Tea has been a classic for centuries. People all around the world are enjoying this beverage, some for its health benefits, others for the various different flavors that it offers.
One tea variety that comes from Taiwan has gained astronomic popularity in recent years for its unique combination of flavors, and it is called boba or bubble tea.
However, the question of its availability in the US is what I often hear. One of the most popular chains that offers a variety of beverages in the US is Starbucks, and many like to enjoy their coffee first thing in the morning there.
But does Starbucks sell boba tea? Well, in the past, they didn’t offer any boba beverages, and they still don’t have classic boba tea.
However, from 2022, they do offer something that can be called “boba”, but there is much more to know.
So Does Starbucks Sell Boba?
If you are interested in a traditional boba or bubble tea, I have to disappoint you because you won’t find it in your favorite coffeehouse.
Since Starbucks is a type of coffee shop after all, they are very limited when it comes to the tea menu. They do have some teas to choose from, like for example Iced Chai Tea Latte, but classic boba or bubble tea is not one of them.
However, in 2021, Starbucks started experimenting with two boba beverages. Those are actually mock boba or boba-style drinks, but those are only available in their shops in California.
One of those is actually an Iced Chai Latte but with coffee-popping pearls, similar to those in traditional boba tea. Here, they combine a typical chai latte with popping pearls, infused with coffee flavor.
Although it is not the same as traditional boba tea, this Starbucks beverage is more on the tea side, so if you are looking for that, it is your best bet.
Another one that they have tested is more on the coffee side. They called it “In the Dark”. This one is made with cold brew and coffee-popping pearls, and its dominant flavor is “coffee flavor”.
Those who tried these new, exciting Starbucks beverages said that they have unique qualities, but some people aren’t satisfied with the “oddly salty-sweet flavor” of those coffee pearls.
This is because Starbucks pearls are not the same as the original boba pearls, also known as “tapioca pearls”. But what are those pearls, and what other types of ingredients accompany them? The answer is right below.
What Is Boba Drink Anyway?
First, this particular drink is quite new since it originated in Taiwan some time in the 1980s. Here’s an interesting interpretation of bubble tea history by Bubble Tea Supply.
There and in many other Asian countries, it was popular from the start, but it only recently became a thing here in the US and around the world.
Namely, in 2020, the global boba tea market was worth 2.32 billion USD, which is a mindblowing number.
Boba tea is traditionally made from just three ingredients, namely milk, tea, and chewy tapioca balls, also known as tapioca pearls.
Those tapioca pearls are a trademark of boba tea. They are small, round balls and their main material is tapioca starch. They are usually black and have a specific gummy texture.
The tea base, in which pearls are added, is usually black tea or green tea. The robust and rich flavor of black tea pairs well with milk and other flavors. For a more delicate and grassy flavor, there is green tea.
However, boba tea is not limited to these two tea varieties. Some other tea, including oolong tea, herbal teas, and rooibos tea, can also be used.
Aside from that, various other ingredients can be combined, creating a wide variety of choices when it comes to boba tea.
Popular Types of Boba Tea
Since there are various combinations when it comes to boba tea, there are also various boba tea varieties. Here, I will list some of the most popular ones.
• Classic Milk Tea: Classic milk tea is a simple and timeless choice. It typically consists of black tea mixed with milk and sweetener. The creamy and slightly sweet flavor makes it a popular option.
• Taro Tea Milk: Taro tea milk is mostly popular in Taiwan, but many tea lovers in the West prefer it as well. It is a unique combo of sweet and nutty flavors since it combines taro root, tapioca balls, and sweeteners.
• Honey Milk Tea: Aside from black tea, tapioca balls, and milk, honey is also added as a sweetener. As the name suggests, this boba tea is all about sweetness, i.e. the specific honey-like flavor.
• Winter Melon Milk Tea: It is a lesser-known version of boba tea, but winter melon milk tea can do wonders on those hot summer days. It is very refreshing, and it has a truly unique combo of flavors, i.e. it is slightly sweet with a hint of sourness.
Boba is not only limited to tea but can create various different dishes, including smoothies, milkshakes, cocktails, snacks, as well as this delicious egg pudding boba recipe.
Why Isn’t It Available At Starbucks?
So why is this incredible and popular milk drink not available at Starbucks? Well, as I mentioned earlier, Starbucks is not a tea house, but a coffee shop.
Some of you might think that it is not a good reason, as what can they lose by just introducing a straightforward drink that is gaining so much popularity in recent years, not just in the US, but globally?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Namely, specialized equipment and workers’ training are essential when it comes to making original boba tea. That all costs money, and people in Starbucks concluded that it is probably highly risky.
Aside from that, boba tea requires tapioca pearls, and preserving them is no simple task for a coffee shop when compared to some chains that are more focused on teas and milk teas.
They probably think that the storage space might be better utilized to store more commonly used ingredients.
