All TopicsNewsCultureJapanese Snacks & CandyFood & DrinkTravelEntertainmentMember Spotlight
TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogIs Boba Tea Japanese? The Answer May Surprise You!

Is Boba Tea Japanese? The Answer May Surprise You!

Jamila BrownJamila Brown
Published Time
Posted on 
July 19, 2021
Modified Time
Updated last 
June 21, 2022

If you’re hip to the latest pop culture trends you might have noticed teens around the world going crazy for a certain tea-based drink. There are many names for it. Some call it pearl milk tea, or bubble tea, but it’s most commonly known as boba milk tea. The tea comes in many flavors from Japanese matcha (green tea), brown sugar, and even strawberry.

Boba tea is quickly gaining popularity in Japan with new tea shops popping up all over the place every day, including boba shops in Shibuya and other areas popular with young people. It’s become the on-trend drink that has people lining up out the door for a sip of some satisfying tea. But what exactly is boba tea? Is it Japanese or did it come from somewhere else? 

Is Boba Tea Japanese?

Despite the huge popularity of boba tea in Japan, this tasty treat actually originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. The drink is known locally in Taiwan as zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶). There are two different categories of boba tea; teas with milk and teas without milk. While the most common drink flavors are green or black tea, the popularity of the drink has spawned other fruit-based flavors as well. The signature of boba tea is the black tapioca balls that come with the drink. Those tapioca balls (珍珠 or タピオカ) are sweet, chewy, and make the perfect addition to this refreshing beverage. While not essential, the consistency of the tapioca balls can make or break the quality of the drink. The term known locally as QQ in Taiwan refers to the chewy, rubbery, and bouncy consistency of foods like mochi, noodles, and of course tapioca balls. QQ is difficult to master, but boba that is expertly crafted will bring the right amount of chewiness required to nail that QQ feeling! 

Image via Homemade boba tea flavored with milk and brown sugar.

image via shutterstock.com

The popularity of boba tea began to spread all over Asia in the 90's as young teens became hip to the trend. The drink has become a staple treat among snack aficionados around the world. Some of the most popular shops will have people line up for more than thirty minutes just to get one cup. The wait can be especially long at some of the best boba shops in Tokyo on a busy weekend. The boba tea craze has even expanded beyond drinks, with boba fanatics creating various bubble tea-based snacks like ice cream, pizza, and toast. 

As the drink has diffused across the world, the genre of teas has evolved as well. While milk is the most common base for the recipe, many drinks include non-dairy substitutes or juices. The tapioca balls can be black, red, pink, or even crystal clear bringing customers even more flavorful fun. For newcomers to boba tea, the drink can look a little intimidating, so let’s go over what are the most common flavors you can find. 

Want to taste some refreshing Japanese drinks for yourself? Get crazy Japanese drinks and snacks delivered straight from Tokyo to your door every month with TokyoTreat!

Classic Boba Tea Flavors 

Classic Milk Tea 

The original flavor, milk tea, that started the boba trend. Black tea is shaken with frothy milk, crushed ice, and a handful of tapioca balls. It’s the easiest drink for those who have never tried boba tea since tapioca balls serve as a sweet surprise in contrast to the more mild taste of the tea. Japanese milk tea is especially delicious with or without tapioca.

Brown Sugar Tea 

This ultra-rich flavor has become just as popular as the classic milk tea. Using milk tea as the base, the drink is doused with a generous serving of brown sugar syrup topped off with the black tapioca balls. The drink is significantly sweeter than classic milk tea so watch out if you don’t have a sweet tooth. 

Matcha Tea 

Giving a spin on Japanese matcha, matcha boba is a nice fusion of Taiwanese tea and Japanese flavors! The mild taste of the tea is enhanced by the sweet tapioca balls at the bottom of the drink. If you love all things matcha this is the flavor you should try. 

By the way, if you're interested in preparing matcha at home, you can learn how to make matcha without a whisk!

Various flavors of Japanese boba tea.

image via shutterstock.com

Popular Boba Tea Cafes in Japan 

After learning a bit about this delicious drink, you might be wondering where you can try a cup for yourself. Since the boba tea craze has taken Japan by storm, there are several boba tea shops throughout Japan you can visit.

