Boba tea—a Taiwanese drink that consists of milk, tea and balls of tapioca—is all the rage right now. And yes, it is texturally exciting and downright delicious…but is boba tea healthy? As much as we hate to be a buzzkill, the fact is that boba tea is decidedly not so good for you. Don’t get us wrong—you don’t have to stop drinking the stuff, but don’t be fooled into thinking this sweet, refreshing milk tea has any real health benefits. We spoke to Emily Iuzzulino, registered dietitian and nutrition expert for FlexIt, to get the good, the bad and the ugly on boba tea. (Spoiler: Like all super sugary drinks, boba tea is best enjoyed in moderation.)
What is boba tea?
As previously mentioned, boba tea—sometimes called bubble tea—is a popular beverage that originated in Taiwan and has since caught on stateside. As the name suggests, this sweet and refreshing concoction starts with a tea base (either black, white or green) that is then sweetened before being mixed with generous amounts of milk and chewy, sweet pearls of tapioca. Not all boba teas are created equal, though: some use natural sweeteners, while others use refined sugar. (Fruit syrups are also common.) There are even some boba tea imposters that don’t even use any tea at all. Regardless, you can expect a sugary drink when you order boba tea—a fact that offsets any potential benefits of the tea base itself.
Is boba tea healthy?
Given the description of the ingredients, it’s pretty clear that boba tea is not particularly healthy. Per Iuzzolino, “boba tea is not the beneficial drink that everyone assumes it to be,” namely because the tapioca balls in the beverage, sweet and chewy though they may be, have no nutritional value, and are basically just empty calories, carbs and sugar: “Lacking any vitamins or minerals, as well as having zero fiber, tapioca balls bring the nutritional value of any tea drink way down,” explains Iuzzolino. In fact, one serving of boba tea can contain as many as 500 (empty) calories and a whopping 50 grams of sugar. (Yikes.) Needless to say, that combination of carbs and simple sugars will give you a nice, albeit short-lived, energy boost—but know that you’re not doing your body any favors in the long run.
Boba tea is tasty, fun and novel. It’s nice to drink something cold and sweet through an extra wide straw, while having something to chew on with every sip. The not-so-fun facts? Boba tea is a sugar bomb that might add to your waistline and mess with your overall health if you indulge in it on the regular. In other words, think of boba tea as you would a Frappuccino. Sure, it has caffeine (sometimes), but the sugar content and empty calories make it a poor replacement for coffee or plain old tea. Bottom line: Feel free to enjoy boba tea in moderation, but definitely keep in mind that it does not meet the health criteria for a healthy, daily pick-me-up.