Food trends can be such a temptation! The more people get into it, the more food shops you’ll see in every corner you turn. The latest craze? The bubble tea!
Have you seen how many bubble tea shops have popped up recently? But before us vegans start to feeling left behind, let’s ask and find the answer first.
Is boba vegan?
Now, I found out that boba is, mostly, vegan. I’ll explain more in detail, just keep reading!
Why Is Boba So Popular?
Boba or bubble tea is a cold milk tea refreshment which was first made and sold in Taiwan. Although this beverage first came to consumers in the early 1980s, it’s worldwide popularity didn’t syk-rocket until last year. An boy did it soar! From its $1.9M value in 2016, projections see this reaching as high as $3.2M in 2023!
What’s the secret? Well it’s not just the sweet and chewy boba. It’s also the beverage’s seemingly infinite customizability. While there are many fan favorite flavors you can always find in any bubble tea shop, each brand also offers many exclusive flavors . And of course, all of these flavors are very much customizable.
From the tea and sweetener down to the toppings or sinkers, you can have it your own way! Who wouldn’t love that idea?
Boba is just one of the many add-ons that you can choose for your cold brew tea. Most commonly seen in cold milk tea, boba, also known as pearls, is no doubt the most popular add-on. But what is it made of?
The Boba: What Is It And What’s In It?
If you’ve seen tea shops call it tapioca pearls, that’s the answer right there! Tapioca is a starch from the root crop cassava, which has many different uses on its own. Add a few more ingredients and roll it into balls then boil it. Voila! You get chewy tapioca pearls!
- Boba pearls
- Tapioca boba
- Tapioca pearls
- Tapioca balls
- Tapioca bubbles
- Black pearls
Common ingredients of tapioca pearls:
- Tapioca flour or starch
- Flavor or seasoning
A simple boba can be easily made with just the flour/starch and water. However, a lot of commercial boba pearls may contain more than these. If you buy ready-to-cook boba, you may even notice ingredients that sound like some chemicals. If you happen to see those kind, just avoid them.
Also, do not to confuse it with popping boba, which is made from seaweeds and a burst of juice inside. Tapioca boba is dark brown to black in color, and is bigger in size.
Other uses of tapioca:
- Food thickener
- Binder for medical tablets and industrial paint
- Clothing starch
- Filler for food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic products
- Food stabilizer
Which Boba Is Vegan?
A lot of people suspect that boba contains gelatin to make it chewy, which will make it non-vegan. Gelatin is commonly made from animal parts, and is one of the many seemingly innocent ingredients that vegans avoid.
The good news is, boba does not contain gelatin. Tapioca doesn’t need it to be chewy because it is already naturally sticky. In fact, tapioca, like cornstarch, is a common thickening agent because of this.
Now that that’s out of the way, what can make boba NOT vegan?
If you look at the ingredients again, one thing will clue you in: the sweetener!
Sugars, and sweeteners, are often an issue with vegans because of 2 things:
BONE CHAR filters and HONEY syrup!
Refining sugar often uses burnt animal bones as a filter. Activated carbon is available as an animal-friendly option. However, the industry is yet to completely eliminate the use of animal bones.
The key here is to just avoid refined sugars. There are vegan ones of course but make sure the label says that before you grab it.
Honey, although obviously not vegan, may also be the choice of sweetener for some boba producers. This can go both in the boba pearls and the milk tea mixture.
The problem is, these are things you’ll have to ask the shop’s salesperson first to find out. But then again, there’s no harm in that anyway, that’s what we vegans do. So just always ask first.
Boba Nutrition Facts
Tapioca Pearls (dry)
*May vary depending on the amount of sweetener
**Omega 3 and 6 requires a ratio of 1:4
Milk Tea And Boba
With boba’s popularity, (cold) milk tea these days will seem incomplete without it. Don’t you agree? Now I’m sure you already know that conventional milk tea is not vegan.
And since we can’t have animal milk, here are the usual vegan options you can get in tea shops:
- Almond milk
- Coconut milk
- Oat milk
- Rice milk
- Soy milk
There are also plant-based creamers although plant milks are more available in tea shops. Also avoid dairy-free creamers as they contain casein or caseinate, which is a milk derivative. Many bubble tea shops use this in place of milk.
