Updated: Apr 27
If you said “bubble tea” to someone just a few years ago, they may have thought you were confused - what could those two words possibly mean together? Maybe they would imagine some type of spherical tea drink or a good brew with a layer of soap suds on top. As opposed to those people of the year’s past expecting some soapy tea, people these days are really jumping on the boba train, celebrating it as one of the best drinks to get on the go, and sharing its unique flavors with their friends and family.
If you’ve ever had it, I’m sure you’d be able to see why nearly everyone is so on board - the sweet milk tea is creamy and delicious, and those boba pearls offer something totally different and fun to chew on while you sip! What a gift - there’s really nothing like it. In fact, being that bubble tea is originally from Southeast Asia, many of the recipes themselves include some surprising ingredients and flavors that may strike drinkers as unique or exciting, and which many people may not be familiar with (if you want to learn more about the exciting history of bubble tea - check out this blog!).
After a few years of being in the mainstream, talented bobaristas have developed a number of incredible recipes to mix up some great bubble tea. In order to pare down that list, I decided to make a lineup - consider this a database, and prepare to read on for the top ten best bubble tea flavors around the world (in my humble opinion, anyway).
#10: The Classic Milk Tea
Alright alright, I know this is the simplest boba order out there, but there’s no way the original wasn’t going to make the list. If you’ve yet to go on your maiden voyage, this would be an excellent place to start. To make this, bobaristas start by brewing some black tea - while this varies from shop to shop, you may be surprised to find that some places like to use a combination of teas in their recipe to deepen the flavor in order to offer a good foil for the sweet, creamy ingredients that come next. My suggestion? Look for one that uses Yunnan Pu'erh Tea. It’s an ancient fermented black tea from the Yunnan Province in China that offers a really unique, complex flavor to put a twist on the original. Believe it or not, the popular chain Boba Guys uses this along with an Assam tea and a Ceylon tea in their recipe to create the best, perfectly deep, balanced flavor of their classic milk tea!
#9: Taro Slush Bubble Tea
Another classic - if you’ve ever had bubble tea, you definitely know about taro. If you don’t, maybe just imagine the purple-flecked potato of your dreams. This special root vegetable is used in savory and sweet applications all over Asia, as well as in places such as New Zealand and Hawaii. When used for bubble tea, the result is a fabulously purple, creamy drink with a sweet taste that’s almost like cookies and cream. For a unique twist on this lavender classic, try it blended. Sharetea does a great version of the taro slushy with a sweet pudding in place of the tapioca pearls. While some places do offer this option, making it at home is as simple as mixing up your taro powder with some milk or water, and throwing it in the blender with a handful of ice! I’d point you in the direction of this taro powder, as it’s absolutely just as good as the boba shops (thank me later).
#8: Butterfly Pea Flower Milk Tea
If you’re still a boba novice but you're feeling a bit more daring than the black tea variety, look no further than the butterfly pea flower milk tea. As the name suggests, the butterfly pea flower is indeed a flower, yielding a delicate flavor very similar to jasmine or chamomile. The real pull of this bubble tea selection is that the flowers themselves are a beautiful dark periwinkle color, and, when steeped in boiling water, they produce surprisingly blue tea. When adding a bit of milk to it, it turns an incredible sky blue, offering a perfect contrast to the tapioca pearls bobbing around at the bottom. These flowers are native to parts of Southeast Asia and India and are enjoyed in many different recipes there. While this flavor is likely available at most boba shops, it’s an easy one to make at home! Get your hands on some butterfly pea flowers and brew up some unique blue tea of your own.
#7: Rose Milk Tea
Here we go, working our way up the milk tea ladder! By now, you’ve probably gotten the milk tea gist - but can you imagine it with something truly floral? While butterfly pea flower tea provides a faint earthiness, rose milk tea really brings a flowery flavor. In most preparations of this drink, the recipe includes black tea and a concentrated rose syrup to best highlight the flower’s natural essence. While some say rose-infused tea dates back to the Han Dynasty in China, it’s been gaining modern popularity everywhere you can enjoy bubble tea - perhaps surprisingly, It’s become a staple flavor available at most boba shops. If you’re looking for the best, I suggest you head over to Spot Dessert Bar in NYC - they have a real gift for working with unique flavors like rose, and will give you a fantastically pink drink that won’t disappoint!
#6: Roasted Barley Milk Tea
For the more “mature” bubble tea drinker, roasted barley is a truly delicious and special option. Just like it sounds, the tea is made from an infusion of barley that has been roasted, giving the brew a deep toasty flavor that is very comforting. In fact, this tea is served in parts of Korea in place of drinking water and is beloved both iced and hot. Because the tea is just slightly bitter, adding the milk and sweetness of tapioca pearls balances things and adds a surprising bit of whimsy to this traditional beverage. Personally, I think this one just begs to be made at home, so you can drink it on the couch under a blanket. Here’s the best recipe I could find - roasted barley bubble tea, start to finish - you won’t regret it.
