Oh, bubble tea. My all-time favorite beverage. I was introduced to bubble tea (also known as boba tea) for the first time ten years ago when I was in high school. Whether you love it or hate it, no one can deny that bubble tea is a unique, textured beverage unlike any other.
Chewy tapioca bubbles swirl around in smooth, sweet tea to create some of the most unusual, yet satisfying flavors. I have been obsessed with bubble tea ever since my first sip.
When I was in college, I would visit various bubble tea shops all around campus to try different, fun, and interesting flavors like taro and honeydew!
During my trip to China in 2015, I experienced tasting authentic bubble tea. The beverage originated in Taiwan. The same way the USA has vending machines everywhere you turn, China has bubble tea stands lining the streets. That constant temptation for a sugary drink when backed by China’s harsh summer sun made the offer a difficult one to resist.
Whether you are hoping to order a fancy bubble tea or a quick, bubble tea to-go in a clear cup with a vacuum-sealed plastic cover, you can always trust that your drink will turn out just as delicious.
What Is Bubble Tea
At one point or another, I think we all have wondered what those little black balls floating in a bubble tea are. Many first-time boba-drinkers are fascinated to discover that the black things stirring around are not blueberries, but rather, tapioca balls.
That is assuming the person buying it didn’t swap out their tapioca for another topping like lychee fruit or popping boba. Both are also popular but much less typical.
Tapioca is sweet and chewy! Tapioca, especially in this form, certainly is not a staple in the diet of most Americans. Uncommon though it may be, don’t think for a minute that you can’t make perfectly delicious bubble tea from the comfort of your own home!
Not only is it possible to, I’m also going to show you how!
Boba Tea DIY
Making boba tea yourself may seem a little scary at first. After all, the tea flavors should be sweetened just right and then there is the uncooked tapioca… how on Earth is someone supposed to make that!?
What even is tapioca anyway?
(True story: A bubble tea shop that I once visited nearby my college campus had a large poster claiming their tapioca could “cure cancer and all infectious disease.” It seemed to be a funny mistranslation rather than an intentional false advertisement … I hope… Otherwise, that’d mean they had the cure for COVID all along: a sip of boba bubble tea. Who knew? I guess Eastern medicine always did seem more reliable…)
Speaking of sips, boba tea wouldn’t be boba tea without the iconic XL large straws that are just oversized enough to suck up the tapiocas one by one while you drink your sweet tea.
Making Bubble Tea at Home
A Review of the Tea Drop Deluxe Boba Kit
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In this case, the Tea Drop tea company sent me their Deluxe Boba Kit. Inside the packaging, this box contains:
- (4) Thai Tea Drops
- (4) Matcha Green Tea Drops
- (4) Rose Earl Grey Tea Drops
- (4) Chai Spice Tea Drops
- (3) Milk Sugar Only [Sweetened Condensed Milk]
- (3) Vegan Coconut Creamer [Coconut Milk]
- (1) Tapioca Boba Package [2 servings]
The steps to brew boba tea are fairly simple!
- To cook boba, bring 3 cups of water to a boil per serving.
- Add boba and stir until they float.
- Cover with a lid and let them sit for 20 minutes on low-medium heat.
- Then turn off the heat and let them sit for another 20 minutes.
- Finally, drain and rinse the boba with warm water.
Once your bubbles are ready, it’s time to prepare the sweet tea!
- Select your tea drop!
- Add the drop to a cup of hot water, wait, stir.
- Once dissolved, serve over ice.
- Allow it to chill.
- Add a milk packet. (Optional)
Then add the boba to your warm tea, grab a boba straw, and enjoy!
The beautiful thing about this kit is that it includes just about everything you need to brew the best sweet tea. There are a variety of four teas to sample and enjoy. These tea drops are all pretty delicious all on their own. Turning them into boba tea only enhances them further!
Thai Tea Drop
Thai tea is really good. It has that strong punch you expect from black tea. I don’t know what exactly is in this droplet (the box didn’t say) but from what I tasted, I picked up hints of cardamom, orange, tamarind, and vanilla.
I thought the Thai Tea would be my favorite so I sampled it first. Out of the four, it happened to be my second least favorite. I actually preferred it without any creamer.
All 4 of the tea drops have a noticeable amount of raw cane sugar built into them. They’re all quite sweet to begin with so the milk packets only add to that sweetness.
Rose Earl Gray Tea Drop
My first reaction to this one was how wonderful the floral aroma was. The box says it contains pieces of real organic rose petals.
Sipping this tea completely took me back to Poland when I sampled Polish rose-flavored jelly donuts called Pączki. The rose flavoring was so similar to those.
I thought the flower-shaped tea drops were pretty cute too.
I placed it into the cup and WOW – this one really bubbled! It was fun watching the tea drops dissolve and mix into the hot water. It happens quicker than you’d think too.
I read a lot of complaints online that the tea drops don’t fully “dissolve” in hot water, but they’re not supposed to! The directions explicitly explain that similar to matcha, it is a suspension so the tea settles over time.
Overall, the rose early grey tea drop was my second favorite!
Matcha Tea Drop
Since green teas are my favorite teas, I thought I’d be highly biased toward liking this tea drop. I was actually the most excited to try the matcha drop out of all four. A bit to my surprise, this one was probably my least favorite. It was really sweet and I’m more inclined to drink unsweetened green tea. I guess green tea bubble tea isn’t for me.