For more vegan milk and creamer varieties and brands, check here.
Is Boba Healthy?
As you can see in tapioca’s nutritional profile above, it contains many different nutrients, but mostly in trace amounts only. While it is low in sodium and has zero fat, it’s carbohydrate content is high.
By default, bubble tea contains A LOT OF SUGAR, unless you ask to reduce sugar. However, this excessive sugar is what makes bubble tea yummy for a lot of its fans.
Now you won’t really have just boba on its own. Since it goes with milk tea, you’ll have to consider the whole thing when you count what matters.
So to be specific, boba milk tea, the entire mixture, is quite sugary at 36 grams (about 9 teaspoons). Bigger sizes can contain as much as 50 grams! Now, add that to boba’s carbs and yes, you’re on your way to a few more pounds! Yikes!
Health Warnings On Bubble Tea!
The daily limit for added sugars is:
- 9 tsps or 37 grams for men
- 6 tsps or 25 grams for women
That means just one serving of bubble tea already puts you in the limit! And of course you’ll also have to add all the other sugars you’ve had that day. This doesn’t include naturally occuring sugars in food like fruits.
Now, just some reminders how bad sugary drinks can be. Excessive sugar consumption in the long term can cause a multitude of health issues:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Weak immune system
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Acceleration of aging process
- Chromium deficiency
- Increase in stress
Too much sugar can also have immediate effects on your body:
- Energy crash
Sugar is also highly addictive! The more often you consume it, the more you’ll crave it. If you’re wondering why, here’s the reason:
According to studies, sugar incites the brain’s reward and pleasure center, which creates feelings of craving. This confirms the rampant suspicion about sugar being more addictive than cocaine. In fact, it is said that it can even be a gateway to addiction towards other addictive substances. Think alcohol and recreational drugs.
And because sugar is addicting, you can also get signs of withdrawal. So when you try to get off it after a long while of excessive consumption, you may find it challenging.
Here are some sugar withdrawal symptoms you may experience:
- Muscle aches
- Poor sleep
- More cravings
If you want to benefit from tea, it’s best to just have it without any sugar or even milk. But if you love bubble tea, make sure to ask for much less sugar!
Vegan Boba Tea Flavors And How To Veganize Your Order
Not all bubble tea shops will offer these options. If their menu doesn’t include milk and sugar options, just ask. Most of them won’t mind reducing and changing sugar as long as they’re not using “just-add-water powder mixtures”.
That said, it’s best to go for shops that offer custom mixtures. This means their tea brew, sugars, and milk are all separate.
Specifically, you’ll have to as for:
- Vegan base tea flavor
- Plant milk
- Unrefined sweeteners (no honey!)
- Vegan sinkers
To help you choose, check below:
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Winter melon
- Fruit flavors
- Any base flavors with honey and natural red food color (from insects)
- Milk chocolate
- Matcha (with milk)
- All-in-one powder mixtures
- Any nut or grain milk or creamer
- Non-dairy creamers (with casein)
- Animal milk or creamers
- Low calorie sugar
- Brown sugar
- Any refined sweetener
- Nata de coco
- Puddings (with egg)
- Pearls or jellies with honey
Vegan Boba Tea Shops In The U.S. & Canada
Purely vegan bubble tea shops will probably be impossible to find. But no need to worry, because there are many vegan-friendly ones! Now that you know how to veganize your order, you just need to find bubble tea shops that can cater to that.
Remember to avoid milk teas made from powder form since it mostly contains non-dairy creamer, which often has casein, a milk derivative. Powder forms are just NOT customizable. Go for fresh brew always!
Look for any of these bubble tea shops near you:
- Factory Tea Bar
- Cafe Roulé
- Motto Tea Café
- I Love Sweetea
- T4 Tea For U
- Bubble U
- Alfred Tea Room
- Drinkabilitea Café
- Teapresso Bar
- Boba Guys Milk Tea
- Rad Tea Room
- Excellent Tofu And Snacks
- Gemini Tea Bar
- Ninja Bubble Tea
- Buns + Boba
- Bijub Bubble Tea
This isn’t an exhaustive list, though, so always feel free to ask bubble tea shops about customizing your drink. Also, if you’re outside the country, these shops may have branches near you. If not, just do a quick web search and it just might surprise you how much you can find in your area!
