What are Boba Pearls? A Quick Guide to 4 Tasty Types!

Last Updated On : October 2021
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Boba Pearls - Intro

Boba has become one of the most popular drinks in the world. But what are boba pearls? Read on to learn what they are, where they come from, and to discover different kinds available!

Boba is a broad drink category that generally refers to a drink that features some form of tea drink with tapioca balls or pearls at the bottom of your cup.

Originally, boba referred to Classic Milk Tea, the drink that started the boba mania. Classic Milk Tea consists of black tapioca balls, black tea with frothy milk and ice.

Today, a huge variety of boba drinks have been invented by enthusiasts. These drinks have departed from the original Classic Milk Tea flavors and now include flavors of fruits, brown sugar, and jasmine green tea – just to name a few.

Confusingly, these drinks are referred to as boba, boba tea, bubble tea, or pearl milk tea!

So now the definition of boba has broadened – it’s just basically any tea drink (well, it almost always has tea) that has tapioca balls.

So what are these tapioca balls or pearls?

What are they made of and where do they come from? And what are all of these types you see at bubble tea stores?

Let’s get into these details so that next time you order boba you can look like a pro!

What are Boba Pearls?

First, let’s get something out of the way to avoid confusion.

Boba pearls are also referred to as tapioca pearls, tapioca balls or boba balls. So we will use these names interchangeably.

Tapioca pearls are small chewy balls made from Tapioca, the starch of the cassava root. Cassava, also known as Yuca, is one of the staple ingredients in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine.  It is similar to a starchy potato in texture with a mild nutty flavor with hints if sweetness.

Tapioca and hot water are mixed to start the gelatinization process. Sometimes flavoring is added at this point, resulting in different types of boba balls.

The dough is divided into little bits and formed into small balls (this can be a tricky and time consuming process!). The dough is then dried for a few hours and then cooked in boiling water for a few minutes.

The cooking process is sometimes in two stages, first cooked in water and then cooked in sugar syrup for extra flavoring!

Now that we know exactly what are boba balls, let’s dive into a bit of history!

A Very Brief History of Boba

Boba is a relatively new Taiwanese drink. Its origins are still hotly debated, but most people agree that this drink was born into this world sometime in the 1980s in Taiwan.

Thank you Taiwan!

Hanlin Tea Room insists they are the ones who deserve the credit when in 1986 its founder, Tu Tsung-ho, came up with the idea of adding cooked tapioca balls to milk tea.

However, Chun Shui Tang also insists Lin Hsiu-hui, a young female employer, came up with the idea in 1987.

We may never know who the true inventor of boba is…but the two companies filed multiple lawsuits against each other and spiralled into a bitter dispute.

Neither was successful in trademarking or patenting boba! Yikes!

So who knows where boba really came from!

What is known for sure is that boba originated in Taiwan…and some people consider boba a quintessential Taiwanese product.

Although boba started as milk tea with ice and tapioca pearls, it has now branched into possibly hundreds of different types of boba for every taste and occasion!

Even the tapioca pearls have evolved through time, encompassing as well many different types.

What types you say?

These include:

  • Clear Tapioca Balls

  • Black Tapioca Balls

  • Flavored Tapioca Balls

  • Popping Tapioca Balls

Continue reading below to learn about these different types of boba balls!

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Types of Boba Balls

Here we talk about the main types of boba pearls.

Let's get started!

Clear Tapioca Balls

The first type of tapioca balls are the clear ones.

These tapioca pearls are clear because tapioca starch becomes clear after it undergoes the gelatinization process, and no additional flavoring or coloring is added.

Clear boba pearls do not have much flavoring as they only contain water and tapioca starch.

But sometimes white sugar syrup is added during preparation for a sweeter flavor. Or clear tapioca pearls are stored in sweet syrup or honey, so they can absorb the sweetness of the liquid they are stored in.

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Black Boba Pearls

The black (or dark brown) color comes from brown sugar or caramel added to the boba balls during preparation!

To be fair, black boba balls are a type of flavored tapioca pearl as flavoring is added during the preparation process.

But this type of tapioca pearl flavor is so popular that it deserves its own category.

Most people, when they think of bubble tea, they picture the black tapioca balls chilling at the bottom of their drink.

You see them pretty much in every boba shop and have become the standard type of tapioca balls in many shops.

They are popular because they are well, delicious.

Black tapioca balls feature a flavor of sweetness and molasses that is typical of brown sugar, and when combined with black milk tea, an explosion of magic occurs in your mouth.

Try it, it’s true!

Your brain may also be affected by this magic – we can’t promise you will not get addicted!

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Flavored Tapioca Balls

Remember when we mentioned that flavoring can be added when preparing tapioca?

Well, many people have experimented with this and many boba ball flavors are now available!

Popular flavors include honey, green tea, mango, and strawberry. There are too many more flavors to many to name!

What is your favorite one? We love these green tea tapioca pearls! Let us know in the comments!

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Popping Tapioca Balls

Popping tapioca balls are actually quite different from the regular boba balls we have covered thus far!

They’re not even made of tapioca starch, the main ingredient of boba pearls!

Instead, they are made through a process called spherification that involves a reaction of sodium alginate (found in seaweed and algae) and calcium chloride or calcium lactate.

Popping boba pearls are filled with flavor, typically fruit juice. When you bite into them, a burst of flavor rushes into your mouth.

You will notice that the texture may differ from the chewiness expected from boba pearls!

Also, a lot of the filling may contain many unpronounceable chemicals, so if you like these popping pearls, go ahead! But don’t have too many of them either!

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Frequently Asked Questions - Boba Balls

What is the difference between a boba pearl, a tapioca pearl, a boba ball or a tapioca ball?

They are all the same! Boba pearls, tapioca pearls, boba balls and tapioca balls are all the same thing!

The actual drink is also confusingly referred to as boba, boba tea, bubble tea or pearl milk tea

What to look for in a boba pearl?

Boba balls should be chewy and not mushy, similar to paste being ‘al dente’. They should also have the ability to soak in flavors.

Do tapioca pearls expire?

Yes, they do expire!

Check for any change in color or discoloration. Also check for the texture – if your once firm and chewy boba pearls have become mushy and start losing their shape, it’s time to throw them away!

Check for mold and do a “smell test”. If it does not smell good or you see mold, to the garbage they go!

Better be safe than sorry!

Boba Pearls - End

Bottom Line

We hope that you have enjoyed reading and learning about boba pearls.

But we’re sure you’re more exciting to try them.

Check these boba recipes that we have prepared for you!

My favorite one is Jasmine Milk Tea Honey Boba.

Go ahead and try it, or experiment!

Let us know what you think!

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