Learn what those chewy little pieces are in your bubble tea.
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Created in Taiwan in the 1980s, with much dispute over what exact region and shop originated it, bubble tea establishments began popping up in the United States by the '90s. Today, it's hard to visit any major city without seeing one of these trendy drink cafes, many of which serve snacks and treats alongside their specialty beverages. But what exactly is boba, the chewy little spheres at the bottom of your drink? You're about to find out:

What is Boba Made From?

Boba (Coconut Milk Black Tea with Tapioca Pearls)
Credit: Buckwheat Queen

Boba is made from tapioca starch, also known as cassava starch, which is why they're often also labeled as "tapioca pearls." They're small spheres that are often simmered in a brown sugar syrup to give them a sweet taste and dark black color. Boba is practically tasteless, making it easy to pair with a variety of drinks. There are also popping boba varieties, which are often colorful and filled with fruit-flavored syrups like strawberry or lychee.

How is Boba Used?

Hand holding a cup of iced cold bubble tea with milk and tapioca pearls
Credit: TaPhotograph / Getty Images

Boba's most popular use is in bubble tea, which is also called pearl tea, tapioca tea, or (confusingly enough) boba. The term "boba" is used interchangeably to refer to the tapioca pearls at the bottom of the drink and to the drink itself. Traditional bubble tea is often made by layering the prepared boba, then pouring in black or green tea that has been made creamy with milk, sweetened condensed milk, or some type of cream. You can also often get other drinks — like smoothies, slushies, or even coffees — with boba included at some bubble tea shops.

Where Can You Buy Boba?

Simple Bubble Tea in a clear glass
Credit: Kiki

To get prepared boba, look for a Taiwanese bubble tea shop near you. Many Asian markets also carry bottled bubble tea, which is found in the refrigerated section. Boba can also easily be made at home, all you need to do is buy some tapioca pearls and follow a recipe like this Homemade Brown Sugar Bubble Tea. Once you've made your own boba, you can mix and match these chewy pearls with your favorite drinks. Just don't forget the extra large straws!

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