Boba Tea: The Little Drink That Has Become a Big Obsession


Hallie Sidsworth

A line of boba teas waits for thirsty customers at The Sweet Retreat in Alcoa

Hallie Sidsworth

Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is a Taiwanese drink consisting of a sweet milk drink or tea and tapioca pearls. The tea or milk in the drink is second in importance to the tapioca. The tapioca is what’s known as the “boba” or the “bubbles.” The pearls have a chewy consistency and besides their slight sweetness have relatively no flavor. The container that boba comes in adds to the appeal. Boba is often found in a clear cup with a sealed lid and a large straw. The straw is made to punch through the sealed lid and is one of the most satisfying and notable parts about the beverage.


Bubble tea was made in Taiwan in the 1980s. Tea was a popular refreshment for children after school leading to tea shops setting up near the schools. To peak the interest of the children, tea stands started adding new and unique drinks and flavors. In 1983 tapioca pearls were introduced it’s bubble-like appearance gave it the name. Quickly bubble tea became a popular refreshment all through Asian countries and later throughout the world.


This raises the question. Why is boba tea so popular? Boba is a relatively new drink with flavors to appeal to all types of people. For example, a popular flavor of boba is tai tea, a drink that was imported in the 1800s and was already generally liked which led to pre existing clientele. There are many flavors and new drink toppings that were introduced causing boba to be a drink that can cater to many different pallets. 


Haley Yarbrough, a worker at a boba shop, when asked why she liked bubble tea said, “I think that customization is the reason I like it, I could basically have a completely new drink every time and still enjoy it.” 


Because bubble tea is able to be tailored to the individual it not only appeals to more people but also allows existing customers to expand their creativity and to prevent boredom. For example many more drink toppings exist than just the traditional tapioca. Many places have “pop boba”, a fruity liquid in a small popable spherical skin, “jellies’’, chewy jello-like toppings that sit at the bottom of the drink, and other toppings that range from aloe to beans. With so many variations this allows for people who don’t like certain toppings to cater their drink to something they would enjoy.  


Madison Turpin explains “I love boba! I don’t really like tapioca though, I prefer pop boba. I just don’t really like how chewy tapioca is.”


The venue the tea is served at is also a big factor in why so many young people enjoy the drink.


Caroline Storch, a KHS junior said “I enjoy boba because it’s one a refreshing drink after a long day, and two it’s a nice time just to sit, drink and hang out with friends.”


In the same way that coffee shops do, boba shops provide an environment and an activity to do together. Part of the reason boba is so popular amongst adolescents is because it’s a pastime that can be enjoyed with friends or individually. 


Storch went on to say “I like it because it’s different. It’s a unique drink and I think maybe that’s part of the appeal.” 


Bubble tea, despite having many flavors and variations, is very distinctive and different from many other beverages. This idea of trying new things is often popular amongst young people especially. With new ideas and styles being introduced and the growing want for individuality bubble tea is another way people can try new things, expand their tastes, and all while enjoying it with friends.