What is bubble tea and is boba vegan? Boba tea is a sweet drink that comes in many different flavors and is made with tea, milk or fruit juice, a sweetener (usually a sugar syrup) and "pearls". It has many names including boba, boba tea, pearl milk tea, boba milk tea or bubble milk tea. It has become an extremely popular drink in recent years and new bubble tea shops are popping up all over. But is boba vegan? And what are those pearls (or boba balls) with the chewy texture made of?
What Are Boba Pearls Made Of?
Boba pearls are only made of tapioca starch from the cassava root. Cassava is a starchy root vegetable. Black tapioca pearls are simply colored that way. The good news is that those chewy tapioca pearls are vegan. But is bubble tea itself vegan? The answer is...it can be, just not always.
History of Bubble Tea
But where did bubble tea come from? According to A Brief History of Boba from Food & Wine magazine, "Boba culture started in the late '80s, and its origins are debated. Milk tea was already well-known in Taiwan, as tea drinking was a robust practice in East Asia. Both shaved ice and tapioca balls were considered common desserts at the time. At some point, someone thought to combine three popular elements into one beverage—tapioca balls on the bottom, followed by a layer of shaved ice, and milk tea to fill out the rest of the drink.
Boba evolved over time as it grew more widespread throughout Taiwan: stall owners started introducing fruit boba, using fruit powders and syrups in lieu of actual fruit (which was too expensive and went bad quickly). The topping choices expanded beyond tapioca balls to include elements like grass jelly, almond jelly, egg pudding, and red beans. Even in classic boba, the milk in the milk tea was swapped out for non-dairy creamer, and as a result, the drink became known for its incredibly sweet, creamy taste."
How to Make Homemade Boba Pearls
Those small chewy balls seem like something out of a science experiment. But how are the pearls made? According to How is Boba Made from Goba, "The tapioca balls are made from the tapioca starch that comes from the cassava root. Boiling water is added to this starch and kneaded to form a dough-like consistency. The dough is then cut and rolled into the bubble shapes. These are added into a boiling mixture of brown sugar and water to finish the product. The tea is then brewed and cooled and the boba or other toppings are added. All of these ingredients are shaken to produce the bubbles that gave the tea its name." Sound like too much work? You can also buy the tapioca pearls dried to use in your recipes.
Is Boba Tea Vegan?
Many vegans worry that bubble pearls are made with gelatin because of their texture. Luckily, they are only made of tapioca starch so there aren't any animal products to worry about. Boba uses common teas such as black tea, green tea, earl grey, oolong tea, white tea and other kinds. But whether or not bubble tea itself is vegan depends on how it's made.
Traditional bubble tea is frequently made with cow's milk so it wouldn't be suitable for vegans. However, other kinds (fruit tea) are made with fresh fruits and juices and skip the milk. Other kinds use non-dairy milk like coconut milk, soy milk or almond milk and would then be vegan. If you go to a boba shop, you can customize the kind of milk and make it work for you.
Vegan Bubble Tea Recipes
Are you interested in making bubble tea at home? You can try to make the pearls from scratch or you can buy the dried version to use. This easy recipe How to Make Bubble Tea from Tasty Nibbles uses quick cooking tapioca pearls so there's no need to make your own. You will also need tea bags, milk of choice, water and sugar (to make a simple syrup).
Feeling a little more adventurous? Homemade Boba "Tapioca Pearls" Bubble Milk Tea from Alpha Foodie shows you how to make your own bubble tea pearls. You will only need tapioca flour, brown sugar, and hot water to make this recipe.
Looking for a vegan fruity bubble tea recipe? Try Passion Fruit Bubble Tea by Foodaciously. You only need a few ingredients to make this delicious and fruity drink.
- green tea bags
- black tapioca pearls
- maple syrup
- passion fruit
- coconut milk
What to Make With Tapioca Pearls
If you bought a big bag of dried large tapioca pearls and want to make something different than bubble tea, how about tapioca pudding? Tapioca pudding is often made with small pearls but can be made with large pearls as well. How to Cook Large Tapioca Pearls and Tapioca Pudding from What to Cook Today shows how to make large pearl tapioca pudding. You will need:
- large tapioca pearls
- coconut milk or other vegan milk
Why People Love Boba
For some, bubble tea has replaced coffee or traditional tea. Others enjoy it as an occasional treat. One reason that people love it is because it's so customizable. You can choose the kind of tea, the milk, and the sugar level. There is also a large variety of flavors. Another reason some people love it is the look of it. It seems made for Instagram with it's often pastel colored liquid and black pearls on the bottom of the cup. Of course it's served in a clear plastic cup for all to admire. And of course there're the tapioca pearls themselves - chewy and fun to sip through the straw. There are many reasons this drink has skyrocketed in popularity in the United States over the last decade.
Is there a specific type of tea that bubble tea is made of?
Bubble tea can be made from any tea. Common teas are green tea, black tea and Earl Gray.
Boba tea is often sweetened with white sugar. Is sugar vegan?
Some vegans worry about white sugar because of the use of bone char. According to Peta.org, "Bone char—often referred to as natural carbon—is widely used by the sugar industry as a decolorizing filter, which allows the sugar cane to achieve its desirable white color." So cane sugar doesn't technically contain any animal products. But, the desire for sugar to have a pure white color makes some companies use animals bones in the production of it.
From a Taiwanese tea stand to your local boba shop, bubble tea has come a very long way. The good news is that boba tea can fit in with a plant-based diet if it's made with dairy-free milk or if it's a fruit-based drink. If you stop in a boba shop, there are usually a good amount of vegan options to choose from. If you don't have a bubble tea shop around, you can also make your own boba with plant-based ingredients at home.
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