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What Is Boba? Bursting Boba vs Tapioca vs Crystal Boba

Types Of Boba

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Most Americans are now familiar with bubble tea – also referred to as boba – the sweet drink that has become popular throughout the nation. Although the beverage was first made in Taiwan, it can now be found in malls, at cafes, and on food trucks almost everywhere. But if you aren’t familiar with boba, you may be wondering – what exactly is it?

Boba is what makes bubble tea special. It is a small ball that is usually made from tapioca starch and then soaked in a sweetened liquid. There are variations on the traditional tapioca boba, including bursting boba (made with fruit juice) and crystal boba (which has a more jelly-like texture). Each of these different types of boba can be flavored and colored based on personal preference.

Budget Branders helps independently owned and operated food services businesses – including boba tea vendors – get the custom disposable products that they need to make their business a success. Using promotional products is particularly important for bubble tea businesses, as these drinks are typically served in clear disposable plastic bubble tea cups to show off the beauty of the boba. Adding your name and logo to these boba cups, custom sealing film, and custom napkins is a surefire way to increase your boba tea shop’s name recognition and sales.

What Is Boba?

Although it is often used to describe the drink known as bubble tea, boba is actually the small tapioca pearls that are the hallmark of the beverage. Boba tea originated in the 1980s in Taiwan when vendors decided to add the pearls to milk tea. The boba itself has far deeper roots in Taiwanese folk remedies.

In more rural areas of the small island nations, families created boba as a way to prevent heat stroke. They made small orbs out of sweet potato or tapioca starch and then dropped them into sugar water. These transparent pearls were said to cool the body down, thereby preventing heat stroke.

Today, boba is primarily made from tapioca starch. Tapioca comes from the cassava plant, a nutty-tasting root vegetable native to South America. Common throughout South America, Africa, and Asia, cassava is gluten-free and incredibly drought-tolerant, which makes it a popular crop in countries with more difficult growing conditions. 

Of course, there are many variations on boba. They can be made with other types of starches, such as potato starch, cornstarch, or even taro. Alternatively, tapioca pearls can be made using water or fruit juice – a process that involves some science and results in a much different texture (as described below).

However the boba is made, the finished product can be added to a cup along with a tea of choice, milk, and ice. These drinks are served in clear cups with thick straws so that customers can suck up and chew the pearls. They typically have a sealing film over the top to make them spill-proof.

Types of Boba

There are several different types of boba, each with its own unique texture. Because boba texture is what makes bubble tea so special, it is important to understand the difference between each type. Some customers prefer traditional chewy boba, while others enjoy a soft boba. Some people – especially kids – prefer popping boba that bursts in your mouth as you chew.

Bursting Boba

Bursting Boba

Bursting or popping boba isn’t made from starch. Instead, these boba are made from fruit juice that is transformed into a sphere using molecular gastronomy. The finished product bursts in your mouth when it is bitten. It isn’t as chewy as traditional tapioca pearls and can be a more fun experience.

Bursting boba is made from fruit juice, sodium alginate (a thickening agent), and calcium lactate (a stabilizing agent). Despite the fancy name (molecular gastronomy), the process of making this boba is pretty simple.

First, the fresh fruit juice is combined with the sodium alginate to thicken it. This should be done with a blender or mixer to ensure that it is well-mixed. However, it shouldn’t be overmixed, which will create pockets of bubbles

Second, the calcium lactate is combined with cold water. This should be done in a large bowl to allow for plenty of popping boba to form.

Third, the fruit juice/sodium alginate mixture is dropped into the calcium lactate using a syringe or a squeeze bottle filled with liquid. As the mixture hits the calcium lactate, it instantly forms into a small pearl with a thin, flexible outer shell. The boba should soak for approximately a minute to ensure that the shell is firm and the ball is well-formed. If you soak the boba for too long, then the shell will become too thick – so be sure to scoop the boba out after a minute and place it in a separate container.

This is known as the spherification process. It is a culinary technique that is used to turn liquids into small orbs that can contain liquid inside – which allows for bursting flavors. Spherification results from the chemical reaction between sodium alginate and calcium lactate, which forms calcium chloride. 

