Here's How Starbucks Almost Served Boba

Starbucks likes to hop on board with food and drink trends, as evidenced by its foray into matcha, avocado spread, and oat milk. But while the coffee chain dipped its toe into boba-filled waters, drinks with pearls never actually materialized there. Bubble tea (aka boba) has been a trending beverage in the U.S. since the 1990s, largely because of Taiwanese immigrants selling it on a wider scale. But Starbucks may have indirectly had something to do with its boost in popularity as well. By offering its customers coffee alternatives like tea and creme Frappuccinos, people began to gravitate toward their favorite cafes for drinks other than just their morning cups of joe.

The pairing of Starbucks and boba therefore seems like it would be a natural marriage — so what happened that prevented them from making it to the altar? Back in late 2021, the chain tested out two drinks with coffee-infused bubbles, which were dubbed "coffee popping pearls," according to a TikTok video posted by @kirbyssister. One contained java and was called In the Dark, and the other was named the Iced Chai Tea Latte with Coffee Pearls. The bubbles in both beverages had Starbucks coffee inside, which you could taste when you burst them, and they were mixed into the drink as well as laid on the top over the ice.

Americans want their boba, but maybe not from Starbucks

The Starbucks boba drinks were tested out at just two locations: one store in Palm Desert, California, and one in Bellevue, Washington. They only lasted on the menu through the winter of 2021/2022 and, as of 2024, they haven't been added to Starbucks' permanent menu and no additional boba drink tests have been conducted. There may be multiple reasons why these drinks never made it past the testing phase, the simplest of which is that some customers who tried them weren't big fans. In @kirbyssister's video, they noted that the pearls were "really small and awkward to drink" and had a strange salty-sweet flavor. But it wasn't just the testers who were skeptical of the new beverages. 

Comments on the video included: "It's giving cultural appropriation not appreciation," "Popping pearls are not boba," and "Not them gentrifying boba." Other possible reasons that Starbucks decided to ax its pearls may include the high cost of sourcing the ingredients and building the new equipment needed to make them. Plus, adding the drinks would put Starbucks in direct competition with the ever-growing number of bubble tea chains and independent shops in the U.S. While we likely won't see pearls at the coffee chain anytime soon, if you're craving a Starbucks iced milk tea sans boba, you can still venture to your local store to order one.