Bubble tea, or boba, has become a worldwide phenomenon, with bubble tea chains opening up stores in cities across the globe. When traveling to Taiwan or China, trying bubble tea is an absolute must, and the best way to make sure that you get the full bubble tea experience is to learn how to order in Chinese.

Ordering bubble tea in Chinese can be surprisingly overwhelming, especially on your first attempt. Menus often have a seemingly endless list of drink options, and once you’ve figured out which drink you’d like, you’ll be faced with several questions, including

“How much sugar? What about ice? Do you need a bag?”

While it may seem like a lot of questions to answer for a drink, it’s worth it to get a drink that’s made just how you’d like.

In this article, you can learn the basics about bubble tea as well as how to navigate a Chinese bubble tea menu and order bubble tea in Chinese.

Bubble Tea Basics

What is bubble tea?

Many people think that the word “bubble” in bubble refers to the chewy tapioca pearls that often come in it, but that’s not the case! Bubble tea is actually includes a range of drinks that are made with tea shaken with ice in order to create frothy bubbles in it. Bubble tea comes in all sorts of flavors, from classic pearl milk tea to simple iced tea to fruity concoctions. In Taiwan, bubble tea in general is called shǒu yáo bēi 手搖杯 (simplified: 手摇杯). This name translates to “hand-shaken drinks,” as bubble tea was originally shaken by hand, although many shops use machines nowadays.

Where is bubble tea from?

Taiwan is known as the capital of bubble tea, and it’s said to be where the drink originated. There is some debate about who first invented bubble tea, but many people believe that it was the famous bubble tea store Chūn Shuǐ Táng (春水堂). According to the brand’s founder, he began serving cold tea in the 1980s after seeing Japanese cafes serving cold coffee. One day, Chūn Shuǐ Táng’s development manager decided to add some tapioca balls (which were a common dessert) into her iced tea. The drink was a hit at the meeting, so they decided to put it on the menu. Soon, it was outselling all their other iced teas. After that, bubble tea’s popularity exploded, and it has since become an iconic Taiwanese drink.

Today, bubble tea is a favorite among locals and tourists alike in Taiwan. During the scorching hot summer, you’ll constantly see people with a cold tea in their hand or hanging off the handlebar of their scooter. Even in the office, people often order bubble tea rather than coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up. With bubble tea being such an important part of Taiwanese culture, it’s truly a must-try for anyone who visits.

Bubble tea comes in all sorts of flavors, from classic pearl milk tea to simple iced tea to fruity concoctions.

How to Order Bubble Tea in Chinese

In order to prepare yourself for ordering bubble tea in Chinese, it’s helpful to get a sense for what you’ll likely be asked. Let’s start by looking at a typical conversation with a cashier at a bubble tea store:

Customer:
我要一杯珍珠奶茶。
wǒ yào yī bēi zhēn zhūnǎi chá
I’d like one pearl milk tea.

Cashier:
中杯或是大杯?
Zhōngbēi huòshì dàbēi?
Medium or large?

Customer:
中杯。
Zhōngbēi.
Medium.

Cashier:
甜度、冰塊 (块)?
Tiándù, bīngkuài?
Sweetness and ice?

Customer:
半糖、少冰。
Bàntáng, shǎobīng.
Half-sweet, less ice.

Cashier:
需要袋子嗎 (吗)?
Xūyào dàizi ma?
Do you need a bag?

Customer: 不用,謝謝 (谢谢)。
Búyòng, xièxiè.
No, thanks.

Customizing your Bubble Tea

1. Size

Now that you know the basic format for ordering bubble tea, all you need to learn is the different options for your order. The first and most basic option is the size of your drink.

English Chinese Pinyin
small 小杯 xiǎobēi
medium 中杯 zhōngbēi
large 大杯 dàbēi

2. Sugar

Next, you’ll need to choose how sweet you’d like your drink to be, by saying how much sugar you want added to it.

English Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin
Full sugar 全糖 全糖 quántáng
Half sugar 半糖 半糖 bàntáng
Low sugar 微糖 微糖 wēitáng
No sugar 無糖 无糖 wútáng

3. Ice & Temperature

Finally, you’ll need to specify how much ice you’d like in your drink. While most bubble tea is served cold, some drinks do have an option to make it hot.

