How to Order Boba Tea Like a True Taiwanese Native

Updated on: November 16, 2023
Author: Nick
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Classic Boba Drink - How to Order Boba Tea

When you first set foot in a bubble tea shop, it can be intimidating.

Looking up at the menu with all the different boba tea flavors and the server waiting expectantly for you to order, can make you want to walk back out.

But you’d be missing out on a unique taste experience.

Boba tea, also called bubble tea, first originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and is a refreshing drink that isn’t like any other beverage.

The base is made with tea, milk tea, or fruit juice with little balls at the bottom, usually boba pearls are made of tapioca, that have a chewy texture as they are made from tapioca starch.

There are all sorts of variations on the drink. There are all sorts of flavors, different levels of sweetness, temperature, and toppings.

Don’t forget, you can always ask the server for their opinion but don’t worry, we’re here to tell you how to order boba tea, as we break down each part of the boba tea drink in this step-by-step guide. So you have the confidence to go in to bubble tea shops and order this tasty treat like a pro.

Maybe you’ll decide to go to Taiwan just to show off your skills in ordering bubble tea. Although that would be one expensive bubble tea.

How to Order Boba Tea?

There are six parts to ordering your boba tea; the base, the milk, the boba type, additional toppings, sweetness level, and temperature.

It’s no more complicated than ordering the best Starbucks iced coffee or from Subway.

(If you're wondering "Does Starbucks have Boba Tea", the answer is no, but read our article to find out more...)

Although the options can change from one shop to the next, they all have the same steps.

How to order a bubble tea:

  1. Select the base: tea (black, green, fruit infused), or milk tea

  2. Select type of milk if any (whole milk, almond milk, oat milk, etc.)

  3. Select Boba type (tapioca boba, crystal boba, popping boba). Each type of boba has additional flavors → lots of choices

  4. Select other toppings, like aloe, red bean egg pudding 

  5. Select sweetness level (regular, less, half, light, none)

  6. Select temperature (hot, warm) or ice level (regular, less, none)
Pearl Milk Tea

Step 1: Select the Boba Tea Base

The traditional boba base is tea, but you can also choose from milk tea (tea with milk), or a fruit base.

Tea Base

The tea base is usually an Assam black tea, but you can also select other teas such as matcha, roasted Oolong milk tea, or Thai tea.

Which tea you choose will dictate the flavor of your drink. A black tea is strong, a little bitter, and rich. Matcha is high in caffeine with a gentler flavor.

You can also choose from fruit teas. Fruit teas are herbal infusions rather than tea. They don’t tend to include caffeine, making it a good option if you are trying to avoid bouncing off the walls when you should be sleeping (although watch the sugar!).

Milk Tea Base

For beginners, the classic pearl milk tea is a good choice. This is tea, milk, sugar, and boba (also called boba pearls, just to make it even more confusing).

For milk teas, again you can choose from different teas. All are a blend of the tea and milk.

Typically, you can ask for any milk, which is good if you are lactose intolerant but still like the creaminess of a tea with milk base.

Fruit Base

For fruit tea, you can choose from a wide range of flavors from watermelon to raspberry, taro, or honeydew milk tea.

Taro is a root vegetable, similar to a yam, that is pureed and used as a base for a bubble tea. It has a purple tinge which makes for an attractive looking drink.

Top tip for ordering like a pro:

Ask for it in Chinese! See common words below:

  • Black tea > HÓNGCHÁ

  • Green tea > LǛCHÁ

  • Oolong > WŪLÓNGCHÁ

  • Milk tea ? NǍICHÁ

Step 2: Select the type of milk

You can have your bubble tea with or without milk. The milk adds a creaminess to the base and will dilute stronger flavors such as black tea.

Many bubble tea shops may also give you the option of creamer, which has a stronger flavor and is creamier. In some shops it would have been the only option, but it is unhealthier than milk due to the amount of trans fat in it.

Try experimenting with almond milk, coconut milk, or oat milk. Each give an added hint of flavor to your drink. Be careful what flavors you pair these with because they may not go with certain bases or could overpower them.