#5: Red Bean Milk Tea
Alright, just one more milk tea. Check out this potentially surprising ingredient - red bean! While this may not sound appetizing to many palettes, red bean is commonly enjoyed in desserts in Japan, as well as many other parts of Asia. Although the sound of it might be difficult for some to get past, the unique flavor will absolutely win you over - it’s comparable to the decadence offered by sweet potatoes in desserts such as sweet potato pie, providing a similar earthy, sugary taste. As far as milk tea goes, more and more boba shops are beginning to carry the flavor as it gains popularity in the US (honestly - what a gift, it’s delicious!). However, it only contains a few ingredients and is incredibly easy to whip up at home. Once you have the sweet red bean paste you’ll be all set and ready to go - check out this recipe, and mix up some red bean milk tea for you and your friends to try!
#4: Cheese Tea
Wow, what a name, huh? I’ll bet it isn't what you think - cheese tea describes an infused tea drink topped with a sweet, frothy layer of whipped cream cheese and milk (surprise! it’s definitely better than it sounds). Rather than shaking the tea with the milk component as many other bubble tea recipes call for, the bobaristas at Debutea in NYC offer this unique, layered variety to set it apart from the rest. Originally, cheese tea was developed in Taiwan, but the style offered by Debutea is modeled after the Chinese recipe, which includes cream cheese. Try this cheese foam on top of a strawberry milk tea, and you’re in business!!
#3: Kashmiri Chai
Now here’s one that definitely gets points for being unique - hailing from the Kashmir region of India, Kashmiri chai, noon chai, or pink tea is a bubble tea flavor you simply must try. Surprisingly, despite the drink’s rosy appearance, the tea itself actually begins as green tea which has been boiled down to concentrate the flavor. The dusty pink color comes from an added dose of baking soda, which reacts with the chlorophyll in the leaves and causes a color change, as well as an alteration to the flavor. Many people describe the taste of this tea as being somewhat citrusy, almost like the ruby chocolate of tea. Once the baking soda has been stirred in, milk is traditionally added to this mixture, as well as a hefty dash of salt. With the interesting bit of chemistry and that surprising hint of salt, Kashmiri chai is the gift you’ve been waiting to receive! Though it may seem like a daunting one to make at home, Chef Izza has created a simplified version that pays homage to her South Asian heritage. Find her recipe here, and don’t forget to add the boba!!
#2: Electric Yuzu
For when bubble tea isn't exciting enough for you, here’s a gift - amp up your boba game with this electric yuzu drink from Bubbleology. While the standard bubble teas are creamy and sweet, this one is a real shock to the senses (I had to, sorry). Not only is it delightfully carbonated, it’s flavored with the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, offering a flavor similar to that of a grapefruit, but with some orange undertones to round out the bitterness. They call it a bubble-fizz, and it comes in two more unique flavors you just have to try. If soda is your thing, this is the best way to bring it into bubble tea!
Here comes the ultimate crowd pleaser! As the name suggests, this drink is a fantastic combo of the Mexican Agua Fresca horchata and, of course, bubble tea. If you’ve never had horchata, it’s an absolute must try - it’s a drink made from rice milk which is sweetened and seasoned with cinnamon, tasting very similar to eggnog despite being much (much) lighter. Adding the boba supplies a surprise chewy element, and the natural freshness of the drink provides a perfect counterbalance to the heaviness of the pearls. Somehow, it still hasn’t totally caught on to the mainstream, so the best way to try it is one of those fabulous DIY kits you can order online. Check out this opportunity from Food Craft - it includes three different bubble tea drinks (one of which is the boba-chata, of course) with enough ingredients to make two of each. To get the kit, you can book a virtual class with them and have some skilled boba-ristas walk you through the preparation of each drink! It’s a win-win all around. Seriously - once you've tasted it, you'll understand - horchata and bubble tea love each other.
So there you have it folks, a comprehensive list of the top ten best bubble tea flavors out there. If you ask me, a good bubble tea really comes down to the flavor - having good quality ingredients is so important, and, while we’re at it, those tapioca pearls better be bouncy! When you’re talking about using good ingredients, boba or otherwise, the best thing you can do is make it yourself. While the convenience of grabbing a quick milk tea while you’re out is tempting, it can not only be a burden on the bank account but on your body. Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that making these drinks at home may seem daunting, but I promise you that practice will make perfect. And, hey, if you need an extra boost, visit those bobaristas at Food Craft - they really know what they’re doing, and I’m sure they would love to help you bring bubble tea into your home. Enjoy everyone!