Catch the Boba Buzz

Boba Buzz

Shaken not stirred, the international bubble tea craze has brought new flavors and textures to Coastal Virginia

Tea, milk and tapioca. While the exact Taiwanese teahouse to combine those melodious ingredients in the late ’80s to create what would become a global beverage innovation remains disputed, the sheer magnitude of boba’s cultural influence does not. 

By 2021, there was reportedly a 330% increase in milk tea-related exports from Taiwan. It’s an international industry that was valued at 2.46 billion dollars in 2023, according to Fortune Business Report, and it’s projected to surpass 4.78 billion within the next 8 years. Suffice it to say, people are crazy for boba. 

At Tealux in Norfolk, founder and CEO Tina Dang says high demand from her mostly college-aged patrons has encouraged the local company’s rapid growth. Opening to the public with their luscious boba teas and mouthwatering banh mi in 2021, Tealux has already expanded from its sleek, lively Tidewater Drive location to nine stores across the country.  

But why has boba, also known as bubble tea, boomed so suddenly in America and specifically in Coastal Virginia? It starts with the letter Q. 

The term “Q” or “QQ” is used in many East and South Asian cuisines to describe a chewy, bouncy, elastic, slippery spectrum of texture or mouthfeel.

It’s a sensation Western palates are not necessarily accustomed to outside of “al dente” pasta or gummy candy, but it is a hallmark of many savory andsweet Asian staples such as Malaysian fishcakes, Japanese mochi or Korean tteokbokki. 

Milk tea’s most popular topping is tapioca pearls, mild squishy spheres derived from the cassava root. Tapioca, a term used interchangeably with “boba” and “bubble,” falls on the Q scale and makes a great point of entry for those unacquainted with the texture. 

It is, however, far from the only topping. Customizability, a feature that grows increasingly important to boba’s main customer base, Gen Z, is another virtue that’s led to the beverage’s success. 

Lychee, star jelly, popping boba, coffee jelly, aloe vera, brown sugar bubble, cheese foam or coconut jelly can be combined with any flavor of tea, coffee, juice or smoothie on most boba menus.  The ordering process is completed with a selection preferred milk type and specification of sweetness and ice amount down to the percentage for maximum personalization. 

Toppings typically sit in the bottom of the drink and are mixed in by shaking, made easier by boba’s signature watertight sealed tops. Boba is most often served with an oversized straw–to fit all that Q goodness–that is punched through the plastic seal in a satisfying pop. 

Serving cups are frequently decorated with custom, colorful characters, so ordering and drinking boba can be a uniquely multisensory experience that gratifies the inner child. In an effort to reduce single-use plastics, some boba lovers have turned to reusable boba cups, equipped with oversized metal/silicone straw and all, available for purchase online or at some boba locations.  

Boba spots are also often relaxing third spaces, which has helped to make them immensely popular with younger generations. Late hours, aesthetically pleasing interiors, comfortable furniture and board games create the perfect environment for socializing. While many bars and coffee houses extend the same amenities, boba shops offer a safe alternative for those looking to stay away from alcohol or espresso as a barrier to entry.      

In terms of places to try, international chains such as Gong Cha, The Whale Tea, and Share Tea provide consistent experiences with large and versatile menus. 

Locally owned and operated brands like Tealux, JōYū, Tapioca Go, Boba Chef, Tira’s Foods or Ninja Tea are more likely to use freshly brewed teas instead of flavored powders and offer their own signature drinks from tiramisu coffee to jasmine tea with blueberry to mango slush. 

Orders also come with their own photogenic flare like Tealux’s bear-shaped tops or JōYū’s striking use of color and layering. Many boba locations have unveiled their summer menus chock full of ice-cold fruit-chunk-filled delights perfect for beach days. 

Its addicting texture, variety of flavors, customizability and inviting environments have secured boba as a staple in American pop culture. If readers have somehow gotten away without trying this adorable beverage craze, well, this is their Q.


TRY BOBA TEA

Check out these local spots for boba

Experience the uniquely chewy “QQ” texture of tapioca pearls or try one of infinitely customizable
variations and flavors.

Photo by Yoonie L., via Yelp

Boba Chef
Gong cha 
JōYū Tea & Coffee Mochi & Mochi
Ninja Tea Secret Garden 
Sharetea
Tealux
Tapioca Go 
Tira’s Foods
The Whale Tea

AB
Ava Baker

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