Taiwanese tea trend bubbles up in Reno-Tahoe.
Making its way from Taiwan to the Bay Area, to Reno-Tahoe, boba tea seems to be all the rage in tea shops these days. Often referred to as bubble tea, this drink is distinctive for the marbles of tapioca made from cassava root that cluster at the bottom.
“They’re like Asian gummy bears,” explains Alexander Ngo, owner of Midtown Reno’s Café de Thai. “Boba tea is an eatable, drinkable drink.”
Traditionally served cold and with an unusually wide straw, boba tea is made with various teas (both caffeinated and herbal), milk, ice, and the chewy tapioca pearls. Additional ingredients such as fresh fruit, spices, and milk alternatives can be added to customize the beverage for any taste.
All About the Balls
While precooked boba tapioca pearls can be purchased at local Asian markets and online, Pum insists fresh is best.
“We make them every two hours and are able to make various versions such as clear, black, and matcha green tea,” he says.
Dried tapioca balls are boiled in water, then stored in simple syrup. The pearls have little flavor to start; they take on the taste and color of the tea ingredients. A customer favorite at Café de Thai is the Black Coconut Milk Tea.
“It’s black boba mixed with brewed tea and coconut milk, so it’s creamy, rich, nutty,” Ngo says. “We garnish it with a pinch of cinnamon powder for attraction.”
Cindy Shippy, co-owner of Chá Fine Teas of Truckee, began serving boba tea after receiving several requests from Bay Area visitors. Now Chá serves three different kinds — black tea boba, matcha tea boba, and fruit boba.
“We had a lot of fun hosting a boba tea tasting party with area junior and high school students,” Shippy notes. “With our three boba options, people really can have whatever flavor they’d like with natural, organic ingredients and homemade boba balls.
“Boba tea is like having a drink and dessert all at the same time,” she continues. “Children love it because it’s fun. We always enjoy watching someone experience boba tea for the first time. There’s nothing else like it.”
When COVID-19 restrictions meant Sunny Patel, owner of Xhale Bar & Lounge in South Lake Tahoe, had to serve food to stay open, boba pearls helped him do that.
“We started serving ratchet tea,” Patel says, describing this product as traditional boba tea with alcohol added.
“A lot of people are ordering the mango slush with Ciroc mango vodka and mango boba pearls,” Patel adds. “Same with strawberry. The boba add a fun texture, and people really love the drinks.”
Whether it’s unleaded and organic or served with an alcohol kick, boba tea is as fun as it is customizable.
Heidi Bethel enjoys the wide variety of boba tea. One of her favorites is a traditional chai tea with black boba pearls.
Black Coconut Milk Tea
(courtesy of Café de Thai in Midtown Reno. Serves 1)
½ cup cooked black boba pearls stored in agave nectar
10 ounces cold-brewed black tea
6 ounces coconut milk
Pour black boba pearls with agave nectar in large glass. Swirl the mixture around to coat the glass with agave nectar. Fill with ice. Add black tea and top with coconut milk. Sprinkle with a pinch of ground cinnamon. Insert special boba straw and enjoy!