Bubble tea is a fad beverage introduced in Taiwan in the 1980s. It is made with tea, milk or creamer, optional fruit flavorings and fat, chewy tapioca balls called pearls, usually black and about the size of small marbles. The pearls are mostly starchy cassava root and are sucked up from the bottom of the glass through a wide straw. Bubble tea is a treat, not a dietary staple. Its healthy nutrients are offset by its very high calorie count.
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Bubble tea got its name from the bubbles that froth on the top when the ingredients are shaken and the bubble shape of the tapioca pearls. Boba tea, tapioca tea, black ball tea and boba nai cha are a few of the tea's alternate names. The pearls are the gimmick in the drink, but tea is the basis for most versions. Bubble tea contains black or green tea, which has healthy antioxidants. Most bubble teas are made with black tea, which is more heavily processed than green tea. Black tea is lower in polyphenols, the antioxidants that have shown some value in treating or preventing serious degenerative diseases. Tea is diluted with water, milk, juice or flavorings in the drink, so its nutritional value is limited.
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Bubble tea is served primarily in tea houses and restaurants that are not required to post nutritional labels. Ingredients vary, but the general composition of the tea is fairly standard. According to Calorie Lab, the tapioca pearls in the drink give you 3 g of fat, more than 30 mg of sodium and more than 2 mg of iron per cup. The USDA says the pearls are essentially fat-free and cholesterol-free and contain 11 g of phosphorus and 17 g of potassium per cup. My Fitness Pal says bubble tea made with regular milk has 6 g of fat, 45 g of carbohydrates and 1 g of protein per 16 oz. serving.
Bubble tea flavored with fruit juice is a popular variant of the drink. An 8 oz. serving of mango bubble tea will give you 2 g of fat, 2 g of protein and 56 g of carbohydrates, according to My Fitness Pal. An 8 oz. glass of mango bubble tea is about half the typical size of a bubble tea drink, with about half the total nutrients, including calories. What you get in those 8 oz. of fruit-flavored sweetness are 56 g of sugar from added sweeteners, tapioca pearls and fruit juice.
Calorie count is where bubble tea really delivers, so you might want to limit indulgences to rare treats. An 8 oz. glass of mango bubble tea has 251 calories -- that's 502 calories for a typical 16 oz. serving. My Fitness Pal says a 16 oz. generic, plain milk bubble tea will set you back 360 calories. The calories in the pearls alone are extremely high, so you can lower the overall impact on your diet by consuming fewer of them. One cup of tapioca pearls contains 544 calories, according to Calorie Lab. That's more than 27 percent of the daily requirement for a 2,000-calorie diet.