It wasn’t bad and other people might really like it if you like sweetened green tea, but I’m discovering that I really only like green tea when it has absolutely no added sugar.
Spice Chai Tea Drop
… and the winner is: THE CHAI SPICE!
The chai spice tea drop contains black assam tea with hints of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon! This drop tasted REALLY GOOD. It was easily my favorite out of the four! I really enjoyed the “spice” of the tea flavoring.
It was delicious both on its own and with a sweetener packet.
I definitely enjoyed this tea drop the most out of all four.
I tried cooking tapioca once before when I tried making bubble tea in college. The first time, I failed epically. This time, I followed the directions and did not rush the process. The end result? They came out perfectly!
I don’t drink milk anymore so I actually didn’t have a use for the sweetened condensed milk packets. I do like coconut milk though and I really enjoyed having these to add additional flavor to my bubble tea.
My sister sampled the ordinary milk ones and she said they’re tasty too!
Tea Drops: Final Thoughts
The Tea Drop concept is different from any tea I’ve tried. They are like a fusion between traditional tea leaves, matcha powder, and sugared candy.
The flavors are all very sweet so I’d definitely recommend all of them to any tea drinker who prefers sweet teas.
(If you don’t like sweet tea, you might not like them. They all contain some kind of added sugar.)
I couldn’t help but appreciate how convenient these drops would be for anyone who is constantly on the go. They’re definitely a travel-friendly tea option for commuters and travelers alike. Each tea drop is individually wrapped and you can quickly toss it into a thermos full of hot water, shake it up, and have flavorful tea ready on the go. That, or throw them into your bag for later!
Whatever the reason for it may be, if you are searching for a DIY bubble tea kit, I think the Deluxe Boba Set is a no-brainer.
Upon opening the box, one thing I did notice that caught me by surprise was that it did not already include a plastic bubble tea straw inside of it. Environmentally, I guess this is good news because you might already own one. So in that sense, I was happy to see less plastic being wasted, but I still wondered how I was supposed to drink the tapioca balls since I didn’t already own any oversized straws large enough to fit boba inside them.
Technically you don’t need a boba straw, but it definitely makes drinking bubble tea more fun! This was only a slight inconvenience more than anything. I suppose since it was sold as a “kit” I assumed it would contain absolutely everything I needed. Regardless of this small detail, bubble tea straws can be found inexpensively and this actually prompted me to finally purchase reusable straws. 🙂
You can purchase reusable bubble tea straws here. They’re great for bubble tea and any other beverage too!
Yay, less plastic waste in the long-run.
Unless you have large straws laying around your house, I recommend you order these first so you have them ready to go for whenever you would like to enjoy your refreshing, chilled, boba drink!
(Update: The Tea Drop company sells the boba straws separately.)
Ordering Bubble Tea in China
In Chinese, traditional bubble tea is called 珍珠奶茶 (Zhēnzhū nǎichá), which means pearl milk tea. You may also hear 泡泡茶 (Pào pào chá), which is a more literal translation of “bubble tea.”
Although I had it in China’s mainland, bubble tea actually originated in Taiwan. In Taiwan, bubble tea, in general, is called 手搖杯 (shǒu yáo bēi).
Choosing Bubble Tea Flavors
In any bubble tea shop (virtual or online), the first step is arguably the hardest part: the decision.
If you enjoy sweet flavors, there are many fun flavors to pick from. You may see lychee, mango, mangosteen (once illegal!), passionfruit, dragonfruit, or strawberry! On the flip side, you can keep it simple and get the original flavor.
I typically select either matcha green tea or taro for myself.
Depending on where you’re from, it might be difficult to find a place that sells bubble tea. If that’s the case, you really have three options:
- Drive far away until you find a place that does (Difficult)
- Travel to China and get the real deal (Expensive)
- Order it and make it at home! (How? See Above) 🙂
There were even bubble tea stands in Madrid, Spain not far from where I lived when I was studying Spanish there in 2019. I’d say since around 2015, they’ve been popping up in more places.
I think most major cities have at least one shop now.
How to Order Boba Tea in Chinese
During my time traveling in China’s cities like Shanghai and Beijing, I had the chance to practice my Chinese and order plenty of bubble tea. They sell it everywhere. The whole conversational process is quite similar to ordering ice cream. I did quite a lot of that as well back when I was traveling in China too.
(I had a crush on him so I kept going back to order more…) XD
Anyhow, if you didn’t know that I study Mandarin, Chinese: I do! I’ve been working on it since I was in middle school.
I’m definitely no expert, but I’ve been trying to improve to a conversational level of fluency. Here is the basic dialogue outline that I used for how to order the drink in Mandarin.
Conversation in Chinese
What would you like to order?
Nǐ yàodiǎn shénme?
One bubble tea.
Yībēi zhēnzhū nǎichá.
Sure, which flavor?
Hǎo, shénme wèidào?
Would you like it hot or cold?
Yào bīng de háishì rè de?
Sure, 10 yuan.
Hǎo. Shí kuài.
Hǎo de. Xièxiè!
From there, the person will pass you your bubble tea and it is your job to jab that straw straight through the vacuum-sealed lid. Don’t peel it off; just stab it right through!
Once you’ve got your bubble tea in hand, you’ll walk off smiling as you sip your drink and appreciate the way flavors and textures join together. No other drink involves chewing on boba and drinking tea all at once. Just be careful, remember to chew, and don’t choke!!
Sip and enjoy! ^.^