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All the Ways to Make Bubble Tea, Taiwan's Pearl-fect Drink

A look at over 12 million possible combos to sip on

By Julia Janicki and Daisy Chung

As two Taiwanese people living abroad, bubble tea runs in our blood. For the uninitiated, bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink with tapioca balls also commonly known as “boba.” Although bubble tea can be made with other liquids and toppings, many people often order the standard: milk tea with boba. However, in Taiwan, the birthplace of boba (depending on which origin story you believe), locals often customize their drinks as if they own the shop! In fact, there are countless more flavors and toppings in Taiwan than we ever see abroad.

This made us curious: exactly how many unique boba drinks are there in Taiwan? And after living away from home for more than 10 years, are we missing out on any new developments in the boba scene? To answer these questions, we analyzed drink menus from the top 5 most popular stores as of Feb 2021 according to YouTuber Data66's Google Trends data.

To make things simple, we broke down each drink to look at the types of base liquid, milk, flavor, and toppings used.

The beauty of bubble tea is in its limitless possibility—you can completely customize your drink to your liking! Even in our study of just five stores, there are 157 unique drinks. Take a closer look by making your own drink below and find out why Taiwanese people are so proud of and crazy about this little cup of magic.

Begin your tea making adventure

1Pick your base drink

First choose a base for your drink. You can think of this as the foundation of your bubble tea—even if it's not tea.

Pure teas
Milk teas
Milk based drinks
Fruit juice teas
Fresh juice
Tap to select your base drink

2Pick additional toppings

In Taiwan, people have a taste for soft and satisfyingly chewy textures—something they describe as “Q”. The classic example is boba pearls, which are made from tapioca starch. However, there are so many other toppings that fit the bill! Mostly using local ingredients, Taiwanese tea makers have explored and expanded topping options to provide an extra happy bounce to your drink. Hover your cursor over each topping to learn more!

Agar pearl
It is also called crystal boba or white pearl, and is usually set by boiling agar, a seaweed extract, then immersed in syrup with a subtle citrus flavor. It is white, translucent and soft, chewy but not as gelatinous as boba.
Aiyu jelly
Aiyu is produced from the seeds of the awkeotsang creeping fig, a plant native to Taiwan that are found in mountains over 1500 m. By massaging the seeds in water, pectin is released and interacts with the minerals in the water to gelatinize into a jelly. Aiyu jelly shaved ice is a popular desert during the summer months in Taiwan.
Aloe jelly
Aloe vera jelly is made from the gel or pulp extracted from aloe vera plants, which is then soaked and boiled in water with sugar.
Also known as tapioca balls, boba are made from dried cassava root, which is a woody shrub that is native to South America. The leaves are turned into tapioca, a starch, then soaked in sugar syrup to make them sweet.
Coconut jelly
Produced by the fermentation of coconut water that undergoes microbial cellulose production by a bacteria to form a gel. It is translucent, chewy, and has mild flavors.
Coffee jelly
A jelly dessert produced by mixing coffee, sugar and agar or gelatin. It can be made using instant mix or produced from scratch.
Dried longan
Dried longan [桂圓] is tranditionally made by sun-drying fresh longan, a fruit whose Chinese characters mean 'dragon eye' [龍眼]. The logan plant is found in tropical regions of Asia.
Grass jelly
Grass jelly comes from the Chinese mesona plant native to Taiwan (in the mint family). It can be made by boiling the stems and leaves (at this stage it can be made into grass jelly tea), then set with starch and sweetener into a jelly. The name comes from its Chinese name, 'xian-cao' [仙草] which translates to “immortal grass” for its healing properties. It has a flavor between rooibus and mint with smoky undertone.
Ice cream
Self explanatory :)
Mashed sweet potato
Taiwanese have been eating sweet potatoes since the 1600s and it became a key crop by 1700s, including for the aboriginese. At one point it was among the most important crops along with rice and sugar. It is called [番薯] or [地瓜] (earth melon) in Chinese.
Millet mush
Called literally as "noodle tea"[麵茶] in Chinese (pronounced [米爹] in Taiwanese), it essentially is the mush made by mixing wheat flour, often along with peanut, sesame or almond poweder plus sugar, in boiling water. It was originally a dish from northern China and is now a common dish sold by street vendors in Taiwan. Recently it also became popular as a dessert and consumed with shaved ice as well as milk tea.
Mung bean puree
Mung beans come from a plant in the legume family found mainly in Asia. The paste is made by cooking mung beans with sugar. On its own, it is a popular dessert in the summer season.
Frog eggs
Also known as mountain tapioca in Chinese [山粉圓], it is made from the seeds of the pignut plant. The seeds are flat and dark but after being soaked in water a translucent pectin layer would appear around the dark seed, making it look like frog eggs! Frog egg desserts are commonly found in Taiwanese night markets.
Osmanthus agar pearl
It is essentially agar pearl, which is formed from agar (a seaweed extract), immersed in syrup with Osmanthus flowers. Osmanthus is a genus of plants that has been in Taiwan since the 1700s, their flowers are really popular in Taiwan and can be found in various products, including oolong teas and various desserts.
Passion fruit konjac jelly
Konjac jelly is made from the root of the Konjac plant ([蒟蒻] in Chinese, and konnyaku in Japanases) native to E and SE Asia. It is a type of jelly similar to gelatin but firmer and basically tasteless on its own. Passionfruit, another plant found in Taiwan since the 1900s up until 2000 m elevation, can be added to it to add flavor to the texture.
Pears are essentially tapioca balls that are smaller than boba, and are sometimes called mini boba.
Pineapple chunk
Pineapples have been cultivated in Taiwan since the 1600s and became a major crop under Japanese rule, and by 1972 Taiwan was the number two pineapple producer in the world, just after Hawaii. Nowadays the pineapples produced are mainly consumed locally with some exported to China before 2021 when China banned Taiwanese pineapples, but Taiwanese people bought up the excess stock. This response became knownn as "Freedom pineapples".
Egg pudding
Egg pudding is a sweet custard dessert with a smooth texture made from sugar, eggs, and milk. It is often consumed on its own but recently became a popular topping in boba drinks.
Red beans
Red beans, [红豆] in Chinese, are used in many delicacies, such as the sweet red bean soup and the red bean wheel cakes. It is also a popular ingredient added to shaved ice, and more recently bubble tea drinks.
Rice grain
Also known as puffed rice [米香], it is a puffed grain made from rice. It is formed by the reaction of both starch and moisture when heated within the shell of the grain.
Produced from sago palm starch. On its own sago does not have much flavor and is less chewy and smaller than tapioca pearls. They are easy to slurp and often paired well with creamy drinks.
Taro balls
Taro balls are a traditional Taiwanese dessert made from taro, a perennial herbaceous plant in the Araceae family, it is also known as ōo-á in Taiwanese. Although taro was one of the staple foods of the Taiwanese aborigines in the past, now it is mostly consumed as a dessert.
Wood ear
Also known as tree ear, it is an edible fungus found on the bark of elder trees popular in Taiwanese savory dishes and desserts alike.
Ube balls
Ube is also known as purple yam or purple sweet potato, and it originated in the Philippines. Ube balls are fried purple yam mixed with condensed milk.

