15 Boba Flavors, Ranked Worst To Best

Boba is booming. The beverage's global popularity has exploded in recent years, and it shows no signs of slowing. According to World Tea News, the U.S. market value of boba was a whopping $2.4 billion in 2019, and it's projected to nearly double, to $4.3 billion, by 2027. That's a ton of tapioca. It's easy to understand the appeal, too. Born in Taiwan, boba — aka bubble tea or milk tea — is part drink and part snack, sometimes fruit-based and sometimes creamier and almost milkshake-like. The distinguishing factor is the soft and chewy tapioca balls at the bottom (and occasionally other ingredients like red beans or fruit morsels),that are slurped through an over-sized straw and chewed. 

Unsurprisingly, the Instagrammable drink is particularly popular among millennials and Gen Z-ers (via The Food Institute). It has become so omnipresent that Costco started selling boba instant packs to make at home. Far beyond a big-city novelty, it is even booming in smaller markets, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana (via 225 Magazine) to Rochester, Minnesota (via the Post Bulletin). Basically, boba has become just as engrained in American café culture as matcha and oat milk.

With the boba boom comes a cavalcade of new flavors and styles. Nowadays, it comes in a rainbow of different colors, textures, and tastes, from cloyingly sweet and creamy to refreshingly fruity and even subtly savory. Naturally, some options succeed more than others, which is why we ranked 15 flavors of boba from worst to best.

15. Strawberry milk tea

If we're ranking boba based on aesthetics alone, strawberry boba, typically served as a milk tea, would be near the top. The drink is pretty in pink, and great for a social media share, but there's a lot going on beneath the surface — namely, sugar.

It sounds like this one would be refreshing and fruity, but strawberry's natural flavor (if there even is anything natural happening here) is totally lost in the syrupy sweetness. It's reminiscent of Strawberry Nesquik, albeit an inferior version that is slightly watered down and laden with sugar. It'll likely be a hit with kids, whose palates are more accustomed to overly cloying drinks, but the treacly tipple will wear out its welcome pretty quickly — and leave you wanting to take a swig of Listerine. For fruit-centric boba flavors, you can do a lot better than strawberry, as you'll discover further down this list.

14. Coffee

Coffee and tea sounds like a sensible boba combination — two café icons joining forces in one slurpable snack. But rather than work together harmoniously, the two flavors clash. Again, this is one drink that looks appealing (it resembles a creamy iced latte), but one sip in, though, and you'll wish you had ordered an actual iced latte instead.

On one hand, it's got the refreshing, quenching aspect of iced tea. Unfortunately, that sensation is utterly negated by the stark bitterness of the coffee. Those dark, earthy undertones offer a jarring juxtaposition to the relatively tame iced tea addition. It's also a lot heavier and richer than most java orders, so this is by no means a suitable caffeine replacement in the morning — unless you want to come crashing down off a sugar high. Coffee works in a lot of different drinks (espresso martini, anyone?), but this isn't one of them. 

13. Red bean

A nod to boba's Taiwanese origins, red bean is an iconic and familiar flavor option. A common Asian restaurant ingredient in both sweet and savory preparations (via Savor Japan), red bean paste has a naturally silky-smooth texture, richness, and sweetness akin to a mild dark chocolate. So of course, red bean seems like the perfect boba flavor.

Well, yes and no. Red bean is a nice alternative to hyper-sweetened flavors like strawberry. While it tastes like a grown-up and cultured chocolate milk that toes the line between sweet and savory, it also might be a little too subtle. Low on sweetness, the flavor of red bean can get overwhelmed by even the mildest flavor, like milk. Then there's the fact that it's not the prettiest beverage either, with a reddish-brown, almost rusty tint that doesn't exactly scream Insta-worthy. But if you do want to give the flavor a shot, we suggest skipping the addition of whole red beans to your drink — the texture of the boba is far more pleasant.  

