Bubble tea is a tea-based drink with chewy tapioca balls (aka “boba” or “pearls”) at the bottom. The treat originated in Taiwan in the ’80s and has been quickly growing in popularity over the last decade or so. And trust us—it’s addictive.
But one question remains: Is boba vegan? And the answer is … maybe! It depends on how you order it. Boba itself is usually vegan (happy dance), as it’s typically made from tapioca.
Tapioca is a starch that comes from the cassava root—compassionate boba addicts can rest assured that gelatin is usually not used in the making of bubble tea. This is great news, since gelatin is made from the bones, skins, ligaments, and tendons of dead animals like cows, pigs, and fish. Blech. No one wants to sip on cruelty while they’re having a delicious treat.
Aside from the boba itself, bubble tea is typically made two ways—as a fruity drink or a milky drink (although some people like to blend the two together). The fruity or slushy versions are almost always vegan, since they’re typically made with a fruit-based syrup.
The milky versions of bubble tea differ as to whether or not they’re vegan. Lots of times, a vegan creamer is offered, but be sure to always ask.
Many bubble tea joints even default to using the vegan creamer. However, some places do use cow’s milk—which is unfortunate, since the list of cruel acts involved in the production of it is long.
Calves born to cows used for their milk are usually torn away from their mothers a few days after they’re born, which is a traumatic event for both. The male calves are often sold to the veal industry, and they live in tiny crates until they’re slaughtered at just a few months old. The female calves are put back into the dairy industry, where they’re bred over and over until their milk production declines and they’re slaughtered.
But the great news is that you can sip on boba-filled bubble tea without contributing to any of this cruelty, since you can ask for your drink to be made with all vegan ingredients. If a bubble tea location doesn’t offer vegan creamer, write the owner an e-mail explaining why you’d like a vegan option and head to a different bubble tea store that offers a vegan version instead. Also, be sure to ask that your sweet drink be made without honey so that no bees are harmed in the making of it. Bubble tea is all over the place now, so a vegan version shouldn’t be hard to find!
You can help animals suffering on factory farms just by avoiding dairy foods, meat, and eggs.
For help getting started, check out our online Guide to Going Vegan!