What is the Difference Between Boba and Bubble Tea?

At one point, you might have wondered what is the difference between boba and bubble tea? There is no difference between the two, and they are merely different terms for the same concept. There is, however, a little distinction in the technical aspects.

Moreover, Its rise in popularity also plays a massive role. Let’s talk about it! 

what is the difference between boba and bubble tea

To put it simply, there is no difference between the two terms. The tapioca pearls alone are known as boba instead of the drink as a whole, which is referred to as “bubble tea.”

What is boba?

Typically, boba refers to the pearls used in bubble tea. Since the beverage is prepared with “boba,” bubble tea is sometimes called “boba.”

However, the term mainly refers to tapioca pearls in the country of origin, and the name is derived from their roundness. Furthermore, In Taiwan, ‘boba’ (波霸) can be used as slang for breasts!

The boba gives the bubble tea an extra dimension of flavor and texture. When it comes to the boba pearls. There are also different varieties of it, like popping boba or crystal boba. 

What is bubble tea? 

The term “bubble tea” refers to various tea beverages, including tapioca pearls and boba toppings. 

The “bubbles” in the tea are the chewy tapioca balls at the bottom of the beverage. Some also say that the term bubble tea came from the foam on top of the drink after it is shaken. 

Originally, bubble tea was brewed with black tea and milk; this is where the name came from. But nowadays, the flavors and blends are endless. Bubble tea can be made with green tea, oolong, chai, or without any tea at all! 

Other Popular Names

The names and terms don’t stop with boba and bubble tea. In Asia, the drink may be referred to by a variety of names. The following are some of its different names:

  • Milk Tea
  • Pearl Tea/Pearl Milk Tea
  • Boba Nai Cha
  • Tapioca
  • Tapioca Tea
  • Bubble Milk Tea
  • Black Pearl Tea

The History and Tradition of Boba and Bubble Tea 

boys drinking boba tea

Bubble tea has been popular in Asia since the 1980s. However, the true ancestry of bubble tea remains a matter of controversy to this day. The discovery of the beverage is credited to a variety of people. 

In 1986, the Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan, Taiwan, claimed to have developed “bubble tea.” Tu Tsong-he, the proprietor of a teahouse in Ah-bó-liâu, is said to have seen tapioca balls at the local market. He had the idea to put the boba in his tea when he was there.

After that, his business was flooded with customers ordering this unique tapioca tea, which was shaken to release even more bubbles (thus the name “bubble tea”). Hanlin’s business has expanded to over 80 locations in Taiwan and abroad.

There is, however, a second narrative about the origins of Boba tea.

After a trip to Japan in the 1980s, Liu Han-Chieh, the creator of the Chun Shi Tang tea shop in Taichung, returned to Taiwan. 

She was given a cup of iced coffee at a cafe in Japan. She then had an idea to offer chilled Chinese tea as a nod to her Japanese roots. Multiple cold-tea-serving chains sprung up quickly after this. 

According to the company’s product manager, it is said that she developed the very first bubble tea in 1988. 

She served cold tea with tapioca balls to the whole team during a meeting. The boba was a huge hit with the employees. Popularity and sales quickly soared for the newly created bubble tea.

It’s impossible to say for sure who came up with bubble tea.

As a matter of fact, both corporations have launched lawsuits against one another in an attempt to assess who invented bubble tea first. In spite of this, no one managed to trademark or identify the inventor.

Their Rise In Popularity 

a cup of boba tea on a skateboard

It’s no wonder that bubble tea swiftly traveled from Taiwan to Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Again, bubble tea has also become an international phenomenon in the past few years. You can find a bubble tea stores in cities around the world. 

Taiwanese immigrants set up their first bubble tea business in California, and soon bubble tea chain stores were cropping up throughout the country in the 1990s and 2000s. Moreover, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that bubble tea’s popularity truly took off in the United States.

As one would anticipate, bubble tea has evolved through time into much more than a basic milk tea concoction. 

Boba and Bubble Tea All Over The World 

a cute girl with a boba tea

Bubble or boba tea may be referred to differently depending on where you live and how the drink is introduced to you.

Not to mention, everybody in LA calls it Boba in the United States, particularly on the West Coast. The term “bubble tea” is often used on the East Coast.

In Taiwan, Bubble Tea is also known as bōbà nǎichá or zhēnzhū nǎichá in Chinese.

Again, it’s a matter of personal choice and where you live. There are also regional variations in how some words are spoken.

Furthermore, people in the United States often refer to Boba as boba, even though the Chinese word for it is bbà (pronounced as bo ba).

Bubble Tea Brands To Try in The USA 

Now that we’ve covered the differences between boba and bubble tea, it’s time to discuss where to get it! Here’s a quick guide on the top boba brands in the USA and some suggestions on what to order. Who knows, you might find your next favorite boba drink from this list. 

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice 

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice is a Taiwanese company that swiftly expanded into China in 1997. It is China’s first and biggest brand that offers fresh beverages.

It has become a well-known boba tea brand ever since. After establishing a stronghold in China, the brand expanded into other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, the United States, and Singapore, all of which proved to be lucrative ventures.

Nothing beats the classics. If you’re looking for a good Pearl Milk Tea, CoCo is the store. They’re also known for their delicious Taro Milk Tea. 

Kung Fu Tea

It’s no secret that all of Kung Fu Tea’s U.S. locations place a high value on taste, quality, and expertise. 

Customers feel like they’re part of the family when they purchase at their shops.

When you visit Kung Fu Tea, you’ll find card games to keep you and your friends busy while waiting for your boba. 


TPUMPS is a must-see if you’re ever in the SF Bay Area or Los Angeles. A boba tea shop that began as a shipping business has become a popular destination for customers who can’t get enough of it. 

What should you get? Try the Salted Caramel Cookie Dough Black Milk Tea if you’re in the mood for something sweet. The Passion Fruit Tangerine Guava is an excellent choice if you want something fruity.


Sharetea first opened its doors in 1992. Back then, they only offered Pearl Milk Tea and Black Tea. 

Currently, they have a wide variety of bubble tea selections — from milk teas to fruit teas. Their drinks are made with the highest quality tea leaves and delectable tapioca pearls sourced from Taiwan. 

Some of their best-sellers are the Kiwi Fruit Tea and Hawaii Fruit Tea. If you love tropical and fresh flavors, this will be a hit. 

Sharetea has multiple stores across the U.S. Check out which store is the nearest to your area. 


There’s always room for everyone in the bubble tea world. If you’re a vegan, Fatstraw offers an all gluten-free menu. They offer almond milk, soy milk, and coconut milk for brewed teas as dairy-free alternatives. Even their bubbles and jellies are gluten-free! And if you’re looking for something to snack on along with it, they offer mochi donuts.

What is the Difference Between Boba and Bubble Tea? -The Bottom Line

Boba, bubble tea, pearl milk tea, or whatever you’d like to call it — all refer to the same beverage. They only vary in terms of geography or personal choice. Don’t stress about it, though. Getting your refreshing bubble tea fix is the only thing that matters at the end of the day! 

Frequently Asked Questions 

boba tea and bubble tea

Is bubble and boba tea the same thing?

Yes. People who ask for a cup of boba or bubble tea are alluding to the same beverage.

Bubble tea refers to the beverage in general, while boba pertains to the pearls that make up the drink.

Is boba the same thing as tapioca pearls?

Yes. However, when people say they want a “cup of boba,” they usually mean the beverage as a whole, rather than just the pearls. 

How is bubble tea served?

Bubble tea, also called “boba,” comes in cups with a big straw. There are also many different bubble tea flavors, so everyone can find one they like.

Happy Sipping!