Boba, Why The Mystery?

Uncovering The Ingredients

By Angela de Mesa

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(ABOVE)  Regular sized Okinawa Milk Tea with mixed boba from ShareTea

Boba drinks are undeniably tasty and have been around for years. Thankfully, Berkeley is blessed to be a boba center in the East Bay.  Close to thirty options are available within one mile from BCC. This may explain why every day there is at least one student on campus sipping a milk tea or a fruit smoothie with the chewy, black balls on the bottom of the cup.   So, with the hundreds of college students attending BCC and the amount of boba drinks purchased, do students know what they are consuming?

During Cal’s home football game against the University of Oregon, Berkeley’s Friday night life was busy and loud. Large groups of college students enjoyed their late night meals and of course some boba.  I walked into Sweetheart Café located on Durant and Telegraph.  This is a popular location that has been around for almost 10 years.  When I asked the café’s employee what the ingredients in boba are, he said, “Why?” in a defensive, suspicious tone.  He continued to show disapproval by shaking his head.  His withholding response increased my curiosity and made boba a bigger mystery.  This led me to take my questions elsewhere.  

I walked a couple doors down and noticed a long queue outside of Boba Ninja. This is one of the area’s newer shops. Jason, the friendly cashier said, “I don’t know what it is. My boss just buys it,” after I asked what the ingredients are in the sweet, bite-sized balls.

Then, I met Ryan Reyes, a young customer of Sweetheart Café in Berkeley, who had a similar response to the same question, “Not really.  I am not too concerned.”   Ryan and Jason both answered smiling.  Innocent and without a care because boba sells and it still tastes good.

Attempting to discover the ingredients from local boba shops was more challenging than expected. I discovered the answer elsewhere.  Tpumps, a major boba franchise in the Bay Area, describes the sweet, bite-sized balls as “another form of tapioca made from the cassava root” on their website.  It is prepared with other sweeteners such as brown sugar and honey to enrich the flavor of the dark, jelly- like marbles.

Looking back to that same Friday night, many people had cups from Sweetheart Café and Boba Ninja. Seeing each person finish the last sip of their sweet beverages and enjoying their company with their refreshments from the nearby shops led me to wonder why boba drinkers enjoy it so much.

“It seals the deal after a good meal,” said Reyes.  “[It] cleanses the palette, especially after something spicy.”

Jessica Naniola, a loyal patron to ShareTea (also located in Berkeley) said, “I like the mixture of drinking something slightly bitter with sweet, chewy balls. It’s kind of like having a little surprise with every sip.”

These are just a couple great reasons as why boba drinks will continue to be purchased to satisfy taste buds worldwide.

While the boba ingredient mystery is far from groundbreaking, because ultimately, boba is just a root, it does not hurt to research what you eat. On the other hand, not everything has to be questioned. Some things are just meant to be enjoyed.  So, drink that boba, buy one for a friend, and smile. Cheers!

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(ABOVE) Ryan Reyes enjoying a boba drink from Sweetheart Café on October 21, 2016.

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