How To Make Vegan Boba Tea (The Healthier Way!)
Now here’s an easier fix: a vegan DIY bubble tea! You can just make your own boba tea at home with your favorite tea!
There are ready-to-cook tapioca pearls you can get from groceries or online. Just check the ingredients and make sure it’s vegan, like Suma tapioca pearls and Bob’s Red Mill small pearls. White ones are also fine since you’ll be cooking them in brown sugar anyway.
It’s can be difficult though to find vegan ones as most of the packages reveal so much additives. And by additives I mean ingredient names that need deciphering. You wouldn’t want that.
Don’t worry though, you can also just make the boba pearls yourself! You’ll just need tapioca flour, vegan of course. They’re easier to find, like Wholefood Earth Organic, or Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour/starch.
Now here’s an easy peasy recipe! Prepare the following ingredients in the amount you want, just stick to the ratios in the procedure:
- Tapioca flour
- brown sugar powder (coconut or maple)
- Tea (bags or loose leaf)
- Black food color (optional)
- Plant milk or creamer (almond milk is a good option, it’s low in both calories and sugar)
- Liquid sweetener (choose low/zero calorie sweeteners!)
- Small pot or saucepan
- Small bowl
- Bamboo or metal straw
- Mason jar
Choose any vegan tea, and avoid flavors with honey and red food colors. Check the lists here for vegan tea brands and varieties.
To make tapioca balls from scratch:
- Place the flour in a bowl. Start boiling water in a pot or saucepan. Add black food color if you want. The water needs to be boiling hot or the balls won’t hold its shape.
- To combine hot water and flour, keep a 3:1 ratio of flour and boiling water. So for every 3 tablespoons of tapioca flour, add 1 tbsp of boiling water.
- Mix quickly and start kneading until you get a clay or dough-like consistency.
- To make it easy to form balls, roll the dough into a long sausage shape as thick as you want. The bigger you want the tapioca balls to be, the thicker it needs to be. Just remember that it will expand when it cooks so don’t make it too big.
- Cut into even squares or cubes and shape each one into a ball. If crusty, just keep kneading. If it feels too sticky, just dust it with a bit of tapioca flour. It has to be a bit sticky to hold its shape.
To cook tapioca:
- The ratio should be 1:6. For every cup of dry tapioca pearls, add 6 cups of water.
- Combine water with the amount of sugar you want. Be careful not to make it too sweet. Add just enough sugar to make the water brown. Bring to a boil.
- Add your tapioca balls. Note that tapioca pearls disintegrate quickly in a few hours so only cook what you can consume immediately.
- The balls will sink at the bottom. Wait for a few minutes until they start floating. Stir it continuously so the sugar doesn’t burn.
- Tapioca pearls will cook in around 15 minutes. However, you must overcook it a bit more than what you want. This is because the balls will get firmer after cooking when it cools down. So if you only cook it until firm, it will be a bit tough to bite on after.
For the milk tea:
- Infuse your tea in cold or hot water depending on its package instructions. The brew should be stronger if you want a flavorful mixture since milk will weaken it.
- Add your choice of plant milk. Be careful not to put a lot as it will dilute your tea and you’ll lose flavor.
- Use a liquid sweetener so it blends easily. Remember to only use as little as possible. A teaspoon should be enough for a glass of milk tea.
Finally, pour your boba pearls into the milk tea mixture (or vice versa). Chill it in the fridge or just add some ice and it’s ready! Just make sure to use eco-friendly straws and containers! No plastics please!
You can store milk tea mixtures in the fridge for up to 2 days, without the boba. Just cook the boba if you know you can consume it right away. This way you always have it fresh, firm, and chewy!
Boba is mostly vegan, but always watch out for shops that use honey as a sweetener.
Boba tea is quite a versatile beverage. So just as much as there are non-vegan varieties, there are also many ways to veganize it! Always ask for vegan substitutes when it comes to milk, sweeteners, and toppings.
Lastly, although tapioca has some nutrients in it, and tea being full of antioxidants, bubble teas aren’t always healthy. With a high amount of sugar, boba tea consumption is best kept at minimum. Or just ask for tea with no sugar.
How do you veganize your bubble tea? Are there any new vegan bubble tea shops near you! Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.