Bubble Tea 101

Where to buy and how to make the popular Taiwanese drink

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Shrimp & Grisettes

Shot on location at Waxhaw Boba Tea

What’s milky, frothy, brightly colored, sweet and a little bit chewy? It’s bubble tea, and it’s getting more popular every day.

No one is sure exactly who invented the drink, but it began in Taiwan around the 1980s. The original versions were combinations of black tea and sweetened milk, with boba added. Boba are the pea-sized pearls of starchy tapioca that give bubble tea its unique appearance and texture. “Boba” can also be a term for a drink made with boba.

Before long, other versions of bubble tea popped up on the sipping scene in tea shops. Green tea, white tea, jasmine and fruit flavors began swirling their way into giant drink cups with condensed milk, coconut milk and even pureed avocado — all with the signature boba at the bottom.

The bubble tea bonanza spread across Asia as fan demand grew, and eventually the trend made its way to the U.S.

Locally, Asian grocery stores and markets are a good bet for finding authentic bubble tea in a rainbow of flavors. You can binge on banana or have a little swig of strawberry. Select your level of sweetness. You can enhance your drink with floral notes such a lavender or rose, then add little cubes of pudding or coconut jellies. Whatever you choose, you’ll get a special straw to drink it with. The boba are too big to fit inside a regular straw.

In the Ballantyne area, Gong Cha bubble tea shop has a location in StoneCrest at Piper Glen, and a second in midtown. Open Rice in Blakeney also has varieties of the drink on the menu.

If you like to experiment, it isn’t hard to make bubble tea at home. The basic ingredients are simple: tea, milk and those tapioca pearls. Here’s an easy recipe you can try. Just don’t forget those boba-sized straws!