Popping boba tea is a special kind of boba tea that features popping boba. Instead of the black tapioca pearls that make up regular boba, popping boba features small spheres made of seaweed extract that contain fruit juice. These popping boba balls lead to little bursts of flavor in your mouth as you drink it.
Below you’ll find a recipe for popping boba tea along with some other interesting information on this variation of the popular drink. Read on to learn more about popping boba tea recipes you’ll find in tea shops and how to make your own.
What Is Popping Boba Tea?
Boba tea (also called bubble milk tea or pearl milk tea) is a beverage that has been around since the 1980s in Taiwan, but popping boba tea is arguably even older. The cooking method responsible for popping boba, spherification, was being used in fine dining restaurants as far back as the 1950s.
Popping boba is added to a wide range of different teas and can contain different fruit flavorings. Common flavors of popping boba include some of the following:
The flavor in popping boba comes from the liquid inside the boba. Black tea and green tea are traditionally used as the base for popping boba tea, but milk teas like strawberry milk tea can be used too.
This post may contain affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is sort of boring, but you can find it here.
What’s The Difference Between Boba and Popping Boba?
There are a few major differences between boba and popping boba. Traditional boba is formed from tapioca starch and is made up of solid flavored gel balls. You can buy dried tapioca balls, and cook them up to make bubble tea.
Popping boba is formed with seaweed extract that is used to create a round hollow shell or thin skin. This shell is filled with different fruit juices or flavorings.
Popping boba can also be formed with calcium salts, like calcium lactate and calcium chloride. These chemicals form any liquid like fruit juice into an iconic spherical shape. The process for create popping boba is a part of molecular gastronomy called spherification.
Another difference between regular chewy tapioca balls and popping boba is in how they’re used. Popping boba is used in tea just like regular boba balls, but bursting boba also used as a topping for other foods like frozen yogurt.
How to Make Popping Boba
Making popping boba tea is a little more complicated than making regular boba if you’re trying to make it from scratch. While popping boba pearls are available commercially for sale, you can make your own popping boba with a few ingredients.
It’s actually a super fun thing to do! It feels sort of like a science experiment, so if you have kids, get them involved. This recipe is from GoldieBlox. Click on the link for a fun short video.
Be prepared to have this take a while because you’ll need to let the calcium lactate sit for at least 4 hours before you can make the popping boba spheres.
This makes enough popping boba for two drinks, but you can easily scale it up if you need to.
Popping Boba Recipe
- Calcium Lactate
- Sodium Alginate (derived from brown algae)
- Syringe, Dropper, or Turkey Baster
- Strainer, slotted spoon, or sieve
- Heat-safe bowl
- Refrigerator or freezer
- 1 teaspoon of calcium lactate
- 8 ounces of distilled water at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon of sodium alginate
- 4 ounces of real fruit juice (strawberry juice, mango juice, passion fruit, and lychee are popular choices)
- Food coloring (optional)
- Prepare the calcium lactate. Add the calcium lactate to 8 ounces of water and mix well. Using a blender or mixer works best to make sure it’s all mixed in well. Allow the calcium solution to sit for four hours or overnight before moving on to the next step.
- Mix sodium alginate with fruit juice. Add sodium alginate to the fruit juice in a small bowl, whisking until the mixture is smooth and you don’t see any more bits of the powder. It will look thick and gel-like. If you like, you can stir in food coloring at this point. Let this sit for at least an hour before going to the next step.
- Make the boba pearls. Using the dropper/syringe, take up the juice mixture and drop it into the calcium lactate mixture drop-by-drop, forming small balls or pearls. Allow the pearls to rest in the calcium lactate solution for ten minutes.
- Rinse the boba pearls. After the pearls are formed, remove them gently from the calcium lactate solution and rinse them in a water bath. Drain beads but don’t allow to dry out.
- Serve the boba pearls. Spoon the boba pearls into tea or over a chilled dessert.
Depending on the size of the dropper you use you can make different sizes of popping boba, from mini boba to large size boba.
Homemade popping boba are best eaten right away. You can store them for up to up to 24 hours by putting them in a closed container and covering them with fruit juice.
Is Popping Boba Tea Healthy?
Good news for boba lovers – popping boba tea is just as healthy as regular tea, even more so since it contains fresh fruit juices without artificial preservatives or flavors. Popping boba tea is also very low in calories and contains no fat.
The popping boba on its own is healthy, but depending on what you like to add to your bubble tea drink, your results may vary.
You can add all kinds of milks: almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, coconut milk, whole milk, half and half… So depending on your choice and the amount of added sugars you prefer, it may tip your healthy drink into something in the dessert category.
How to Serve Homemade Popping Boba
Along with being served in different varieties of tea, homemade popping boba can be used in other kinds of beverages and desserts as well. Here are just a few ways for you to serve popping boba:
- Strawberry milk: Popping strawberry boba can make a delightful addition to a plain glass of strawberry milk.
- Frozen yogurt: Popping boba pearls are a healthier topping for frozen yogurt than some other popular frozen yogurt toppings, like candy and syrups.
- Whipped Cream: For a light dessert that still packs a punch of flavor, try spooning some fruit-flavored popping boba over whipped cream or Cool Whip.
- Ice cream: Fruit-flavored popping boba are a delicious match for a neutral ice cream base like vanilla bean or snow ice cream.
Popping boba is a tasty addition to any drink or dessert that could use a dose of fruit flavor. Try mixing different flavors of boba together to come up with your own custom flavor combination.
How Is Traditional Boba Different Than Popping Boba?
Popping boba and traditional tapioca-based boba pearls are similar in function, but the way that they’re created is very different.
Tapioca-based boba pearls are created by cooking the starch that is derived from cassava root, a type of starchy tuber. Tapioca boba pearls are nearly tasteless and have a chewy texture. Due to their dark color, this type of boba is also known as black boba and is used in many a bubble tea recipe and boba milk tea recipe.
In contrast, popping boba is created from seaweed extract and is filled with juice, so this boba is much more flavorful than tapioca-based boba. It also comes in a wider variety of colors, and the texture is a thin gel-like outer covering surrounding a liquid center.
Here are a few of the other types of boba you may encounter other than popping boba:
- Clear boba: Clear boba is a type of tapioca boba where a clear version of the cassava root starch is used. This creates boba with a flavorless texture and a translucent appearance.
- Crystal boba: Crystal boba is also known as white boba and is made from agar starch derived from the konjac plant in southeast Asia. Crystal boba has a more chewy texture than other types of boba and takes on the flavor of whatever beverage it’s served in.
- Flavored boba: Flavored boba are similar to traditional black boba, but this tapioca-based boba is coated with a variety of different syrups to give the boba different fruit-based flavors.
As you can see, popping boba is quite different in flavor, texture, and cooking method than other forms of boba. Popping boba is the only type that is not solid in form and doesn’t require cooking to make.
Popping Boba Is a Fun Gastronomical Delight
Even though popping boba might seem like a hard dessert to make because of the chemistry involved, it’s actually a simple process to make popping boba right in your own kitchen. Experiment with a variety of different fruit juices and flavors and you’ll be able to have fancy bubble tea at home whenever you like!
And if you’re not up for the challenge, you can always visit your favorite local tea shop, or order some pre-made popping boba online!