It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to drink bubble tea in America, you’d have to search out specialist stores.
Bubble tea, or boba tea, is characterized by the big tapioca pearls that give it a unique appearance. A Taiwanese drink, bubble tea only became popular among Americans very recently.
Nowadays, boba is one of the most popular drinks around. Versatile, refreshing, and delicious, bubble tea has become a staple of shopping trips and catch-ups.
But although many of us love to drink it, we might not know exactly what it contains. And if you’re a parent or an expectant mother, then you need to know if bubble tea contains caffeine.
The short answer is yes. Bubble tea is typically made of a tea concentrate, fruit, milk, and tapioca balls. Because tea is a primary ingredient, bubble tea can contain between 100 mg and 160 mg of caffeine.
But it isn’t quite that simple. In fact, today you can find low-caffeine, and even caffeine-free, bubble tea. You just need to know what to look for.
To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to bubble tea and caffeine. We explain everything you need to know, so you can enjoy this incredible beverage properly.
All About Bubble Tea
Even if you’ve never tried bubble tea, you’re sure to recognize the distinctive drink. Milky and creamy, it’s characterized by the round tapioca pearls that sink to the bottom of the cup. Typically served in a clear cup with a wide straw, bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink with global popularity.
Bubble tea is commonly made of a mixture of tea concentrate, fruit syrups, and milk. Bubble tea can be served both hot and cold, although most tend to drink it cold.
These ingredients need to be shaken up to get them to mix properly, which forms a layer of bubbly foam on top of the tea — which is how the drink got its name. Yes, the bubbles in bubble tea were not named after the tapioca pearls. Surprised?
In fact, the tapioca pearls were a later addition. They became popular almost immediately, and are now a standard part of the bubble tea experience. Over time, these tapioca balls have become the “bubbles” of bubble tea.
Bubble tea is generally served with a wide straw so you can suck up all the tapioca pearls. These have a fun and chewy texture, and absorb the tastes of the drink they’re soaked in. This unusual texture is a big part of the reason bubble tea has become so popular.
Sometimes bubble tea is served in a traditional coffee cup with a domed lid, but the best way to get it is with a sealed top. Then you can shake up your drink, get everything mixed together, and create those necessary bubbles. Pierce the plastic with your straw, and get drinking!
But although bubble tea started out as a relatively simple drink, there are now so many variations of boba available you’d struggle to try them all.
From colorful fruity flavors, to candy inspired treats, to more traditional tea bases, bubble tea has become a sensation. Even those famous tapioca bubbles have undergone a transformation. Now there are a variety of bubbles you can have scooped into your bubble tea.
Bubble tea quickly grew in popularity in its native Taiwan, and then the sensation spread across Asia. Although it took a while to get to American shores, there are now boba shops across the states.
But despite the popularity, not everyone knows what bubble tea is. And importantly, many may not be aware that the sweet treat is often caffeinated.
Does Bubble Tea Contain Caffeine?
A tea concentrate forms the base of typical bubble tea. This is then shaken together with milk, and sweeteners, to create the final beverage.
When we think of caffeine and breakfast beverages, it’s generally coffee that comes to mind. From espressos to cappuccinos, coffee is regularly drunk for it’s caffeinated effects.
But even though it’s rarely the first choice for a pick-me-up, tea does contain caffeine. And in some cases, tea contains a significant amount of caffeine.
The traditional base for bubble tea is black tea, preferably Chinese breakfast tea. But all kinds of teas can be used to make the beverage. Green and white teas, Oolong, Pu’erh, and Darjeeling can all make a fantastic bubble tea.
All these types of teas contain caffeine. In fact, they all come from the same plant: camellia sinensis. However, the way they’re treated and processed does affect the caffeine level of the leaf. Some of these teas are higher in caffeine than others.
As you can see, this makes it difficult to determine just how much caffeine is in any one cup of tea.
Another factor to consider is how long the tea has been steeped for. To make bubble tea, the tea itself has to be steeped for a long time. This is to ensure a strong tea flavor. When the milk, sweeteners, and tapioca balls are added, this tea flavor should still be distinctive.
But the longer you brew your tea, the more caffeine will infuse into the drink. So, a tea brewed for 30 minutes has a higher caffeine level than that same tea brewed for just 2 minutes. And this is true for both hot and cold brewed teas.
So, the type of tea and the brewing time can both affect the level of caffeine in your cup.
With all that in mind, you might assume all children and pregnant women should be kept away from bubble teas. However, the caffeine content of tea is typically low, and pregnant women are allowed tea in moderate amounts.