Gong Cha 

The Taiwanese chain, Gong Cha, is one of the most popular boba tea chains throughout the country. The drinks capture the eyes and taste buds of consumers. They offer the classic boba tea flavors but they offer a variety of fruit-based teas with fruit-flavored coconut jelly for flavoring. Gong Cha has locations near most major stations in Tokyo, so it’s probably the most convenient place to grab a drink. 

Saisabo Harajuku 

Bubble tea shops in Tokyo always offer a unique experience of their own. Saisabo in Harajuku is the place to go for a truly Tokyo experience!

The most popular drink is the Rock Salt Cheese Tea. Though it seems like an unlikely combination, it creates a unique and pleasant flavor. The milk tea is topped with a salted cheese foam which gives the drink a bit of a tangy cream cheese flavor. If you’re not up for trying this cheesy beverage, then the Fluffy Milk Tea topped with ice cream, mango, cotton candy, and tapioca balls is an excellent drink to try and very Insta-worthy. 

Two glasses of boba tea flavored with honey.

image via shutterstock.com

Chun Sui Tang 

Another Taiwanese chain has established itself as a bubble tea giant in Japan. They claim to be the originator of bubble tea as the founder Liu Han-Chieh traveled to Japan and observed the Japanese drinking coffee cold. He took the idea back to Taiwan and mixed the cold tea with tapioca pearls. Their drinks lean more on the traditional side of tea-making so while you can’t expect too many "instagram-able" combinations, you’re certainly guaranteed the authenticity of their craft. 

Coco Fresh Tea & Juice 

This colorful juice stand is slowly taking over Japan. As you can tell by the colorful logo, this cafe fits right into Japan's kawaii culture and aesthetic while also serving up the classic drinks. The big attraction is the fruit-based tea drinks and their large assortment of fruit-flavored additions. The shop is especially popular since they specialize in takeout drinks, as many of their stores are too small to allow customers to sit down. 

Japan is full of unique bubble tea for everyone to try. Next time you’re walking the streets of Tokyo city, why don’t you stop by for a drink? Are there any flavors you’d like to try? Let us know in a comment below. 

Enjoy Delicious Japanese Candy And Snacks Every Month!

Enjoy Delicious Japanese Candy And Snacks Every Month!

Starting from $32.50 USD

Get TokyoTreat

Author avatar
Jamila Brown

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

A bowl of unagi don with a large piece of grilled eel.

Unagi Don and More: Five Summer Dishes to Enjoy

Beat the summer heat with some of Japan’s favorite summer dishes! Whether exploring city streets or enjoying a beach day, these seasonal favorites are a must-try!

June 15, 2024
Three glass jars of snake wine.

Snake Wine: The Mysterious Drink from Okinawa!

Snake wine is a traditional Okinawan liquor that combines awamori with a venomous habu snake!

June 14, 2024
A bunch of lanterns at one of many July events in Tokyo.

Five July Events to Enjoy in Tokyo!

Summer is a busy time for tourists in Japan, especially in Tokyo. We hope you’re inspired to check out one of these July events!

June 11, 2024
Someone pouring sake into a glass cup.

Sake: An In-Depth Beginner’s Guide!

Sake is Japan’s most iconic and beloved alcoholic beverage, famous for its varieties, production methods, and cultural significance. But if you’re new to drinking, it can be overwhelming to order for the first time, especially if you’re in Japan. That’s why we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to sake for our readers, including the history,...

May 17, 2024
A shinobi dressed in all black with a large hat on their head and stick in hand, squatting on a rock in a forest.

Shinobi Snacks Galore: The Best Foods to Have!

In feudal Japan, a legendary group known as the shinobi, masters of stealth and espionage, whose skills shaped history in the shadows. These invisible warriors shaped the course of history with every silent step they took!

May 16, 2024
Platters of nigirizushi, an example of Tokyo food.

Tokyo Food You Must Try in the City!

Tokyo is known for being one of the most fantastic food paradises in the world! There’s so much to eat and thousands of restaurants waiting to be discovered!

May 16, 2024
TokyoTreat
Subscription
PricingBeginner’s Guide to TokyoTreatUpcoming BoxPast boxes
Support & Information
FAQContactHelp CenterBlog

Be a TokyoTreat Insider!

Join our newsletter and receive tasty news and deals!



AnIchigo Logobrand.
Copyright © 2024 TokyoTreat™. All Rights Reserved.
Accepted Payments
Visa payment availableMastercard payment availableAmerican Express payment availableDiscover payment availablePayPal payment available