Taiwan is the undisputed boba capital of the world: Here, the midday caffeine hit is a boba break, not a coffee run, and a shoulder-slung boba cupholder is the must-have accessory. Over the last several decades, these bracing cups of sweet, creamy, chewy refreshment — which are also called “bubble tea” and “pearl milk tea” — have become a go-to beverage throughout not just Taiwan, but also all over Asia, North America, and Europe.
The word “boba” can refer to either a broad category of chunky drinks — including everything from iced tea with tapioca pearls to fresh juice loaded with fruity bits — or black tapioca pearls themselves. Boba tea, bubble tea, and pearl milk tea — in Taiwan, henzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶) — are essentially different names for the same thing; the monikers differ by location, but also personal preference. (In the U.S., the East Coast favors bubble tea, while the West prefers boba.) Whatever you call it, in its most basic form, the drink consists of black tea, milk, ice, and chewy tapioca pearls, all shaken together like a martini and served with that famously fat straw to accommodate the marbles of tapioca that cluster at the bottom of the cup.