To put it simply, children and pregnant women can drink bubble tea in moderate amounts. But those with a caffeine sensitivity should be careful.
How Much Caffeine Is In Bubble Tea?
Based on the above information, you can probably guess that determining an exact level of caffeine in bubble tea is impossible. In much the same way that knowing the specific caffeine amount of tea is impossible — there are just too many variables.
But what we can do is make a rough estimate. One study tested the caffeine contact of a range of bubble teas. The average amount of caffeine was 320 mg per liter of bubble tea, with a low of 250 mg and a high of an incredible 490 mg.
Based on this study, we can assume that the average 16 fl oz serving of bubble tea contains roughly 151 mg of caffeine. This is significantly more than you’d find in the same amount of most standard black teas.
A serving of bubble tea tends to contain somewhere between 100 mg and 160 mg of caffeine.
The average recommended maximum caffeine intake for a pregnant person is 200 milligrams a day. Which means that a pregnant woman could consume bubble tea, as long as it’s within moderation.
Teens, on the other hand, are recommended to consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. So, a full size cup of boba will typically go past that limit.
Under-12s have no designated safe threshold, and should avoid consuming caffeine. Any parents hoping to take the family for a bubble tea experience should consider sticking to the fruit based varieties.
It’s important to remember that these caffeine amounts are only a rough estimate, and aren’t accurate for every cup of bubble tea. In fact, there are many ways to ensure you cut down on the amount of caffeine in your boba.
Can You Get Caffeine-Free Bubble Tea?
Yes, you can get a caffeine-free version of bubble tea, although it won’t contain any tea. Instead, these fruit based bubble teas use infusions and juices to create the base of the drink.
When you head to a bubble tea shop, you’re likely to notice that there’s an incredible range of teas on offer. While some of them use the traditional tea base to build their beverages, other flavors will be fruity. In some cases, these fruit flavored bubble teas will have no caffeine.
Another fun option to try is brown sugar milk tea. This fairly traditional drink is made of milk, brown sugar syrup, and tapioca pearls, so there’s no caffeine at all!
But if you want a more traditional bubble tea experience, with a lower level of caffeine, you may prefer ordering a flavor with a non-black tea base. Bubble tea made using green tea or white tea typically contains less caffeine overall.
Some bubble tea shops also make their drinks using matcha. This generally has a lower caffeine level than black tea.
In some rare cases, you can order bubble tea made with decaffeinated tea concentrate. Decaf teas are very similar to black teas, only they’ve gone through a complicated process to remove the caffeine.
Some bubble tea shops do offer decaf versions, but not often. This is an excellent option to consider if you want to make bubble tea at home!
Another way to cut down on the caffeine intake in your bubble tea is the most obvious option — order a smaller size. Typically, bubble tea is served in large cups, larger than you may order a standard tea. Cut down the size, and you cut down the caffeine content.
If you aren’t sure what to order, just ask! Bubble tea shops can have a large menu, and it’s normal to need some help navigating it. Especially for a first timer. Ask about the caffeine free options, and order a bubble tea that gets you excited.
What Ingredients Are Used to Make Bubble Tea?
We’ve covered the tea part, but what else can you expect to find in bubble tea?
Many of us will have never encountered the tapioca pearl outside of bubble tea. These small and chewy balls are a distinctive feature of standard bubble tea, but not everyone knows what they actually are.
Tapioca pearls are made of – you guessed it – tapioca. Specifically, tapioca starch, which comes from the root of cassava plants. This is then mixed with hot water, to form a sticky dough. The dough is then hand rolled into tiny balls, and left to dry. At this point, the boba pearls are hard and not hugely appealing.
Then comes the cooking process. Boba pearls have to be cooked for a while, until they’ve taken on the soft and chewy texture that makes them so special. They’re generally cooked in a sugar syrup if they’re going to be used in tea.
The end result is a bouncy and chewy pearl, that’s fun to eat alongside the tea, and has a slightly sweet flavor.
Tapioca pearls are also known as boba. And they’re free of gelatin, making them suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Milk And Milk Alternatives
As well as all the tea flavor options, bubble tea shops may have a large range of milks for you to choose between.
Bubble tea made with black tea is typically served with milk. This milk can be fresh dairy milk, but it might also be condensed or evaporated milk. Condensed and evaporated milks are sweeter and thicker, and turn bubble tea into a dessert style-drink.
As well as dairy milk, bubble tea shops may have non-dairy milks available. Almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk are popular, and don’t change the taste much. Coconut milk may be used as well, adding a slight sweet hint to the tea.
