It’s becoming more and more common, especially in cities with an international district or a big foreign student community: bubble tea shops. Bubble tea, or boba tea, is the name of a broad range of delicious dessert beverages, usually tea-based, originally from Taiwan. While it is taking over the streets, you might be wondering, does it have any caffeine in it?
What is bubble tea?
First things first: bubble tea originated in Taiwan under the name zhenzhu naicha or pearl milk tea. In its most traditional format, it is made with black tea, condensed or evaporated milk, and chewy tapioca pearls.
It’s typically served in cups that are sealed with a plastic cellophane wrap. This allows the beverage to be shaken before serving: creating a foamy milk froth at the top. This is in fact what the name “bubble tea” refers to. The drink is then drunk by puncturing the wrap with a super thick straw that allows the tapioca pearls to pass through it.
What are these pearls?
Tapioca pearls, present in the traditional varieties of bubble tea, are the dark brown or black balls that sink to the bottom of the beverage. They are made from starch derived from the tapioca plant, which is then boiled and steeped into caramel for hours so they color dark and get their chewy texture.
Other variants of bubble tea might contain jellies, which are made of fermented coconut water flavored by fruit syrups or juices. Another type of topping is known as popping bobas: fruit or fruit juice-filled balls that break open in your mouth, like a little flavor explosion.
Boba tea has tea… so caffeine too?
The original boba tea is made with black tea, and there are many newer variants with different tea options such as green tea, Thai tea, Pu-erh, and oolong tea. Teas typically have less caffeine than coffee, but boba tea has a high concentration of caffeine due to the brewing method.
Boba tea shops brew their tea for a prolonged period of time: typically 30 minutes for black tea and 15 for green tea. In some other shops, they use blenders with blunt blades to quickly agitate the water and tea to speed up brewing time. In both cases, the result is “strong tea.” One source suggests that a cup of boba tea (22 oz) will have anywhere between 100-170mg of caffeine in it, which is comparable to the average caffeine content of an 8oz cup of drip coffee.
That said, there are so many variants of boba drinks that are not based on tea and therefore have no caffeine in them.
Boba - so many choices
If you go to a boba tea shop, there will be plenty of choices for you to choose from, and most shops will have clear indications for caffeine-free options or other dietary information. Whether you like tea-based or not, dairy or non-dairy, iced or hot, there will be a boba for you!
Written by Valerie Bentivegna