 If you are lactose-intolerant, make sure to ask for dairy-free milk.

Step 3: Select the Boba Type

The next big decision you have to make when ordering your boba tea is what type of boba you want.

Just to make things more confusing, there are not only different types of boba but there are different sizes too. The big balls are known as boba, and the smaller balls are known as pearls.

Tapioca balls


Chewy tapioca pearls are the most typically used balls in bubble tea. Tapioca pearls are made from the starch of the cassava root.

Tapioca pearls are black or dark brown because they are immersed in caramel or brown sugar after being cooked.

Golden boba

Golden boba are tapioca balls with a color change.

They are a golden color instead of brown because after cooking, they are steeped in white sugar or honey. They tend to be sweeter as they absorb the sweetener better.

Crystal Boba

Also known as agar boba or white pearls, crystal boba are translucent spheres that are soft and a little chewy. It is made from the konjac plant, a tropical flower from Southeast Asia.

The agar, which is a plant-based jelly like agent, is derived from seaweed and makes a good substitute for gelatin for those with specific dietary requirements, like being vegan.

Rainbow Boba

Rainbow boba comes in white, red, and yellow for an Instagram worthy multi-colored drink. They are crystal boba but colored and have a citrusy flavor.  

Popping Boba or Bursting Boba

Popping boba do exactly as they say, they pop and give a burst of flavor when you bite into them.

Popping boba can come in many flavors to compliment your drinks base.

Mini boba

Mini boba unsurprisingly is just a smaller version of tapioca boba. They give a chewy element to your boba tea without you having to chew as long, and they are easier to suck up your straw.

Step 4: Select Other Toppings

If you thought selecting a tea base and bobas were exciting, you can also add a topping. A topping can give a different texture to make your boba tea more interesting.

There are lots to choose from, which will change from one shop to the next, but favorites include:


There’s a wide variety of jellies from fruit flavored jellies, to coconut jelly, lychee jelly, aloe vera, and coffee (maybe don’t choose this with a tea base).

 The jellies come in slivers that are a little chewy but not as moreish as boba. If you want a bubble tea but don’t want it to be as heavy, then jellies make a good topping that adds an extra flavor.

Red beans

Red beans are popular in Asia. They are little red beans that have a hint of sweetness and earthiness. They are a good topping for hot bubble tea.

Cheese foam

Yes, you read that right. Cheese and tea. The cheese foam tastes like salted caramel. It’s made from milk, cream cheese, and salt. This is a good choice if you enjoy the balance of sweet and salty. 

Egg pudding

Have you heard of egg coffee? Vietnamese egg coffee is a popular drink. Egg pudding  is also a tasty topping in your bubble tea.

It is an egg-based custard that looks like yellow blobs which sink to the bottom of your bubble tea. It is a little sweet and goes well with milk.

Other toppings

You can also choose caramel pudding, chia seeds, Ai Yu (seeds of a creeping fig), taro balls (made from the taro root), and fresh fruit.

Fruity Flavors

Top tip for ordering like a pro:

Ask for it in Chinese:

  • Pearls > ZHĒNZHŪ
  • Coconut jelly > YĒGUǑ
  • Pudding > BÙDĪNG
  • Grass jelly > XIĀNCǍO
  • Ice cream > BĪNGQÍLÍN

Step 5: Select Sweetness Levels

The great thing (well, one of the many great things) about bubble tea, is how much you can customize it.

 You can choose how sweet you want it but the higher the sweetness, the sicklier it may be.

There are a couple of ways to ask for the different sweet levels. One is by asking for it in percentages, such as 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%. For beginners, it is best to ask for 50%.

You can also ask for no sugar, low sugar, half sugar, less sugar, or full sugar.

 Or even better, ask for it in Chinese:

  • Full sugar - Quán táng
  • Less sugar - Shǎo táng
  • Half sugar - Bàn táng
  • Low sugar - Wēi táng
  • No sugar - WÚTÁNG

You could also ask for brown sugar bubble tea and some establishments have started to use honey as a healthier alternative.

