What exactly are those squishy little balls in the bottom of cups of Thai iced tea? Are they actually okay to eat?

Get the scoop on those little boba pearls here.

drinking boba tea

Tea Thai-me

Thai iced tea, bubble tea, pearl milk tea, boba tea — whatever you call it, it’s delicious and refreshing. But baffling many people are those chewy little balls at the bottom of the cup.

They don’t usually have much of a flavor of their own — apart from a bit of sweetness — yet for some reason you can’t help but slurp them up through the oversized straw and chew ‘em up. But what are they?

And the mystery ingredient is…

colorful boba pearls in the bottom of a cupThey’re tapioca pearls — most commonly, black tapioca pearls. Yes, the little chewy bits at the bottom of your tea are essentially the same thing used to make that classic dessert, tapioca pudding.

Tapioca is simply a starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant. When cooked correctly, you end up with a little sphere about a quarter inch in diameter with the texture of a gummy bear.

They’re not added only to teas, but also may show up in coffee-based drinks and even fruity smoothies.

According to one story, the pearls in tea first originated in Taiwan, where a vendor outside of a school added the little boba balls to his shaken teas to make his drinks stand out to the students. I guess it worked.

The boba pearls don’t really serve much of a purpose in the tea, other than to add a texture, slight flavor and a little fun to be enjoyed along with the drink.

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About The Author

Andy Warycka

Andy Warycka has been writing professionally since 2009. His work has appeared on sites such as SheKnows.com, Match.com, ClickAmericana.com and other top online properties. He owns a photography business, and holds an Associate of Applied Science in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology.


Photo credit(s): Top boba photo thanks to mariahfleming / Boba balls in the bottom of a cup picture courtesy of Evan Wood

Original publication date: Dec 29, 2011

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