When we compare bubble tea vs boba, there’s actually no difference between the two drinks. However, there are important nuances to note regarding the two beloved treats! If you’ve been wondering about this, you’re not alone.
In this article, we are going to address the difference between boba and bubble tea. We’ll also explain why the different names exist and discuss the link between boba and tapioca pearls. After thorough research, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on bubble tea vs boba so you have all the information, too.
Why is boba called bubble tea?
Boba is called bubble tea because the drink is made with ‘boba’ pearls. In the birthplace of the beloved drink, the word specifically refers to tapioca pearls and the name comes from their round shape. Interestingly, the word ‘boba’ (波霸) is slang for breasts in Taiwan.
To be clear, boba commonly refers to the drink. However, someone may refer to the drink as bubble tea and then mention boba in the same conversation. In this case, it is very likely that they mean the latter as the tapioca pearls used in the drink.
Breaking down bubble tea vs boba
So, what is boba made of? One typically makes the beverage using tea, milk, simple syrup, and tapioca pearls. However, these are the ingredients used to make the classic homemade boba tea. In reality, there are many variations to the trendy Asian drink.
A cafe may prepare varieties of the drink with or without tea included. For example, shops may prepare a trendy menu item such as strawberry boba using just milk, fresh fruit and pearls. However, many stores today allow their customers to customise their drinks to their liking.
In most shops, many patrons are also free to choose what toppings they want to add to their drink. So, customers do not necessarily need to add tapioca pearls to their drink for it to be called bubble tea vs boba! For example, popular toppings include crystal jelly, fresh fruits, grass jelly and more.
The discussion doesn’t end with bubble tea vs boba. In Asia, people may refer to the drink by many other names. Some of its other labels include:
- Milk tea
- Pearl milk tea
- Black pearl tea
- Boba nai cha
- Tapioca (タピオカ in Japanese)
Countries like China, Taiwan, and other places in Southeast Asia refer to it by these different names. However, in Japan, people refer to both the drink as well as the pearls as "タピオカ" which directly translates to "Tapioca".
Across the world, bubble tea is the more popular name for the drink. However, when it comes to bubble tea vs boba in the United States, in general, the latter term is used more commonly to refer to the drink.
East vs West
When looking at a boba vs bubble tea map, there’s even a difference in names between the East and West coasts of the United States. On the East Coast, people more often call the beverage "bubble tea". Meanwhile, on the West Coast, they call it "boba".
There isn’t an exact reason for the coastal name difference between bubble tea vs boba. Some suspect it’s because there are more Tawainese people on the West Coast than on the East Coast. The drink, as well as the term boba, originated in Taiwan, hence the popularity.
However, the coastal split in what to call the beverage is more of a generalisation. In reality, many people understand that the two names are interchangeable. So, feel free to call it what you want!
Boba vs pearl
There isn’t just a name debate on bubble tea vs boba. Tapioca balls also go by a variety of names, like boba, tapioca pearls, and pearls, to name a few. So, if you hear people call the drink pearl milk tea, know that the pearls are referring to boba.
Another confusion comes when discussing popping boba. In recent years, popping pearls have become more popular as a topping for the drink. However, confusion arises when someone refers to flavours such as mango or lychee boba.
In this case, they may be referring to either the fruit-flavoured popping pearl topping or the fruit-flavoured pearl milk tea drink. To avoid misunderstanding, it is always best to ask for clarification on what it refers to.
Bubble tea vs boba vs milk tea
Bubble tea and boba, as we’ve discussed, are the same thing, and they’re very similar to milk tea. Milk tea refers to any tea with milk, which includes bubble tea.
When making or ordering the beverage, make sure you inquire about the ingredients, though. Simply ordering milk tea does not ensure you will be ordering a drink with tapioca pearls.
When discussing bubble tea vs boba, we thought it would be important to mention the variety of trendy tapioca pearl treats in recent years. As much as the Taiwan-origin drink has grown popular, so have desserts that make use of tapioca pearls. These snacks are gradually becoming their own dessert category namely, ‘boba treats’, for example:
So, we may see the word ‘boba’ evolve into a popular term used worldwide to refer to a whole new series of desserts. Whatever it is, it is an exciting trend that we pearl tea enthusiasts look forward to!
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