Bubble tea, also known as boba tea is a mixture of any tea base with tapioca or boba pearls.
Boba tea is available in several varieties and the tapioca pearls can also be prepared in different ways but if we’re talking about dietary indications then bubble tea can be both vegan and non-vegan.
Is bubble tea vegetarian and vegan? The simple and specific answer to this question is: yes. Boba pearls are considered to be vegan because they are made with tapioca flour/starch. However, with their addition to many milk-based teas, the status of bubble tea may be considered to be non-vegan.
Read on to learn more about what bubble tea is, why boba is considered vegan and vegetarian and how best to use the pearls in vegan-friendly beverages!
What Is Bubble Tea?
Bubble tea has been around for a while in the tea world. Its history goes back decades and nowadays it has become a staple around the world with several varieties available in almost every coffeehouse.
So, is bubble tea vegetarian or vegan? The answer is that it is both!
Bubble tea is any tea that contains boba pearls but the pearls can also be added to non-tea beverages. On their own, boba pearls are fully vegan because they consist of just tapioca starch and water.
While there are also other varieties like “popping boba” or “exploding/bursting boba” made using gelatin, you can also find vegan-friendly versions of these variants that use plant-based ingredients, like agar powder.
The problem starts when we separate the boba from the boba tea.
See, while boba pearls are vegan, the milk-based drinks they are usually added to are far from it!
Bubble tea is available in several varieties like milk tea, caramel milk tea, vanilla bubble tea, and much more! All these drinks include the use of boba pearls but with a huge caveat: they all contain dairy.
But, are there vegan versions of bubble tea? Yes!
Vegan And Vegetarian Bubble Tea
Vegetarian bubble tea is easy to find and many coffeehouses will train baristas to help customers who are looking for non-dairy alternatives.
Pure tapioca pearls are considered to be vegetarian and vegan so you can easily order a non-dairy tea and have these pearls added for a tasty experience.
However, when it comes to vegan bubble tea, you might have to consider a few things.
Even though vegan bubble teas have been rising in popularity over the years, you will still have to confirm if the drink is truly vegan due to the addition of so many flavorings and ingredients.
The departure from dairy products in the making of bubble tea has allowed coffeehouses to experiment with different ingredients, combinations, and flavors.
In many cases, these additions are in-line with vegetarianism but may overlook the vegan community which is inclined towards having stricter rules.
For example, simple fruity bubble tea with popping boba made using vegetarian-friendly ingredients is found almost everywhere but some coffeehouses may opt for honey or non-vegan maple syrup to make the tea base or the boba pearls.
Thankfully, with a little knowledge and inquisition, you can find similar tasting fruity drinks that include both tapioca boba and pure-vegan bubble tea too!
Remember, most vegetarian bubble teas are also usually vegan if you exclude sweeteners like honey or other obvious dairy byproducts like whipping cream.
Boba tea can be made to fit your dietary needs by simply asking the barista or by using substitutes like almond or oat milk!
How To Figure Out If Your Bubble Tea Is Vegan
The best way to find out if your beverage of choice is vegan is to ask the barista. Most professional coffeehouses will label their products so that customers can enjoy bubble tea without a doubt.
However, some vendors may not adequately label the ingredients in their bubble tea.
For example, in the case of bursting boba, some brands may use non-vegan ingredients instead of seaweed or plant-based ingredients to make the gelatinous boba spheres.
Others may use sweeteners like non-vegan maple syrup to flavor the boba pearls.
Always check for labeling and the list of ingredients when picking a bubble tea. You can also have the barista make a vegan version of their bestselling drink – as is a common practice at many reputable coffeehouses.
Of course, the next best way to ensure that your boba tea is vegan is to make vegan bubble tea at home. You’d be surprised by how easy it is!
Recipes For Vegan Bubble Tea With Vegan Boba Pearls
Here are some great recipes for both bubble tea and boba pearls!
Classic Vegan Bubble Tea
- Store-bought vegan boba/tapioca pearls
- 3 cups of room-temperature water
- 2 tbsp of a sweetener of your choice
- 2 cup-sized tea bags of black tea
- 2 cups of vegan milk of choice (almond or oat milk will work great)
- In a small saucepan, boil 3 cups of water and add the tapioca balls to the pan. Continue to cook the pearls for 8 minutes at low heat. You can also follow the instructions at the back of the packaging for better-tasting boba pearls.
- Stir the pearls occasionally and cook until the pearls become dark and translucent. Try a pearl to check its consistency; it should be satisfyingly chewy but completely tender.
- In a large coffee mug, steep 2 tea bags in 1-1.5 cups of hot water. Leave the tea bags in for 5 minutes or longer if you want a stronger tasting mixture. Once done, remove the tea bags and store the mug in the fridge until it cools down.
- Strain the tapioca pearls and transfer them to a bowl filled with cold water. The pearls need to remain submerged or they might dry out.
- Add 2 tbsps. of sweetener to the bowl and let them rest for 3-4 minutes.
- Now comes the fun part! Assemble the bubble tea by first pouring the tapioca pearls and syrup mixture into the bottom of the glass along with some ice cubes. Top it off with your favorite vegan milk and enjoy!
- You can also add more sweetener, cinnamon, or vanilla as a garnish to further improve the look and flavor of your bubble tea! Remember, always use a large boba tea straw to drink and eat the boba pearls!
Dairy-Free Fruity Bubble Tea
Here is another great vegan bubble tea recipe that also has fruity flavor notes!
- 1 cup vegan tapioca pearls of your choice
- 1 cup coconut or almond milk
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 cup of brewed black tea
- 1 cup brewed matcha tea
- 1 cup mango juice
- 1 cup strawberries, blended with vegan milk of your choice
- In a medium-sized pot, bring 5 cups of water to boil and add the tapioca pearls. Make sure that the water is bubbling and boiling before adding the pearls or they might lose some of their texture.
- Cook the pearls for about 5 minutes or as instructed at the back of the packaging.
- Take out 1.5-2 tbsp of the tapioca liquid and strain the pearls to remove all the excess water. At the same time, transfer the pearls into a small bowl filled with water, sweetener and add the tapioca liquid to the bowl as well.
- Now assemble the tea by mixing the black tea, matcha tea, mango juice, and strawberry mixture with vegan milk of your choice! Garnish with a bit of sweetener or fruit and enjoy with a large boba straw!
Now that we’ve gone over bubble tea and whether or not it’s vegan and vegetarian, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Is it necessary to always sweeten tapioca pearls?
No. You can add unsweetened tapioca pearls to any bubble tea. Traditionally though, adding a bit of herbal liquid-sweetener will give the pearls and the base of the drink a balanced and “fuller” flavor.
This will also make a huge difference in the overall flavor of the drink as you suck in the boba pearls from the bottom of the glass.
What do tapioca pearls taste like?
Boba pearls don’t have any flavor but their texture does provide some subtle flavor notes. It can be best described as being a bit doughy, nutty, and earthy.
Sweetened boba pearls will have more or less the same flavor but with a hint of sweetness.
Are bubble tea and boba tea the same?
Yes, bubble tea is the commercial name for boba tea which is also known as tapioca tea or boba milk tea.
All these names describe the same thing but you might also come across terms like “popping boba” or “bursting boba” which is a bit different than tapioca pearls.
Bursting boba is made from gelatin rather than dough and contains liquid juice, unlike tapioca pearls.