The Obsession with Boba
Boba! This holy drink originated in the Dutch colonies in Taiwan in the early 1900s and has attracted attention all over the states ever since the late 1980s, when it made its grand debut in Cupertino, California.
Now you can get it on Alvarado Street, only 5.3 miles away from campus. It is a tea-based drink with milk and sugar with filings such as pearl—which is made out of tapioca powder, and Nata de coco—it duplicates the texture of coconut flesh, there is also grass jelly--made out of vanilla, etc. How does this drink connect thirsty students in Alvarado Street to a tropical farm field in Vietnam?
As you are drinking milk tea, the boba you chew and swallow comes from tapioca plants cultivated in Southeast Asia. Farmers dry and smash them, then transform the mush into powder. Then, boiling water is added to this starch and kneaded to form a little dough. The dough s then cut and rolled into bubble shapes. These are added to a boiling mixture of brown sugar and water to finish the product.
The flavor of the drink also varies within countries. The flavors also vary due to local accommodations made, “I had the mango flavor, brown sugar one and also the vanilla ones before, they are pretty tasty.” said Jack Booth, a student from the Philippines. In China, there is only the classic brown sugar boba, with different types of tea and also fruit tea instead of fruit-flavored boba.
“One of the key elements of Boba is the tapioca ball inside of the beverage.” says Carter Qin, a Chinese student, “I won't drink it without the tapioca ball.” However, Harrison Wilmot holds an opposing opinion, “I think it is so disturbing to have that tapioca ball inside of it, because I often swallow it, and it feels very weird, other than that, the liquid part of it is really good.”
Boba tea also has a lot of underlying health concerns. “I think Boba’s are pretty cool, but I don’t drink it very often, because it is not very healthy,” says Bill Nguyen, a student from Vietnam. His concerns lie in that gradually, the stores stopped using the real milk for the boba tea, instead, they started to use condensed milk which contains a lot of sugar and saturated fat. Apart from a large amount of sugar already in the drink, an additional amount of sugar was put into the drink. Moreover, the stores stopped using sweet potato and yams to make tapioca balls—they now use a material that is similar to rubber which can cause health issues. Boba tea also triggers the outbreak of obesity among Chinese teenagers. Although it is a delicious drink, the health concerns associated with it have led people to search for similar alternatives, there is a rapidly growing trend on Chinese social media, Xiaohongshu (小红书), on how to make healthy boba. The boba stores also provide an option of substituting sugar with honey. There are more and more people hoping to dodge the health risks and yet retain the iconic taste.