We hate to burst your bubble, but bubble tea is not really healthy.
Don’t get us wrong, we love bubble tea (for those living under a rock: cold, often flavoured tea filled with tapioca balls, a.k.a. “pearls” or “bobas”). It’s delicious and fun and you should totally drink it sometimes. It just isn’t particularly good for you. At best it breaks even, nutritionally speaking. At worst, it’s a sugar-load dessert drink.
Let’s take the standard drink of popular bubble tea brand Chatime, the Premium Pearl Milky Tea (regular size). It has roughly 373 calories, 67 carbohydrates and… wait for it… 39.5 grams of sugar. That’s 0.5 grams more than a can of Coca-Cola!
But ignoring the sugar and carbs, let’s look at the other nutritional aspects of bubble tea.
What is a bubble, anyway?
Bubble tea “bubbles” are made of tapioca, which is made from starch extracted from the cassava root. This starch is easy to gelatinise into smooth, chewy balls. Other than a little fibre and calcium, tapioca is basically a simple, starchy carbohydrate. However, as tapioca is flavourless, flavourings and sweeteners are usually added to tapioca balls meant for bubble tea. So, no, there is nothing particularly nutritious about bubbles; they’re basically tiny pastries.
But tea is healthy, right?
There are a number of documented health benefits to drinking tea regularly (not to mention the energy you’ll get from the caffeine if that’s your thing). Don’t believe the hype about the antioxidants in tea, however. There is basically no credible research linking antioxidants in food to any health benefits at all. So yes, tea is healthy, but these benefits would be better achieved without the carbohydrate and sugar-rich bubbles.
Tips to drink healthier bubble tea
To be fair to Chatime, the “no sugar” version of the Pearl Milky Tea we mentioned earlier has only 8 grams of sugar (milk has natural sugar, and the tapioca bubbles are sweetened) and only 215 calories, which isn’t that much. Of course, many of the menu items at bubble tea shops are far worse, loaded with flavour syrup, jelly, fruit pulp and other sugary additives.
So, again, we’re not saying you shouldn’t drink bubble tea. We love bubble tea! Just drink it in moderation, consider which type of bubble tea you should order, and understand that there are no health benefits you can’t get from drinking a cup of regular tea.
To enjoy a healthier bubble tea, simply make your own. Bubble tea establishments often load their milk, syrups and other ingredients with dyes, enzymes and extra sugar. But it’s easy enough to brew your own tea with natural, fresh ingredients. You can also purchase unsweetened tapioca bubbles online or at a specialty grocer. Better yet, you can make your own from scratch.