Home Articles Bubble Tea vs. Boba (Is There Really a Difference?)

Bubble Tea vs. Boba (Is There Really a Difference?)

Bubble tea vs. boba: is there a difference?

The short answer is no, there’s no difference between bubble tea and boba.

But there are a few technical differences. 

And the name of this unique milky tea drink with the delightful tapioca pearls changes depending on where you are on the globe.

(And even what coastline you live on in the US!)

Boba tea

So, let’s break down the technical differences between bubble tea vs. boba, and the origins of the word boba. 

Trust me, you’ll want to stick around until the end to discover what the word boba actually means!

Bubble Tea vs. Boba (Is There Any Difference?) 

No, there is no difference between bona and bubble tea!

There are tons of terms for bubble tea (or boba), and they all reference the same thing. 

But if you want to get technical, boba is those small tapioca pearls in bubble tea, while the term bubble tea references the entire drink. 

If you tell a friend, “Let’s get boba,” they’ll know you want the drink, not just a bowl of tapioca pearls. 

Bubble tea is a fruity, milky drink with chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom. 

It’s often infused with fruits like mango, strawberry, and lychee and incorporates different tea flavors. 

What’s great about bubble tea is that it’s served cold over ice (perfect for a hot summer day) or warm. 

The boba, or tapioca pearls, are mild and tasteless, so they get special treatment. 

For boba tea, these tapioca pearls soak in a sweet syrup to enhance the flavor and sweetness of bubble tea. 

The terms bubble and boba refer to the tasty tapioca balls.

So if you order bubble or boba at a restaurant, it will 100 percent come with tapioca pearls. 

To almost everyone, bubble tea and boba are used interchangeably and shift as you move between coastlines (more on that later). 

Homemade Milk Bubble Tea with Tapioca

Which Naming Gets Used More? 

The usage of bubble tea and boba is similar to the use of ‘soda’ and ‘pop’ on different coastlines. 

In fact, the population of the United States is split right down the middle on who uses bubble tea and who uses boba!

Folks on the east coast, as far as Wisconsin, call it bubble tea. In the states past Wisconsin, all the way to California, use the term boba. 

Why is that? 

There’s no concrete answer to the coast split.

But some believe it’s because more Taiwanese live on the east coast, and the term ‘boba’ comes from Taiwan. 

So, just like soda and pop, if you ask a friend to get boba or bubble tea. They’ll catch your drift!

Outside of the United States, bubble tea goes by just as many names.

In its birthplace of Taiwan, it’s called Zhenzhu Naicha. And in China, it’s Bo Ba Nai Cha.

So, if you wanted to know the universal agreement on which term reigns supreme, the answer is none of them! 

Other Popular Names for Bubble Tea 

To make things even more confusing, there are more terms for this delightfully creamy tapioca drink!

Other names for bubble tea include: 

  • Pearl Milk Tea
  • Tapioca Tea
  • Milk Tea
  • Black pearl tea 
  • Boba nai cha
  • Pearl Tea

The naming confusion doesn’t just happen in the United States.

Other Asian countries often refer to bubble tea with many different names. 

The Japanese call bubble tea タピオカ, which translates to (and sounds like) tapioca. 

It’s important to note that some of these options, like milk tea, may or may not contain tapioca pearls. 

Milk tea, for instance, incorporates all the creamy and fruity tastiness of boba but sometimes omits the tapioca pearls. 

It’s an excellent option for those who love bubble tea flavors but are unsure about the texture of tapioca pearls. 

Variety of Milk Tea

Bubble Tea Vs. Boba Vs. Milk Tea 

Let’s make things even more confusing and add milk tea into the mix!

We know that bubble tea and boba mean the exact same thing. But what about milk tea? Is it the same?

Boba and bubble tea are beverages made from tea, sweet cream, added spices and flavors, and (of course) tapioca pearls. 

Milk tea is a little different in some cases. 

Milk tea is similar to boba tea, but sometimes it omits the best part: the tapioca pearls. 

Often, milk tea incorporates black tea with tasty additions like cream, sugar, and flavors (just like bubble tea) sans the bubbles. 

If you see milk tea on the menu, ask whether it comes with tapioca pearls. 

Milk tea is tasty and wonderful, but the flavorful tapioca pearls in bubble tea are the best part!

Boba Tea with Sugar Syrup

What Does Boba Actually Mean? 

If you google the translation of boba, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. 

Boba is a Taiwanese term that means tapioca pearls, but it’s not its only translation. 

In China and Taiwan, it’s also a slang term for ‘large-breasted woman.’ (I almost spit out my bubble tea when I learned that interesting fact!)

And its unique naming wasn’t by accident. 

Its naming evolved from a very clever marketing campaign to get people in the 1980s excited about this tasty and unique drink. 

They named it boba tea to get more patrons to try their unique bubble tea with tapioca pearls. 

It would be like if coffee shops in the US named their new menu item “breast tea.” 

You would be confused but would have to try such a strange menu option. 

And from there, the popularity grew until it spread across the globe.

Bubble Tea vs. Boba

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Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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