Top Tip
If you've never tried brown sugar bubble tea, then make sure to try it out at least once. There's a good reason why it has become very popular!

Step 6: Select Temperature and Ice Level

Bubble tea is normally cold as it is an iced tea, but you can also order it hot.

If you do ask for ice, remember the ice will dilute your tea. Some toppings are not suitable for hot bubble tea as they will start to melt.

The different levels of temperature:

  • Room temp - CHÁNG WĒN

  • Cold - BĪNG DE

  • Warm - Wēn yǐn

  • Hot - Rèyǐn or re de

The different levels of ice:

  • Regular ice - Zhèngcháng bīng

  • Less ice - Shǎo bīng

  • No ice - Qù bīng

Tips on How to Order Boba Tea like a Pro

Do you feel more confident now about ordering boba tea?

Remember these tips to order boba like a pro:

  • Ask the server if you aren’t sure of anything; they’re there to help

  • Remember, there are 6 parts to select for your boba tea

  • Don’t be afraid to mix and match flavors, toppings, and boba. Experimenting is all part of the fun of boba tea.

Keep it Simple

There’s no need to have a blend of 100 ingredients. Keep it simple to appreciate the tea or fruit flavors.

Ask for a tea or fruit tea with boba. Done.

Powder Form

Order Classics

If in doubt, order the classics. There’s a reason why the classics are popular even when there are so many options to choose from.

Classic Milk Tea

Classic milk tea is a go-to drink for beginners. To order:

  • Step 1: black tea

  • Step 2: whole milk

  • Step 3: tapioca brown sugar boba

  • Step 4: no toppings

  • Step 5: light sweetness level

  • Step 6: less ice

Ask for: Black tea with frothy milk, crushed ice, caramelized tapioca pearls.

Taro Milk Tea

Taro milk tea is another favorite. To order:

  • Step 1: Jasmine green tea with taro powder

  • Step 2: whole milk

  • Step 3: tapioca brown sugar boba

  • Step 4: no toppings

  • Step 5: half sweetness level

  • Step 6: less ice

Ask for: Jasmine green tea with taro, milk, tapioca pearls, half sweetness with less ice.

Strawberry Bubble Tea

If you have a sweet tooth, strawberry boba tea is a refreshing and sweet drink on a sunny day. To order:

  • Step 1: Jasmine green tea or black tea

  • Step 2: strawberry milk

  • Step 3: tapioca pearls

  • Step 4: no toppings

  • Step 5: half sweetness level

  • Step 6: less ice

Ask for: A strawberry boba tea with black (or jasmine green) tea, tapioca pearls, half sweetness with less ice.

Other Variations

Slush Base

Not technically a bubble tea if you ask any bubble tea connoisseur but still a tasty drink. A slush base is made from flavored syrup or fruit, ice and water.

This is a sweeter drink if you’re looking for a real sugar hit.

Smoothie Base

Again, this isn’t technically bubble tea. The smoothie base is similar to the slush base except milk is used instead of water, giving it a thick consistency.

Cheese Tea

You’ve heard of cheesecake, well how about cheese tea? This combines powdered cheese and salt with whipping cream and milk. 

FAQ - How to Order Boba Tea

What is the best boba tea for beginners?

Classic milk tea with half sugar and less ice.

What do I say to the server?

I would like a small/medium/large with (flavor) tea with (type of milk or without milk), with (topping). I would like it (hot or cold) with (level of sweetness) and (level of ice).

Can I have boba tea without the bobas?

If you don’t like the heaviness and chewiness of bobas in your tea you could always try a lighter topping such as fresh fruit, jelly, or chia seeds. If you simply want to enjoy the flavor of boba tea without the boba, you can ask for it without the pearls.

Herbal Jelly

Final Thoughts

Boba can also be used on desserts, pancakes, and all sorts of foods. It’s a burst of flavor with a chewiness that can add interest to a dish.

Remember to experiment, try a new one every time. There are so many flavors you probably wouldn’t have the same one twice in a year.  

We hope that this guide on how to order boba tea has helped make your ordering process simpler and less stressful!

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!
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