba tea’s popularity lies in the choose-your-own-adventure vibe the drink offers. With all the variations available on tea shop menus, from different tea bases and flavor syrups to milks and add-in ingredients, there are literally endless ways to customize your cup. For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on the choices you may have to wade through before you order.
Every cup of boba begins with a scoop of some chewy delight:
- Tapioca pearls: Unmistakably chewy with a hard to describe texture all their own — in Chinese the springy consistency is known as QQ — tapioca balls are a true delight. Boba tea will typically be served with a straw wide enough to let you sip the pearls along with the tea and chew the pearls to your heart’s content.
- Popping pearls/popping boba: Similar in shape to tapioca pearls, “popping” boba are spherical flavored juice contained within a delightfully squishy shell that pops in your mouth when you bite down on them. If you’ve ever watched a chef experiment with molecular gastronomy on the Food Network, the idea is the same here. It’s science! Delicious science.
- Flavored jellies: Many tea shops give you the option of swapping boba pearls for softer flavored jellies. Made with coconut meat (which gives a texture slightly thicker than the gelatin used in jell-o desserts) these jellies come in a wide range of flavors, like coffee, green apple, mango, lychee, or rainbow. You’ll even see some jellies in shapes like hearts, stars, or dolphins!
- Red bean: Made from sweetened adzuki beans, this sweet, earthy topping is typically added in addition to tapioca pearls or blended into the milk base for a textural treat.
- Egg pudding/custard: Sweet and lusciously creamy, several shops offer egg custard as a textural add-in instead of (or in addition to) boba pearls. You may also see other pudding flavors, like mango.
Then comes the tea! Many boba shops offer different tea bases (think black, green, Thai, jasmine, oolong, and chai) as well as a whole host of flavors. Some popular flavors include coconut, avocado, taro, jackfruit, mango, kiwi, honeydew, strawberry, guava, passion fruit.
You’re not done with choices quite yet, because you’ll also need to choose between milk and fruit tea, level of sweetness, and at many tea shops, temperature! Classic boba tea is cold (served with lots of ice), but you can also find hot and blended varieties. (And though it’s often referred to as milk tea, many tea shops actually use non-dairy cream options, like soy or oat milk.)