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What Is The Difference Between Boba And Bubble Tea?

Last Updated on April 26, 2024 by Lauren Beck

If you’re a tea enthusiast, you might have pondered over the difference between boba and bubble tea. There are two divergent opinions on this – one group considers them to be synonymous, while the other group disagrees.

So, really, what is the difference between boba and bubble tea?

Bubble Tea vs Boba – Is There A Difference?

No, there is no difference between bubble tea and boba as they generally refer to the same drink. But the names may be distinguished differently per country or region. 

Bubble tea refers to the drink with chewy pearls or balls, while boba tea can be another name for tapioca tea or the pearls in the drink. 

Bubble tea and boba are also called by other names such as bubble milk tea, pearl milk tea, tapioca milk tea, boba pearls, and pearl tea.

What is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea is a refreshing drink that originated in Taiwan in the 1980s [1]. Its terms came from a bubble tea shop for a marketing campaign. It combines crushed ice, milk, and chewy tapioca balls.

This drink refers to various teas with different ingredients. Also, the beverage can be any flavor, such as an iced tea like green, black, oolong, or even fruit-flavored teas.

What is Boba?

The term boba refers to the Chinese slang “big breasts.” [2] Boba comes from chewy tapioca balls with a slightly sweet taste. It is usually dark brown and made from tapioca starch. 

Others call it black tapioca pearls and can also be used in different recipes or other desserts such as boba pudding, boba smoothies, and even boba yogurts.

Things To Consider


Bubble tea is never without its tea base. The most common teas used are black tea, green tea, or oolong tea. These teas give the bubble tea its distinct flavor and color. 

The most popular black and green teas are matcha and jasmine tea, especially in many tea shops and cafes.


Bubble tea or boba tea can come in many flavors. The most popular flavors are fresh fruit-based or the famous taro (a root vegetable similar to a sweet potato). 

Toppings in bubble teas also add flavor to it. The most popular toppings are grass jelly, adzuki beans, panna cotta, custardy egg pudding, aloe vera, watermelon cubes, chia seeds, and popping boba. And you can add them according to your preference.


The main ingredients in bubble tea or boba tea, in its most basic form, are tea, milk, and tapioca balls. Bubble tea can be with or without dairy products such as condensed milk or cream. 

If you want a healthier bubble tea, you can choose milk alternatives such as soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk. It is beneficial for lactose intolerant or vegan bubble tea and boba lovers.


Bubble tea can be with or without sweeteners. The most common sweeteners used in bubble tea are simple syrup, honey, or sugar syrup. You can also use alternative sweeteners such as fresh fruits and agave nectar (for the health-conscious). 

If you opt for sugar, it is customizable according to your taste. You can also choose the type of sugar you want, such as cane sugar, brown sugar, or white sugar.

Cold vs Hot

Bubble tea drinks can be served cold or hot. The most popular way to enjoy bubble tea is iced, but you can also have it piping hot during winter. 

It is the customer’s discretion whether they want a cold or hot water-based bubble tea drink or a cold or hot milk-based bubble tea drink.


Boba lovers wouldn’t call the drink bubble tea without adding boba balls. It is one of bubble tea’s most essential ingredients, making it unique from other drinks. The chewy tapioca pearls are one of the ingredients that give the drink a creamy texture.

Other Names

Bubble tea or boba tea may be referred to by various names, especially in countries like Taiwan, China, and other places in Southeast Asia. They have different names pearl milk tea, boba nai cha, black pearl tea, or tapioca (in Japan).  

In the United States, the frothy milk tea is known as ‘bubble tea’ on most of the east coast, while ‘boba’ on the west coast.

What Do Bubble Tea & Boba Taste Like?

a scoop of boba pearls or tapioca pearls

Boba pearls or tapioca pearls alone are relatively tasteless. However, they can absorb the flavors of the tea. Also, they can be sweetened with brown sugar syrup when cooking or making them. 

A bubble tea’s taste depends on the tea used, the sweetness of the syrup, and the toppings added. So, if you’re making it at home, you can customize how flavorful you want it.


Are tapioca pearls the same as boba?

Boba is the same as the tapioca pearls in a general sense. They are chewy balls made from tapioca starch extracted from cassava roots. But what can set them apart is that boba pearls often come in a dark color, while tapioca balls are clear. 

You can turn tapioca balls into boba when you add brown sugar and food color when you prepare it to make your boba milk tea drink.

Why is boba not called bubble tea?

Boba is not called bubble tea on most of the west coast in the US. The reason is because of the many Taiwanese people residing there, who call the drink “boba.” 

Final Thoughts

Boba and bubble tea are two different names that refer to the same drink. The beverage is a refreshing and flavorful drink that people of all ages can enjoy. It is made with tea, milk, and tapioca balls and can be served cold or hot. 

You can customize the drink’s flavor to suit your taste, making it a great drink to enjoy. So, f you are craving this drink, you can go to tea shops that serve bubble tea or boba tea. Thus, you can also make your own at home.


Lauren Beck

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