Boba Tea: More Than Just a Drink

An order of bubble tea, waiting on pickup, sits on a counter at Junbi near the Princeton University campus. The beverage, which has become popular among teens in recent years, now has its own National Day of the Month: April 30.
An order of bubble tea, waiting on pickup, sits on a counter at Junbi near the Princeton University campus. The beverage, which has become popular among teens in recent years, now has its own National Day of the Month: April 30.
HASINI VUMMAJI ’27

Each generation has a drink that is associated with them, usually a good ol’ cup of “morning Joe,” otherwise known as coffee. Boomers have their black coffee, Gen-Xers have their espresso shots, Millenials have their matcha lattes, and Gen-Zers have their Boba Tea. 

While boba tea is not coffee, it uses similar serving techniques. Originating in the 1980s to 1990s, the modern day “Boba” or “Bubble” tea comes from Taiwanese tea store owner Liu Han-Chieh. Chieh applied a similar concept of serving Japanese coffee cold to Taiwanese tea, serving it cold as well. He began experimenting with adding different syrups, fruits, and toppings—including tapioca pearls, more popularly known as “boba.” 

Boba, a distinct aspect of the tea, is made out of tapioca or cassava starch. These small “bubbles” are usually boiled in hot water and then mixed with a brown sugar syrup to add to a cup of milk and tea. The iconic chewy texture of the boba is known as “Q,” which is the ideal texture for food for Hokkien-speaking (Taiwanese) areas. Add tea or flavorings of your choice, toppings such as mango jelly or a milk cap, maybe a bit of ice, and you have the standard boba tea drink. 

“Boba tea is unique because of the boba. I really like the taste, and I think it adds more flavor to the tea,” said Rishan Kunadharaju ‘25.

The drink has recently been trending, and many students at EHS indulge in this sweet beverage. 

It’s interesting that boba tea has also made its way into school events

— Saanvi Bothala ‘26

“For me, I like boba tea because of the flavor. It tastes different from other drinks and there are so many different flavors. It’s unique because you can customize your drink due to the different flavors and toppings, and even adjust how sweet the tea is,” said Priscilla Go ‘26. 

Boba tea has made its way from the surrounding local streets into the halls of EHS. The Battle of the Classes (BOTC) event on May 17 was sponsored by Akihi Bubble Tea, a bubble tea shop on Main Street in Metuchen. Akihi provided participants of the BOTC event with free boba tea, demonstrating the immense popularity of the drink. 

It’s so comforting when you find that hangout spot for you and your friends because you’re able to just make so many memories, and you always know that there is a place that you can have fun at.

— Venus Coombs ‘24

“I think it was cool that Akihi decided to sponsor a school event at EHS. It’s interesting that boba tea has also made its way into school events,” said Saanvi Bothala ‘26. 

The rise of Asian culture can also be attributed to boba tea’s rising popularity. During the 1990s, the United States saw a rise in Asian immigration, and with that movement came the spread of such diverse cultures. With this came the globalization and popularization of East-Asian culture, such as K-pop, anime, Douyin makeup, and yes, boba tea, through social media.

“I think that Tiktok and Instagram have made boba popular,” said Dalvin Hidalgo ‘24, an EHS senior and current employee at Kaito. “It’s just Asian culture being spread through these platforms that also has made boba places popular.” 

While some students note that the popularization of boba tea has promoted Asian culture and inclusivity, some students note that the popularity is mainly based on marketing rather than culture. 

“Boba tea does promote Asian culture and inclusivity of diverse cultures in a way, but I think that the mass-marketing and it being shown everywhere makes it less about the culture and more about the business,” said Go. “It’s like how many food chains are saying they are promoting their culture but it’s really not about the culture anymore.” 

While boba tea’s popularity can be attributed to its appealing taste and texture, many students go to these shops out of convenience; for example, only half a mile away, Kaito—previously Kulu—in the ShopRite complex has quickly risen in popularity. Additionally, there are many boba tea shops in the Edison-Metuchen area that are walking distance from students’ homes, including Gong Cha on Amboy Avenue, What’s the Tea on Old Post Road, and Boba Tea Time on Main Street. 

“Many boba places are walkable and super close. You don’t need to worry about someone not having a ride or things like that. It’s a convenient place to just hang and chill,” said Venus Coombs ‘24. 

Many students find boba tea shops as a place to hang out with their friends. With their trending aesthetics and short walking distance, boba tea shops provide a cozy atmosphere for students to decompress and make memories. 

“I just like the atmosphere of these shops. It is a really nice environment, like the lighting and the decor. The staff is very friendly, and it’s just great for collaboration and just hanging out,” said Kunadharaju.

Boba tea shops have also begun to serve as high schoolers’ third places—a place separated from home, work, and school for socialization and relaxation—which have been rapidly declining since the COVID pandemic. As the digitization of services, including movies and shopping, continues to evolve, and the rising cost of living makes such third places inaccessible financially, third places that were popular for teens and tweens, like coffee shops, movie theaters, and arcades are a thing of the past. However, these shops give some hope for students to find a place to socialize and be kids. 

“I feel that there are not that many places to hang out in Edison,” said Coombs. “I feel places like Kaito are just such fun and cozy places to hang out. It’s so comforting when you find that hangout spot for you and your friends because you’re able to just make so many memories, and you always know that there is a place that you can have fun at.” 

Ultimately, boba tea reaches farther than just being a sweet drink. It’s a form of connection, culture, and community. So when you go to your local boba tea shop to get your favorite drink, whether that be an intricate mango milk tea with red bean paste, strawberry popping bubbles, and a foam milk cap, or just the typical brown sugar boba tea, take some time to think about the impact of the boba tea on your community, and not just your wallet and your stomach.

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