Bubble Tea- Delicious Despite the Choking Hazard


Oh, bubble tea. My favorite drink of all time. I was first introduced to bubble tea four years ago during my first trip to China. Just like America has vending machines and gas stations for your quick soda caffeine fix, China has bubble tea stands lining the streets. Whether you order a fancy bubble tea in a glass or a quick to-go drink in a disposable cup with a vacuum-sealed plastic cover, the drink is always delicious.

Sure, it might seem a little scary at first. After all, what are those little black balls in the bottom of the cup?  They might look intimidating but they are nothing more than tapioca balls- sweet and chewy and filling too! And it’s because of these chewy tapioca balls that bubble teas come with bigger straws- to suck the boba up with! Oh yeah, that’s another name for bubble tea: boba tea.

In Chinese, bubble tea is 珍珠奶茶 (zhen zhu nai cha), which mean pearl milk tea. If you like sweet flavors, you can order lychee, passionfruit, mango, strawberry…pretty much any flavor. Or you can keep it simple with the original flavor (that’s what I do). Unfortunately, outside of China and Taiwan, where the drink originated from, bubble tea is usually only sold in bigger cities. So for the poor bubble tea-lovers like me who live in smaller cities, we have to put in much more effort. I’m not going to lie, I’ve driven 45 minutes to the nearest bubble tea place in Tampa, Got Tea?, to satisfy my bubble tea craving.

a bubble/boba/pearl/tapioca ball

After sipping my first bubble tea that fateful day in Beijing, I was hooked. For the rest of my trip, I would venture off in search of bubble tea stands and quickly picked up the few vocabulary words needed to order my newly-discovered drink. I had only studied one year of Mandarin by this time, so my Chinese was rough, but just making the effort to order my drink helped me feel more comfortable in this new foreign language. Once I figured out what questions they tended to ask, ordering became easier and the bubble teas flowed freely.

How to order bubble tea in Mandarin:

你要点什么?ni yao dian shen me? What do you want to order?

一杯珍珠奶茶。yi bei zhen zhu nai cha. One bubble tea.

好,什么味道?hao, shen me wei dao? Ok, what flavor?

原味。yuan wei. Original.

要冰的还是热的?yao bing de hai shi re de? Do you want it cold or hot?

冰的。bing de. Cold.

好。四块。hao, si kuai. Ok, 4 yuan.

(puts in the tea, adds some milk, plops in the bubbles, seals on a lid with an automatic sealer, and grabs a straw)

可以开吗? keyi kai ma? Can I open it?

可以可以。keyi keyi. Yeah.

So with bubble tea in one hand, big straw in the other, the man will pop the straw through the plastic covering and hand it over to me. Smiling, I’ll start to sip my bubble tea. A bubble might rise up the straw, I’ll chew it, and then I’m off. My bubble tea and I, off to explore China.


  1. i don’t quite remember what i was originally looking for when i managed to run across your bubble tea post. however, your write up regarding your experience with it has been my favorite so far (love how you included the language exchange, thank you).

    you make mention of going out of your way to get your fix, i wonder though – have you maybe taken a look around your local area to see if there’s possibly an asian market that might have the pearls? (chances are if they’ve the pearls, they’ll have straws for you as well).

    best of luck, both with your pearl milk tea adventures and your first year at harvard. 🙂

  2. Thank you Pipkin! I did in fact find an Asian market near my house but the bubbles that I made didn’t turn out very tasty…I’ve heard they are actually pretty hard/time-consuming to make if you want them to taste yummy. And I’m lazy. But its perfect here in Cambridge because there is a bubble tea place right by my dorm!

  3. Where I live they do the bubble tea a little differently. They add the bubbles at the bottom of the cup and make the tea together with the ice in a shaker just like the one a bartender would use before pouring it over the bubbles. That makes the bubble tea all nice and frothy. I like coffee-flavoured so I mostly go for the flavour they like to call ‘cappuccino’ (which is really a fancy name for plain milky coffee flavour). It’s artificial but I love it, hehe.

  4. Thanks for this. I saw people drinking these bubble teas in Manchester (UK) today and I wondered what they were. I only wish I had tried it now!

  5. I also love bubble tea. It’s been several months since my last fix near Niagra Falls, NY. Just last night at the Yankee Stadium for the ALDS Game I was able to order a coconut bubble tea. Boy was that delicious. So much so that I went back and ordered one in yam flavor. However, just today my bubble was burst when I was told that some of the ingredients are carcinogenic. Sure enough, I did a Google search and it was confirmed through Wikipedia. What have you heard on this?

  6. Good job I’m working on a logo based on bubble tea and uploading it to my Facebook 😀 I love your post about the bubble tea I’m glad you like it, have you ever tried Bubble tea Taro it will get you addicted to drinking it like me @_@ 🙂 and btw for the choking hazard part I drink with a small straw and eat the pearls after I’m done lol.

  7. hello birdy,

    i’m slinky and bubble tea just came to mauritius ( where i live), island in middle of indian ocean like three months ago with a shop called twin tea leaf. I tasted my first bubble tea- the peach green tea and like it. Mauritian people are tea lovers and those who have a feel they should go on diet like me also fancy green tea a lot, so this was a nice treat. I must say I think the tea tasted better that the tapioca pearls which I didn’t find sugary at all but it is difficult to assign a specific taste to it but I did like the chewy part. I’m eager to taste some more and the shop owner recommended a mango green tea, it will be my next one.

  8. Hey there, Thank you for this great blog post! I have to save Bubble Tea- Delicious Despite the Choking Hazard by The Traveling Bird is hilarious. Cheers.

  9. Wow, incredible blog layout! How many years have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content! Thanks

  10. Wow, this was ages ago, but nevertheless. I had my first Boba in Chicago on my way home from work in 2010. I have been addicted ever since. I now live in Fargo, ND and I found a place that makes Boba tea!! Such a relief. Last week I tried avocado banana, which to the average person sounds terrible, but it is truly a treat! I would suggest it for your next Boba 😉

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