Popping or bursting boba can be made in a variety of flavor combinations. Some of the more popular flavors include:

  • Mango popping boba with a dark yellow color
  • Strawberry popping boba that has a lovely pink hue
  • Lychee popping boba 
  • Yogurt popping boba that has a rich, creamy flavor
  • Coffee popping boba
  • Passion fruit popping boba
  • Blueberry popping boba

Typically, the fruit boba is made by placing chunks of the fresh fruit in a blender with the sodium alginate and blending it until smooth. For coffee bursting boba, coffee is combined with sodium alginate and blended. It may be necessary to strain the mixture and/or remove froth from the surface before moving forward with the next steps.



Tapioca pearls are the traditional form of boba, made from tapioca starch. They have a signature chewy texture and a brown color. This color comes from the sweetener – typically brown sugar – added to the pearls. Some cooks use food coloring to make the pearls different colors, while others leave the orbs transparent.

There are a variety of ways to add color to boba. This may include using ube powder to make purple boba, matcha powder for green boba, or mango to make yellow boba.

To make boba, tapioca starch is mixed with boiling water until the resulting “dough” is a kneadable consistency.  Sweet potato starch may be added to make the dough more firm, while brown sugar is also added for color and sweetness. The dough is then cut and rolled into a spherical shape. Getting the balls into perfect orbs can be achieved by inserting the dough into a special bag and jerking it back and forth (the gangsor method) or by putting the dough into cylindrical pans that rotate to form the pearls.

The next step of the process involves heating the pearls so that they gelatinize. There are several methods to gelatinize the tapioca balls, including placing the pearls inside of pans and baking them in a brick oven over moderate heat. More often, the beads are poured onto plates in a thick layer, which are then pulled through a tunnel filled with steam to achieve uniform gelatinization.

The final step in the process is to dry out the pearls to get them to the proper moisture content. The pearls may be placed in a drying chamber at low heat or may be placed in a special freezer to quickly freeze them.

At this point, the boba can be cooked to be used for bubble tea. Many establishments buy partially cooked tapioca pearls, which are then boiled for approximately 30 minutes before being cooled for about 20 minutes. This process ensures that the boba is chewy. The tapioca pearls are then strained, rinsed, and soaked in a sugar solution before being used in milk tea. The cooked boba should be used within 4 to 6 hours to prevent them from hardening.

Crystal Boba

Crystal Boba

Crystal boba is a soft orb. Unlike traditional boba, it is made from the powder of the konjac plant, which is a tropical flower that can be found in Southeast Asia, or agar agar powder, which is made from seaweed. Crystal boba made from konjac powder is more transparent and crispy in texture, while boba made from agar agar powder tends to be firmer.

To make crystal boba, water or coconut water, a sweetener, and a gelling agent – konjac powder or agar agar powder are combined until the sugar is dissolved. The mixture is then brought to a boil for several minutes while being whisked constantly. The boiling mixture is then poured into a boba mold and allowed to cool down. Boba molds are usually silicone forms featuring dozens of small orbs. 

Once the mixture has cooled, the boba should be set. The boba can be popped out into ice water and then strained. The final step in the process is to soak the boba in a sweetened syrup.

Crystal boba can be made in a number of different flavor combinations. Some of the most popular variations include:

  • Original crystal boba
  • Strawberry crystal boba that has a vibrant red color
  • Mango crystal boba, with a golden orange hue
  • Brown sugar crystal boba that replaces the white sugar with brown for an amber color
  • Lychee crystal boba that has a sweet floral flavor and a light pink color
  • Peach crystal boba with an orange-pink color
  • Matcha crystal boba that has a grassy flavor and a green hue
  • Berry crystal boba that has a blue-purple color

Crystal boba has a smooth, tender, and almost jelly-like texture. It may be likened to gummy candy. This type of boba tends to have bright colors and a glossy, almost translucent appearance.

Opening a Boba Business? We Can Help

Bubble tea is a favorite among kids and adults alike throughout this country. If you want to take advantage of this trend and start your own bubble tea shop, having the right equipment is important – both for making boba and for increasing sales. While we can’t help you with things like boba molds, we can provide you with the highest quality custom disposable products to show off your creations. 

Based in Michigan, Budget Branders provides a full line of custom promotional products to businesses throughout the United States. We have everything you need for your boba tea shop, including custom plastic cups, custom paper bags, custom sealing film, custom plastic bowls, and custom napkins.  All of our products are priced affordably and are available in smaller quantities.

To learn more about how we can help you build your bubble tea business, contact us today by filling out a contact form, pressing the live chat button, or submitting a quote request for one or more of our products.


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