Is Boba Vegan? [The Surprising Truth About Bubble Tea]

Do you love bubble tea, but aren't really sure if it has animal products or not? Confused as to whether those boba balls are vegan?

is boba vegan

I'm glad you're here! Today you'll learn...

  • Is Boba Usually Vegan/Vegetarian?
  • The essentials you need to make bubble tea at home.
  • Easy recipes you can follow (including how to make the balls themselves).
  • The most common questions about vegan bubble tea (along with their answers).

Lets start!

Is Boba (Bubble Tea) Vegan/Vegetarian?

Yes - most of the time! Many people think that bubble tea balls or boba contain gelatin.

However, most boba is actually made from tapioca, which is a starch that comes from the cassava root.

This is why they're also sometimes referred to as tapioca pearls.​

If you're not making your own boba tea at home, you may have to beware of the other stuff going into your beverage. Common ingredients in cafe-bought boba drinks, such as certain tea powders, actually have dairy in them.

See the FAQ for more on the subject of specific ingredients.

Also, If you are making bubble tea at home, then stick around!

We'll show you how to make boba tea vegan (and awesome) below...

Vegan Bubble Tea Essentials

Clean Label Tapioca Pearls

Most boba balls have lots of stuff in them. You'll often find things like artificial colors and preservatives in typical boba ingredients.

While odds are that nothing will happen to you in small quantities, its nice to avoid eating too much fake food.

The good news is that there are plenty of boba balls with clean ingredient statements.

Granted, they won't have all of the fun colors, though and the texture/size may be slightly different.

Reese Large Pearl Tapioca

Reese Large Tapioca Pearls are an alternative to the typical bobas out there. They’re white and only contain one ingredient: tapioca.​ 

As an added bonus, they're also pretty awesome for making vegan puddings!

You may also be able to find these in a standard grocery store.

If you want the real thing, traditional boba, is also an 100% vegan option.

Large Reuseable Bubble Tea Straws

Let's face it, plastic straws are convenient, but they generate a lot of needless waste.

We can't be perfect all the time, but if you have the opportunity to so do, its better not to throw away so many plastic straws.

ALINK Stainless Steel Drinking Straws, Alink Extra Wide Long Reusable Fat Boba Metal Smoothie Straws, 12 mm X 9 in Set of 4 with Cleaning Brush

If you’re making boba at home, its great to have a set of stainless steel boba straws on hand.

They will save you time, money, and keep you from throwing so many plastic straws in the trash.

Coconut Milk

Obviously, we're not going to be using any dairy milk for vegan bubble tea. As such, its nice to have coconut milk handy.

Thai Kitchen Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk, 13.66 fl oz (Pack of 6)

If you've ever had non-dairy bubble tea at a tea shop, odds are they were using coconut milk.​

Normally, we're big fans of soy milk for fruit smoothies and such.

However, if you're going to be making something like vegan Thai Tea, coconut milk simply works better.​

Buying canned coconut milk in bulk is a great way to save money if you know you’re going to be making bubble tea regularly.

It’s also not as watered down as some of the refrigerated coconut milk. As a result, it tastes way better.

Vegan Bubble Tea Recipes

How to Make the Boba Balls

Before you make any sort of bubble tea, you're going to need to make the boba balls.

Here's a basic video recipe, plus the way that we like to make them at home.

Basic Recipe for Making Chewy Boba Bubbles from Eugenie Kitchen

Here's how we make boba balls at home:

Please note: it differs slightly from the video above, but it doesn't really matter. 

Letting the tapioca balls sit covered at a simmer, as instructed below, will produce the same results.

  • Add 1/2 cup of boba tapioca pearls to around 5 cups of water.
  • Put in a pot and bring the water to a boil.
  • You can optionally add around 1/2 cup of sugar.
  • When the water boils, reduce it to a simmer and cover the pot.
  • Check back in around 10-15 minutes. The bobas will float to the top when they're done.
  • Some might stick to the bottom, but you can do a taste test to tell if they are plumped up enough.
  • Take the bobas out and rinse with cool water.
  • At this point, you can optionally soak the bobas in a juice or a sweetened syrup.
  • If you aren't going to use them right away, you will want to make sure that they are sitting in a sweetened syrup without too much water.
  • Use immediately or store in the fridge for a few days.
  • **If being stored in the fridge, you don't want to have them in too much water or they will change texture. Soaking them in a syrup will help preserve the texture longer.

Feel free to experiment and modify the soaking liquid. There's lots of room to have fun when making boba!​

Simple Green Tea Match Smoothie With Boba Bubbles

If you've never used matcha before to make a smoothie, you've got to try it!

Think of it like a green tea powder that's super concentrated and delicious.​

Its commonly used in green tea ice cream which we've used as the inspiration for this recipe.

Matcha makes awesome bubble tea smoothies!

Sipping this thick, sweet, and creamy beverage with the bubbles at the bottom is quite the sensory experience.

Here's how you make it:

  • ​Take your pre-made boba bubbles and put them in a large glass.
  • Take 2 frozen bananas and place in a high powered smoothie-capable blender.
  • Pour soy milk into the blender until the bananas are about 3/4 covered - or around 1 cup
  • Start with 1 tsp of matcha and add it to the blender. Add another tsp if the flavor isn't strong enough.
  • Blend and pour into a glass over the tapioca balls.
  • Enjoy with a wide straw!

Traditional Thai Iced Tea - With Bubble Balls!

One of the best ways to enjoy Thai tea is...

...As a bubble tea!

You can use the Vegan Thai Tea recipe in this video or use ours below!

