The Real Difference Between Good and Bad Boba Tea


mimilanyp / kitschydee/ cindy_kim0516

Whenever your taste buds crave for something sweet, soft and chewy that’s equally refreshing and relaxing, you already know what will satisfy you for less than $5 at most stores: the mighty boba tea.

Hailing from Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980’s, boba tea, also known as bubble tea, has become a staple beverage snack in many parts of the world. It’s a convenient mix of tea and milk or fruit, to which tapioca balls or “pearls” are added.

But with so many variations available today, what exactly makes a perfect boba tea?

anothervancityfoodie / Instagram
anothervancityfoodie / Instagram

The simple answer is that the criteria also vary. Because our preferences differ, it’s safe to say no recipe would always get a 10/10 rating. On top of taste and consistency, many people also care about presentation, among other things about the drink.

If not perfect, then we could at least look for what makes a good boba tea. People still have their own preferences, but there’s more consensus over here.

you.me.happy / Instagram
you.me.happy / Instagram

User arpark, who claims having worked at a place that serves boba tea, says two things are important to consider (via The Kitchn):

“There are some secrets. Fresh is one of them. Cook them in a rice cooker! Two times water to pearls, and they will get gooey and wonderful. Store at room temperature.

“If you are making the blended bobas, use dry coffee creamer. I promise it works! You can buy taro power at an Asian store for taro flavor, but other powdered flavors will be difficult to find.”

foodielifeling / Instagram
foodielifeling / Instagram

Over Quora, user Kaicheng Liang says it’s about appearance and taste. To him, appearance means (1) the cup opening must be tightly sealed by a plastic wrap material, (2) there should not be too much ice, and (3) there should be plenty of boba:

“This [amount of boba] will be easily visible from the outside due to the color contrast. Some people prefer less boba, but this should be a special instruction rather than the default setting. Respectable boba tea should have at least 25-30% boba volume.”

herpersonatalie / Instagram
herpersonatalie / Instagram

For taste, Liang prefers (1) the drink to be not too sweet, (2) high-quality tea and milk, (3) natural ingredients for fruit and flavored teas, and (4) chewy, not crispy (undercooked), mushy (overcooked) or hard (raw), boba:

“Boba should be smooth and slightly soft on the outside, chewy all the way through to the center with an increasing but very slight gradient of firmness, and should withstand at least one to two chews before structurally collapsing, i.e. it should be supple yet resilient.”

In summary, Liang provides an easy checklist for the boba tea prospect:

  1. Is it properly sealed?
  2. Is there a reasonable amount (<20%) of ice? Does it taste diluted?
  3. Is there a reasonable amount (25-30%) of boba?
  4. Is it too sweet? Is it sweet of milk (not so bad) or sugar (very bad)?
  5. Can you taste the tea? Does it have a discernible and flavorful aroma?
  6. Is the boba smooth, firm, and chewy? Is it crispy in the center (bad), or mushy (worse), or hard (throw it out)?
howimetmydinner / Instagram
howimetmydinner / Instagram

Quora user Aaron Memon looks at four things: (1) sweetness, (2) boba texture, (3) warmth and (4) ratio of tea and milk. He also recommends stores in San Jose and Cupertino, California that serve the best and worst of his criteria.

bubbo.t / Instagram
bubbo.t / Instagram

For user Jessica Fujimori, it’s all about boba. She notes (via Quora):

“I’ve found that it generally comes down to the bubbles (boba) themselves, as these are the distinguishing factor from other deliciously milky sweet teas. What I look for in boba is a chewy, soft texture that takes me about as long to finish chewing as it takes for the taste of the tea to leave my mouth, giving the perfect blend of flavor and texture.”

How do you like your boba tea? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Cover Image via Instagram / @mimilanyp / @kitschydee / @cindy_kim0516

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