 
English Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin
Normal ice 正常冰 正常冰 zhèngcháng bīng
Less ice 少冰 少冰 shǎo bīng
No ice 去冰 去冰 qù bīng
room temperature 常溫 常溫cháng wēn
Cold 冰的 冰的 bīng de
Hot 熱的 熱的 rè de

Understanding Bubble Tea Drink Menus in Chinese

Basic Types of Tea

Learning the basic tea types will help you make sense of bubble tea menus. These tea types are often combined with fruit, milk, or other flavors.

 
English Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Pinyin
Black tea 紅茶 紅茶 hóngchá
Green tea 綠茶 绿茶 lǜchá
Oolong tea 烏龍茶 乌龙茶 wūlóngchá
milk tea 奶茶 奶茶nǎichá

Bubble Tea Toppings:

Many drinks already include toppings such as tapioca pearls, but you can also add toppings to your drink for an extra cost. Below are a few of the most common add-ins found on bubble tea menus.

   
English Chinese Pinyin
Pearls 珍珠 zhēnzhū
Coconut jelly 椰果 yēguǒ
Pudding 布丁 bùdīng
Grass jelly 仙草xiāncǎo
Ice cream 冰淇淋bīngqílín

What to Order & Where

If you’re new to the bubble tea world, you might not know where to start. New bubble tea chains seem to pop up every day, and they all offer a different mix of menu options. Below are a few drink suggestions and some places you can try them!

Pearl Milk Tea – 珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhūnǎichá

Ah, good ole’ pearl milk tea! Simple, classic, and satisfying. This is what most people think of when bubble tea is mentioned, and what I’d recommend for anyone who hasn’t tried bubble tea before. If you want to try the best-of-the-best, head to the famous Chūn Shuǐ Táng (春水堂). For something more affordable, I recommend 50 Lán (五十嵐). I like that it offers a choice of regular sized or small pearls (or a mix of both) which provides a fun change of texture.

Brown Sugar Pearls – 黑糖珍珠hēitáng zhēnzhū

For a twist on classic boba, try brown sugar pearls. These pearls are cooked in brown sugar to give them a rich, sweet taste and are often added to fresh milk rather than milk tea. One chain that specializes in brown sugar boba is Tiger Sugar (老虎堂 Lǎohǔ Táng). To try their Brown Sugar Pearls in Milk, ask for 波霸鮮奶 (波霸鲜奶) bōbà xiān nǎi.

Fruit Tea – 水果茶shuǐguǒ chá

Fruit tea can be a refreshing choice on a hot summer day. The most famous shop for fruit tea is probably Yìfāng (一芳), which offers a Signature Fruit Tea which features chunks of mixed fresh fruits. To order it, ask for 招牌水果茶zhāopái shuǐguǒ chá. Other common fruit drinks include Passion Fruit Green Tea (百香綠茶 / 百香绿茶/ bǎixiāng lǜchá) and Grapefruit Green Tea (葡萄柚綠茶 / 葡萄柚绿茶 / pútáoyòu lǜchá).

Taro – 芋頭 (芋头) yùtou

Taro is a classic flavor that has been around since the 1980s. It’s known for its purple color, rich flavor, and thick texture. Many shops offer drinks with taro, including CoCo. Try the taro milk tea (芋頭奶茶 / 芋头奶茶/ yùtóu nǎichá) or the taro with milk (芋頭牛奶 / 芋头牛奶 / yùtóu niúnǎi).

Beyond Bubble Tea

While ordering bubble tea may seem trivial, food and drink is a hugely important part of Taiwanese and Chinese culture. You don’t want to miss out on a drink as iconic as bubble tea! Plus, being able to read a drink menu and order in Chinese not only allows you to get your bubble tea fix, it also provides you with great Chinese speaking practice.

While this article can get you started with ordering bubble tea, there is still a lot more to learn! Glossika is the perfect place to continue learning Chinese. Sign up on Glossika now and start your 7-day free access:

Foo

Foo


You May Also Like:

  1. Differences Between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese
  2. How to Express Affection in Chinese: from "You're Pretty" to "Will You Marry Me?"
  3. Make the Right Word Choice When Speaking Chinese
  4. Free Download: Glossika Chinese Pronunciation & Tone Training
  5. Follow Glossika on YouTube / Instagram / Facebook: