Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is capturing the hearts of TikTok and the youth. You may have seen videos of the mother-daughter boba tea date, the autistic, speechless teen who loves boba tea, or this tween’s boba-themed birthday party. Even toddlers seem to love boba tea.
Created in Taiwan, boba tea is a milky, sugary, ice-cold black tea with tapioca pearls and a variety of flavored syrups, fruit mixes, and other fun toppings. The drink made its way to the United States in the 90s when young Asian Americans embraced it. Decades later, Americans of all backgrounds are now hooked, as Bloomberg points out, in part because of its popularity among TikTokers and its association with Korean pop stars like Blackpink. Boba tea shops have become an after-school hangout for many, in addition to being a favorite place for birthday parties.
Below, boba fans share their fascination with the drink. And if you’re a parent wondering just how healthy these sugary, caffeinated concoctions your kids are eating through oversized straws, keep reading: Experts are here to break it all down.
Why do kids love boba tea so much?
My daughter has been into bubble tea since she was about 7-8 years old, says electrician Megan Kinch, mother of 11-year-old Esther in Toronto, Canada. Kinch himself has known the bobate since the trend hit Toronto in the early 2000s.
Esther tells Yahoo Life that she and her friends love bubble tea because it comes in so many different flavors, so if you don’t like one kind, there’s always another. Plus, it’s so pretty and tasty.
LaToya Jordan, a New York-based writer and mother of Billie, 11, says her daughter has been bobsledding since she was 10, when her friends introduced her to boba one day after school. It helps that there are plenty of boba tea shops where they live.
I really like tapioca pearls, says Billie. Many of my friends also like boba. Sometimes we get boba for lunch.
Montana writer Kate Wehr remembers ordering boba tea with traditional, chewy tapioca pearls when she was in college. But its newer “popping boba” beads, which explode when consumed, have really taken off with the kids her daughter Rebekha, 12, hangs out with.
I like popping bubbles because they’re exciting, says Rebekha, who recently asked the mall to pick up boba as part of her birthday party, which she got from a friend who did the same. He is not alone; Billie in New York organized a boba-themed party for her 11th birthday.
In addition to the space rent, my husband and I paid for two boba drinks for each child during the three-hour Jordan Yahoo Life party. I also spent a lot of time the night before looking for boba tea cakes on Pinterest. I used fondant and turned two small store bought cakes into a cute but very lopsided boba tea cake.
Billie, who made boba earrings and has boba plushies from her birthday party, says getting bubble tea accessories is part of the culture. If you see something boba, you like: Hey, I like boba too!
Esther has bubble tea earrings and boba stickers on her computer. But Rebekha says some kids she knows don’t really like the boba as much as the produce. They don’t actually drink bubble tea, but they can wear boba-themed socks or other accessories to be part of the trend.
Should parents be concerned about the caffeine and sugar in boba tea?
Kinch isn’t worried about the amount of caffeine in the bubble tea. It’s healthier than [soda] and it’s not like an energy drink or a Panera lemonade with almost toxic caffeine content, he says. I think it’s appropriate for tweens to try tea and sugary drinks.
Jordan, on the other hand, doesn’t want her daughter Billie to have a daily boba habit or to wake up in the morning and need boba, she says. But a couple of times a month is fine for me.
Dr. Anh Le, a pediatrician at One Medical in California, tells Yahoo Life that boba tea has few health benefits. She encourages parents to consider boba more of a treat, though she admits it’s one of her favorite drinks when she wants to enjoy a sweet treat herself.
Drinks high in sugar are unhealthy for children because they can lead to excessive weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease, fatty liver and diabetes, Le explains. It can also increase the risk of cavities. He compares a 16-ounce serving of boba tea, which contains nearly 40 grams of sugar, to a similar amount of soda (52 grams) or orange juice (about 42 grams of sugar). Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 8 ounces of juice per day for children ages 7 to 18, boba tea should be similarly limited because it contains the same amount of sugar.
Dr. Amy Middleman, chief of the division of academic pediatrics and adolescent medicine at UH Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital, doesn’t like describing any food as good or bad, but says parents should consider how to balance the components of foods according to nutritional needs. Such a delicacy should be offered in moderation, he tells Yahoo Life. And parents should make sure that the child has other necessary nutrients throughout the day.
Le says parents should also be aware of how much caffeine their kids are getting from boba drinks. Caffeine has a risk of affecting sleep, increasing irritability and [affecting] concentration, he explains. He doesn’t recommend giving caffeinated drinks to younger children, and for teenagers he says a safe amount of caffeine in a 24-hour period is 75 to 100 mg of caffeine.
Depending on the type of tea used, the amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce boba tea drink can range from 30 mg to 50 mg, he says. Your older child will get the maximum amount of caffeine in just one standard-sized 16-ounce drink. I would recommend it [reducing] caffeine as little as possible.
But as a parent, Kinch believes concerns about children’s spending are overblown. Younger people are drinking less alcohol than ever before, and the very young seem to be on trend,” he says. “I think any kind of moral panic around kids drinking tea with tapioca balls is very misplaced.
Kinch sees Esther’s love of bubble tea as an extension of expression, like when she puts bubble tea and cat sushi stickers on her laptop or occasionally goes to get bubble tea alone or with a friend. It’s a way to be independent and have your own taste and expertise,” says Kinch.
Rebekha doesn’t see the boba tea trend dying down anytime soon. For parents who want to keep their kids’ boba drinks on the healthier side, Le recommends limiting caffeine by choosing herbal tea or fruit sushi, asking for low-sugar options at boba stores, and avoiding large-sized drinks.
I encourage parents to also include their children in these decisions, he says. We want to get them to develop lifelong habits, so telling them our concerns about drinking and how we can make healthier choices will hopefully be ingrained in their minds early on so they can continue to make healthy decisions as adults.
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