Food Trucks

Bubble Tea Versus Boba Tea: An East Coast-West Coast Chewy-Ball Divide

Comin' straight outta Cali, I always made boba milk tea my slurping situation. After arriving in Miami and taking subsequent trips to New York, though, I learned that the sweet liquid with balls was referred to as bubble tea. 

The great East Coast–West Coast hip-hop rivalry of the '90s has re-emerged as a divide between names of drinks with big balls and big straws. I wanted to get to the bottom of the plastic cup and suck up the balls to learn the proper moniker and see who serves the best versions in Miami.

The tea-based drink with tapioca balls originated in Taiwan in the '80s and has spread all over the globe. Apparently, both names are interchangeable, but "boba" is Taiwanese slang for "large boobs." So you'd think Miamians would prefer that one.

I spoke to the owners of a couple of local establishments that serve boba/bubble tea to get their thoughts and try their balls-to-the-wall beverages.
The Boba Station drink truck roams Miami with a full explanation taped to its window. The truck's poster uses both "boba" and "bubble," so I asked about terminology. Because the truck's owners are from New York, the term "bubble tea" is more common. They think Californians probably hear the term "boba" more often because there are simply more Taiwanese people there, so the slang has caught on.

The boba, or bubbles, are dark, chewy tapioca pearls, but at this truck, you can also get your iced tea or smoothie with jellies or "popping" juice-filled boba (a common frozen yogurt topping). Of the milk teas at Boba Station, the Thai iced tea is the bestseller. When it comes to other tea flavors, tropical fruit versions such as mango and lychee are popular in Miami

Overall, the truck offers a great boba experience, but I did miss the typical tight plastic wrapping that goes on top and the sound and sensation of piercing it with the pointed end of the straw. Boba Station felt my pain but had to settle for lids because the wrapping machine didn't work in the truck — it used too much power.
Another favorite spot for boba is Mimi Frozen Yogurt in North Beach. Mimi is also from New York and says she always refers to the drink as bubble tea. But folks visiting from California call it "boba" every time.

She sells a variety of fruity flavors of frozen yogurt ready to be topped by popping boba. Beyond the frozen yogurt, there are also tons of bubble tea flavors. There are some of the standards, and then there are flavors like avocado, red bean, chai, and black sesame seed (I went nuts over that one). 
Miami has a way to go in the boba/bubble tea game, though. At Sriracha House in South Beach, I've occasionally been served some dried-out balls in its milk teas. But another Taiwanese delicacy — shaved snow — is delicious here. The shaved ice, which comes in flavors like honeydew, is soft as can be and melts in your mouth. It's topped with mango popping boba for a taste explosion.

Another bubble tea place — Boba World — recently opened in South Miami, so the local trend of slurping balls seems to be catching on, regardless of the name.

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