Also, the head staff of Starbucks probably thinks that the boba tea market is oversaturated, meaning that they won’t be able to penetrate their customers that easily when there are so many well-established boba tea brands already.
After all, they are a coffee shop, so they believe that adding such a huge name to their menu might actually threaten the brand of their popular coffee drinks.
Additionally, here are a few interesting speculations on why Starbucks doesn’t have boba tea.
But Are There Any Good Alternatives?
What if you come to Starbucks and you crave boba tea, but there is no boba tea anywhere near? Are there any alternatives? Fortunately, yes, there are, and I am here to share with you some of my favorites.
• Iced Vanilla Chai Latte: Ice chai tea latte variations are some of the best-selling products in Starbucks. It is a perfect combo of spicy flavors and distinct sweetness, and it also offers a creamy and smooth texture, similar to boba tea.
When you add vanilla flavor to that, you get a truly unique and satisfying flavor profile.
• Raspberry Milk Tea: Raspberry milk tea is another classic that offers a delicious combination of fruity and creamy flavors.
It is a unique combination of sweet and slightly tangy flavors with a hint of tartness from the raspberries.
Aside from that, it also has a nice creamy consistency, provided by some type of milk, as well as green tea that is responsible for subtly earthy or floral undertones.
• Starbucks Cold Brew: It’s made with freshly ground beans that are steeped in cold water for 12 hours, resulting in a smooth and flavorful cup of coffee.
Starbucks cold brew is perfect in summer when you need something to cool you down.
• Black Iced Tea: This one is a coffee-based drink that contains some toffee nut syrup and brown sugar.
If you are more into bold and robust flavors, this one might be ideal for you.
Where Can You Buy a True Boba Drink?
If you are truly into boba tea, and can’t stand drinking “fake boba”, there are several well-known chains that specialize in offering this beverage. Here are just a few popular examples:
• Kung Fu Tea: It is a well-known bubble tea chain with a significant presence in the United States. They offer a wide range of flavors and toppings, and you can also customize their drinks according to your preferences.
• ShareTea: This tea chain is originally from Taiwan, but has recently expanded its presence in the US. They are known for their high-quality tea and an extensive menu of boba tea flavors.
• Gong Cha: Gong Cha is another popular bubble tea chain with multiple locations across the United States. They offer a variety of bubble tea flavors, including both classic and specialty options.
• Boba Guys: Boba Guys is a California-based chain that has gained popularity for its commitment to using high-quality ingredients and innovative flavors. They have expanded to multiple locations in California and New York.
• Ding Tea: Aside from its fresh and high-quality ingredients, Ding Tea is also known for the wide variety of milk teas, fruit teas, and specialty drinks they offer.
They also pay huge attention to their tapioca pearls, i.e. they strive to make their pearls soft, chewy, and flavorful.
How To Make Your Own Boba?
- Tea bags or loose tea leaves (black tea or green tea)
- Tapioca pearls
- Sweetener (Sugar, honey, or syrup)
- Milk or non-dairy alternatives (optional)
- Ice cubes
1. Cook the Tapioca Pearls: Boil water in a pot; 6 cups of water for every 1 cup of tapioca pearls is a perfect ratio.
Add the tapioca pearls to the boiling water and stir gently. Let them cook for about 10-15 minutes or until they reach your desired level of chewiness.
Once cooked, remove the pot from heat and let the pearls sit in the hot water for a few minutes.
After that, drain cooked tapioca pearls and rinse them with cold water to remove the excess starch.
2. Prepare the Tea: Brew a strong cup of tea using tea bags or loose tea leaves according to the package instructions. Two traditional types of tea used in boba drinks are black and green tea.
If you are more on the sweet side, you can also add some types of sweetener (sugar, honey, or syrup) to the hot tea and stir until dissolved.
3. Chill and Add Milk: First, let the tea cool down to room temperature, and then refrigerate it until cold.
At this stage, you can also add milk or a dairy-free alternative if you prefer.
4. Mix All the Ingredients: Take a glass or a cup and add a spoonful of cooked tapioca pearls to the bottom.
Now pour the chilled tea (with or without milk) over the pearls, leaving some space for the ice.
Add ice cubes to make the boba tea cold and refreshing.
5. Serve and Enjoy: Insert a large straw into the glass, ensuring that it reaches the tapioca pearls at the bottom.
Give the boba tea a quick stir before sipping to combine the flavors.
Enjoy your own tea masterpiece.
• When choosing a tea, you are not only limited to green or black tea. You can also choose the Teavana tea brand used by Starbucks, as it offers tons of flavors, ranging from mango flavors to citrusy pineapple.
• Once you mix the ingredients, you can also use a cocktail shaker or a stirring utensil to mix the ingredients together gently.
• If you are a coffee fan, you can also consider using a coffee-based latte with coffee pearls.