Now, traditional Thai tea uses whole dairy milk, but a full fat coconut milk makes it even better.

The coconut milk really helps bring out the flavor of the star anise and cloves. Using soy milk can work just fine, too.

Now, you can make Thai Boba Tea from scratch or buy something like this pre-bagged Thai Chai Tea.

If you're doing it with the pre-bagged you may want to skip adding the spices:

  • Boil 1 liter of water and set aside a container big enough to hold it. A french press works great.
  • Take around 10-15g of loose black tea or 2-4 tea bags and place it in the vessel.
  • Add 1-2 star anise and 1-2 whole cloves to the vessel as well.
  • Once the water is boiling, pour it over the tea and the spices.
  • At this point, add some agave or maple syrup (optional) and mix until dissolved.
  • Let it steep for around 10-15 minutes.
  • Once the time has elapsed, strain the tea and the spices.
  • Let the tea cool down to room temperature or below.
  • Fill a glass with boba balls at the bottom.
  • Add enough tea to fill around 3/4 of the glass.
  • Add full fat coconut milk and ice cubes if needed to top off the glass.
  • Enjoy with a boba straw!

If you want to add more flavor, try experimenting with more spices and longer steep times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bubble Tea

Is There Gelatin in Any Boba Bubbles?

Nope, not typically!

We've yet to find a commercial brand of boba balls that's made with gelatin.

Is Bubble Tea Vegetarian?

If you're a vegetarian who consumes dairy, then it is unlikely that you'll find any sort of bubble tea drink that doesn't suit your needs.

As we said earlier, we haven't really seen any common boba ingredients that contain gelatin.​

However, we highly recommend trying to opt for vegan choices where you can.

You can still make creamy and delicious smoothies without dairy milk.​

Be sure to check out the recipes section on this page for some great vegan bubble tea ideas!​

Is Taro Bubble Tea Vegan Friendly?

From our basic research, it appears that taro powder for boba is not vegan.

Taro itself is simply a root vegetable, a quite delicious one at that.

This humble root vegetable is transformed into a non-vegan tea powder.

However, there doesn't seem to be any sort of standard of identity for taro tea powders. Many of the brands that exist aren't typically made in the US.

This means that ingredient statements can be somewhat unclear and hard to find.

Even if certain​ taro powders contained a non-dairy creamer, we still found hidden animal products on the label.

Check out this example from Bossen:


Ingredient statements like this one can be quite tricky to the naked eye as there is actually dairy in the non-dairy creamer!

Products made in Asia also sometimes don't state allergens on the ingredient statement. This means that the dairy-based ingredients wouldn't show up there either.

If you do happen to spot a vegan-friendly taro powder, please do let us know so we can add it here.

But as of now, assume that taro bubble tea is not vegan.​

Is Lychee Powder for Bubble Tea Vegan?

Similar to taro powder many lychee powders contain milk derivatives such as sodium caseinate.

This means that lychee powders are not likely to be vegan.

Lychee itself is just a fruit, but certain powders might not be vegan.

However, other lychee products for bubble tea, like these lychee popping pearls seem to be completely vegan.

More about popping pearls for bubble tea below…

Does "Popping" Boba Have Gelatin?

It appears that most brands of popping boba do not contain gelatin, but we don't want to state this definitively. Popping boba seems to be regular bubble balls soaked in a sweet juice.

However, imported products from Asia can sometimes be a bit tricky as the standards of identity can vary.​

Bursting Popping Boba 3 Flavor Fun Pack

If popping boba is something that you’re interested in be sure to check out Bursting Boba by Bossen which is pictured above.

It does not appear to contain any animal products.

What is Boba Exactly? What Does it Mean?

Boba actually translates to "big bubble" (more details on the exact translation here). They are round gel balls that are put into a popular beverage known is "Bubble Tea".

Bubble tea comes in many different forms and flavors. However, any beverage with the boba balls at the bottom can be considered bubble tea or boba tea.

You'll sometimes even find boba at the bottom of fruit smoothies.

Ironically, one could even make coffee-flavored bubble tea!

What are the Ingredients in Boba Balls?

Boba ingredient statements actually vary quite a bit because different brands have different formulas that they use. If you're looking to avoid certain ingredients, you may be turned off by some brands of boba.

For example: Wu Fu Yan Tapioca balls we found to have the following ingredient statement:

Tapioca Starch, Water, Starch Acetate, Hydroxypropyl Distarch Phosphate, Caramel, Guar Gum, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Artificial Flavors.

However, there are many clean label options such as  Reese Large Tapioca Pearls which only contain tapioca and no other ingredients.

What Kind of Bubble Tea Might Not Be Vegan?

Despite all of the additives in some of the boba brands out there, you're still safe when it comes to them being vegan.

Although it's not possible to identify every small ingredient and preservative from every brand, most likely you aren't contributing to any animal suffering from consuming boba.

This applies to the boba balls only.​

Bubble tea from a tea shop may be a different story. It is highly likely that some of the ingredients added to the tea itself might not be vegan.

Be sure to inquire about this, even if the flavor seems inconspicuous like "strawberry".​

Many boba smoothies made in tea shops will use ingredients like taro powders which contain milk derivatives, as we touched on earlier.

If you're making your boba tea at home, you have nothing to worry about because you control every ingredient that goes into it.

Conclusion on Vegan Boba Tea

So a basic recap of what we've covered:

  • The bubble balls themselves are usually 100% vegan
  • Vegans should beware of milk tea powders as they usually contain dairy.
  • There are countless ways to enjoy veganized versions of bubble tea.

Happy bubbles!

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