Chances are, you’ve heard of bubble tea – unless you’ve been living in a bubble (pardon the pun). It’s everywhere in Canada these days, a testament to the beverage’s broad appeal among kids, teens and adults alike. What you might not know, however, is that the popular drink comes in several types and flavours.
Staring at the menu at a bubble tea store can be exciting and intimidating in equal measure. “What’s grass jelly?!” “How do I choose between milk tea and green tea?” “How on earth do they put taro inside a drink?”
The tearistas at spots like Chatime Canada are more than happy to guide you through the selection process. Still, this article aims to give you a head start on crafting your perfect boba by exploring a few popular flavours and ingredients.
This is where it all started: the flavour that launched a thousand bubble teas. While milk tea is popular across East and Southeast Asia – Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, etc. – the kind you find in bubble tea is the Taiwanese variety. It’s a comforting mixture of slightly smoky and earthy black tea mixed with creamy dairy and a hint of sweetness.
Fruit Teas and Green Teas
Milk tea isn’t the only base for bubble tea. On a hot summer day, many-a boba fanatic will swap their dairy-forward milk tea for a refreshing fruit tea. These teas and tisanes are hard to define (recipes change from place to place). But, in general, they consist of a tea base fortified with fruit juices or concentrates, served chilled for maximum refreshment.
Meanwhile, green tea has proved to be a perfect accompaniment for bubble tea. The floral notes of a quality jasmine tea and the nuttiness of a Japanese Matcha stack up well to a bit of sweetness and a heaping helping of bubble tea toppings.
Tapioca Pearls and Brown Sugar Boba
When bubble tea was invented in Taiwan in the mid-80s, it was a one-two punch of Taiwanese milk tea and tapioca pearls. Made from cassava root, these toothsome, jelly-like balls are a crucial part of classic bubble tea’s appeal – they’re just fun to eat!
If you like tapioca pearls but want some extra oomph from rich, dark brown sugar (who doesn’t), you’re going to like brown sugar boba. Unlike other entries on this list, this is actually a composed beverage, consisting (usually) of tapioca pearls, milk and brown sugar syrup. But like everything else bubble tea, it’s highly customizable.
Grass Jelly, Coconut Jelly and Pudding
As the years went on, bubble tea started expanding – both geographically and in terms of definition. Innovative brands like Chatime (mentioned above) deserve much of the credit for roping in new ingredients and flavours, jellies included. Grass jelly is a slippery concoction that hails from China, typically made from mesona, a relative of mint. Coconut jelly, meanwhile, is the flavour we all know and love – no introduction needed!
Recently, pudding has also risen in popularity. A dollop of sweet egg pudding proves to be the ideal companion for a comforting milk tea boba.
Taro is a staple root vegetable in several parts of the world – kind of like a sweet potato with nutty notes reminiscent of rice pudding. It fits perfectly in the pantheon of bubble tea flavours. Try ground taro in a classic milk tea, or get your tearista to blitz it into a smoothie topped with boba pearls.
Of course, the entries above are just a slice of what you might find on a bubble tea menu. Hopefully, delving into these popular ingredients helps you create your own, perfectly unique spin on the drink.