Not all bubble teas are served with milk. Fruit flavored bubble teas generally have no milk at all.
Sugars And Sweeteners
We’ve discussed the caffeine level of bubble tea, but the sugar level can be another reason to consume bubble tea in moderation.
Bubble tea typically contains a lot of sugars and sweeteners. The tapioca pearls contain sugar, sugar syrups are a common addition, and fruit syrups are regularly used as well. All of this can add up to a drink that’s very delicious, incredibly sweet, and not very healthy.
Like the caffeine level, the sugar level is something you can control. Bubble tea shops will often offer different sugar levels, and you can ask for less sugar to be included in your drink. Choosing a low sugar milk, leaving out the tapioca pearls, and reducing the syrups, are ways to reduce the sugar content.
Bubble tea is delicious, but definitely something to consume in moderation.
Fruits (And Other) Flavorings
When you first head to a bubble tea shop, the amount of variety on offer can seem overwhelming. Some of us quickly find a favorite, and will make that our standard order, very rarely deviating from our chosen beverage. Others will try anything and everything, resulting in some heavenly combinations, and some absolute disasters.
Some fruit flavorings go very well with milk tea. Coconut, caramel, chocolate, banana, rose, and ube taro are all additions that should get your mouth watering.
Other flavors that go best in drinks without milk include cherry, dragon fruit, passion fruit, guava, kiwi, and apple.
And you can even get less typical flavors, such as Oreo, peanut butter, and cookie!
Basically, if you can think of a sweet flavor, you can probably get it in bubble tea.
Order yourself a bubble tea with popping boba and you’re in for a fun surprise. Suck it up through the straw, bite down, and it pops open revealing a juice filling.
Popping boba looks quite similar to the tapioca pearl boba, but to make it requires a completely different process. There’s no tapioca involved, and sodium alginate and calcium are used to form a thin gel-like skin outer layer.
Popping boba is nearly always fruit flavored, although you can get variations such as honey and green tea. They’re a fun twist on the tapioca pearls, and definitely worth trying.
By now, you should be realizing that there are a lot of potential varieties of bubble tea. And we’re about to make things even more complicated with toppings and additions.
One of the most popular toppings are fruit jellies. Jelly balls are normally made of coconut milk, which ferments to form a gel. Flavoring is added, and these are then dropped into your bubble tea. You can also sometimes get custard jellies, and even grass jellies.
Or you might prefer to add fresh fruit. Chunks of fresh fruit such as strawberries, mangoes, or bananas are lovely in a cold and fresh bubble tea.
You can even add beans! Sweetened red beans, or mung beans, are delicious, and add fiber and protein to your bubble tea. These beans are a traditionally Asian topping.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Bubble Teas Have The Most Caffeine?
Traditional bubble tea is made with black tea, typically Chinese breakfast tea or Assam tea. This is a black tea, which tends to have a higher caffeine level. Because of the long steeping process to make the tea concentrate, bubble tea made with black tea can have a high caffeine level.
What Types Of Bubble Tea Have No Caffeine?
Bubble tea made with fruit infusions or herbal teas are often caffeine-free, but make sure to check before ordering. These teas are typically made of dried fruits, flowers, and roots, rather than the leaves used to make black and green teas.
Green and white teas have a lower caffeine count, but they do contain caffeine.
Does Steeping Tea For Longer Increase The Caffeine Level?
Yes, the longer you steep tea, the more caffeine infuses. This contributes to the higher caffeine level sometimes found in bubble tea. Because the tea is steeped for a long time to bring out the flavor, the caffeine level is increased.
Final Thoughts On Caffeine In Bubble Tea
It’s important to know that the standard bubble tea does include caffeine, so you don’t get taken by surprise when you order a cup. Bubble tea is often made using a caffeinated tea concentrate, and this can sometimes be quite strong.
However, as tea is typically lower in caffeine than coffee, bubble tea is usually safe to drink in moderation by both teenagers and pregnant women. Children under 12 should avoid caffeinated beverages.
There’s so much variety to bubble tea that you can control how much caffeine you get. Either order a tea made with a green or white tea base, or try a fruit-based option.
As well as controlling the amount of caffeine, you can control the sugar content as well. Ask for lower sugar, and avoid the toppings.
The best way to get yourself a bubble tea that fits your needs is to ask! There are so many options of bubble tea available that there’s sure to be something fun to try. Staff at bubble tea shops can guide you through the menu, and create something perfectly suited for your tastes.
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