3Ice or hot?

Here's a secret: asking for no ice can get you a more concentrated tea flavor! You may even get extra points for ordering like a Taiwanese local. That’s because according to East Asian medicine, hot or room-temperature drinks are good for your health. Given this custom, some academics actually credit bubble tea for introducing a preference for cold drinks to Asia.

Less ice
Some ice
No ice
Room temperature

4How sweet?

Although some base flavors are already sweet to begin with, sweeteners can also be added to your drink for extra oomph. These vary between tea shops—some use simple syrup, brown sugar syrup, golden cane syrup, fructose, or even honey. And like ice, you can also adjust the sweetness level of your drink. When in doubt, go with 50% sweetness, the level many bubble tea aficionados swear by.


5Straw and bag

Many people in Taiwan drink their bubble tea on the go, so it's very common to see people walking, biking, or driving their motorbikes with a boba drink in a bag. Unfortunately, this can mean a lot of single-use plastic. However, in recent years, Taiwan has made great strides in reducing plastic waste. In fact, one new law that takes effect in July 2022 will give a $5 TWD discount to customers that bring their own reusable boba cups.


I brought my own
Wide boba straw
Regular straw

For larger toppings like boba, you’ll need a wider straw to enjoy your bubble tea. All tea shops provide these as well as regular straws, but a growing number of eco-conscious consumers are bringing their own reusable straws made of silicone, glass, or metal. Some tea shops also sell reusable straws.


I brought my own
No bag
Plastic baggy

Taiwanese tea shops sell small plastic bags (since 2018 stores are prohibited from issuing free plastic bags) so people can easily take their drink for the road. However, just like reusable straws are becoming popular, so are reusable bubble tea holders made of stylish fabric. Some designs even include a convenient pocket for carrying your straw.

6Enjoy your very own drink

Congrats! Out of 12,775,875 possible combinations, you've created a one-of-a-kind bubble tea drink, along with the following customisations:

The Base

The Flavor

The Texture

Aiyu jelly
Aiyu jelly
Aiyu jelly

The Milk

Temperature & Sweetness


The Straw

The Bag

And share it with the world with #MyBobaDrink