Boba bes-teas: Power ranking toppings at a boba shop

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As a boba tea aficionado, I’m here to tell you that boba itself is only one of the numerous toppings available. Are you wondering which topping pairs the best with your drink? In this power ranking, the six most commonly found iced tea toppings compete for the title of best overall topping. Each topping will be scored by three tests: its taste individually, in iced fruit and other nonmilk teas and with iced milk teas. The topping with the highest average score will take the crown. Place your guesses, and let’s dive into boba shop tea tasting! 

6. Crystal boba

Individually: 1/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 2/5
In milk tea: 1.5/5

This translucent boba made of konjac or agar offers a gelatin-esque texture and chew similar to crunchy jelly. Crystal boba feels like plain gelatin mixed with water as it does not have any flavor when eaten alone and relies on its texture. Without any flavor, the crystal boba is simply an awkward additional crunch to the drinks. For this, it ranks in sixth place. 

5. Custard egg pudding

Individually: 4/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 0.5/5
In milk tea: 3.5/5

Sweet and eggy, the custard pudding is a popular sweet in numerous Southeast and East Asian deserts and has made its way as a topping for bubble tea drinks. While this dessert is a delight in itself, it also pairs deliciously with other milk or pastry products. It ranks higher as an addition to milk tea but can be a bit too sweet. It also typically does not pair as well with fruit tea drinks. The low versatility of this topping puts itself in fifth place.

4. Fruit jelly

Individually: 3.5/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 4.5/5
In milk tea: 1.5/5

Fruit jelly provides an additional sweet and fruity gelatin taste to drinks. The jelly, with its fruity flavor and slight crunch, tastes well on its own and especially shines when paired with sweet and fruity teas. When the right flavor jelly is paired with the right tea, both flavors equally contribute to a refreshing beverage. Its flavor may not pair well with milk drinks and loses points in the milk tea category, leaving it in fourth place. 

3. Popping/bursting boba

Individually: 3/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 4.5/5
In milk tea: 2/5

A fan favorite, the popping boba is unlike its boba siblings in texture as it holds small bursts of fruity flavors inside the ball. The popping boba ranks especially high as its own food and in fruit and other nondairy teas as it adds a fun extra pop of flavor without compromising the teas’ own flavors and the ease of drinking. However, it sets itself back when complemented with milk teas. At this point, popping boba is neck to neck with the fruit jelly. But bonus points to popping boba since it also pairs well with carbonated drinks, giving it third place! 

2. Grass jelly

Individually: 3/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 3/5
In milk tea: 4.5/5

Another popular East and Southeast Asian dessert jelly is this herbal topping. A popular addition to cold drinks and desserts in the area, this mildly bitter jelly is best known for its refreshing taste. The ranking for this one is pretty divisive with people either liking or disliking its bitterness, causing it to rank lower individually due to its natural taste. However, its experience of being paired in other sweetened drinks boosts its score as a topping for both types of teas, especially milk tea. The creaminess of the milk tea reduces the bitter flavors and the grass jelly is a respite from the milk tea’s sweetness. For its versatility as a tea topping, it beats the popping boba and fruit jelly and bags the second place. 

1. Tapioca pearl/honey boba

Individually: 2.5/5
In fruit/sweetened tea: 5/5
In milk tea: 4.5/5

We’re going back to basics for the crown winner, the tapioca pearl. If you’re looking for a topping without thinking too much about how well it will complement your drink, then honey boba is the reliable route. Though the tapioca ball has no sweetness on its own, combined with honey or any other sugars, its flavor is elevated with a caramel-esque taste. It shines the most in sweetened teas as the caramel tapioca taste sweetens the hint of bitterness from the tea leaves. In addition, it’s a great starter topping for newcomers to the world of boba drinks.

Did your favorite topping place on the list? It was difficult scoring as we made sure not to let our own boba biases get in the way. The most fun part of ordering drinks at a boba shop is the creative freedom to customize your own drinks. We encourage you to try out these toppings to decide for yourself. 

Contact Emily Lui at [email protected].