12. Lychee

For the ultimate boba quencher, lychee fruit goes down smooth, making it an ideal beverage to combat those warm weather days. One of the lighter boba flavors, it's lightly tart and floral, with just a hint of grape. The addition of lychee also lends a sweet and lovely fragrance to the bubble tea. Depending on what you're thirsting for, though, this might be a tad too tame, like an unsweetened — and dare we say, boring — iced tea. Of the multiple fruit varieties out there, this one is on the extremely mild side. It's basically the opposite of strawberry, lacking excess sugar but also lacking a ton of flavor in general.

Lychee is a subtle fruit to begin with, so it takes a lot to get the dainty ingredient to shine. If it's something cool and refreshing on a hot day that you're after, this'll scratch that itch, but that's likely the only itch it'll be scratching.

11. Black sesame

One of the more underrated sleeper hits on the boba menu (and one of the most surprisingly pretty), black sesame is worth ordering for a photo moment alone. The color and pattern of this rich and creamy drink makes it look like cookies & cream, with its black-and-white tint. 

But if you're expecting a beverage that tastes like an Oreo milkshake, you might be a little disappointed when you take a sip and find that looks can be deceiving. While the creaminess shines through (this a milk tea after all) the flavors diverge from there. Instead of sweet cocoa, black sesame is more nutty, toasty, and mildly savory — but that works just fine for us. It's fun, original, and super cool-looking, but it's definitely one of the more divisive flavors in the world of boba — you either love it or begrudge it for misleading your taste buds.

10. Pumpkin spice

Let's be honest: Pumpkin spice boba was an inevitability. After all, if pumpkin spice products like almonds and cream cheese exist, why not bring it to the bubble tea fold? It makes sense, too, considering millennials have driven the rise of pumpkin spice (via Business Insider), just like they have boba.

Like the ever-popular pumpkin spice latte, this boba flavor is typically confined to late-summer and fall. After all, this is when the fragrant and unmistakable aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg permeates the culture. While some pumpkin spiced treats don't make sense or work at all, the flavor actually works pretty well in boba form. We're particular fans of the oolong-based version from Kung Fu Tea, which tastes a lot fresher and more aromatic than most syrupy-saccharine pumpkin spice drinks. That being said, it's still quite sweet and brown sugary, like a pureed slice of pumpkin pie. But that's just par for the course with pumpkin spice season, which isn't exactly known for its subtlety.

9. Pineapple milk tea

For a fruit-forward boba that actually packs a wallop of flavor without clobbering you over the head with sugar, pineapple hits all the right notes. It's pretty, vibrant, and photogenic, not to mention its flavors are pronounced and unmistakable. A little tangy, a little tart, and a little sweet, it's everything you love about fresh pineapple, slurped through a huge straw.

Pineapple is fine on its own, but we prefer the milk tea version which has the texture and flavor more like a decadent smoothie. The inherent tang of the fruit helps to cut through and temper the creaminess so it isn't too heavy or milkshake-esque. Be warned, though, that this one is not for folks lukewarm on pineapple, or those looking for something more subtle. It's a ton of pineapple flavor, so tread carefully. But if you're a fan of the fruit, the tropical notes come through tremendously, and the result is like a Hawaiian vacation in a cup.

8. Matcha

Matcha boba is another prime example of two trendy, buzzy drinks joining forces for one fragrant, refreshing, and photo-ready creation. The combination of the green tea powder and dairy (or a plant-based milk) is now omnipresent in cafes and coffee shops around the country, and adding tapioca pearls to the equation only makes things better.

Another example of a flavor that doesn't do subtlety, the matcha really comes through in this one. If you normally find the powder too overwhelming, keep in mind that since its tempered with sugar, it's not as herbal and earthy as straight-up matcha, and the flavor isn't as blunt as it would be if you ordered a matcha latte. Rather, this is a lighter, refreshing option that's at once milky and creamy, without being too heavy. The notes of green tea comes through without overwhelming. All in all, it's a solid middle-of-the-road option that should please matcha enthusiasts and boba-lovers alike.

7. Thai iced tea

Even without boba, Thai iced tea is a treat for the senses. It's a beautiful, vibrant, sweet drink made with black tea, spices like star anise and cardamom, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk, giving it a silky-smooth creaminess. It's also usually a fun orange color, tinted from a food coloring added in Thai tea mix (via Food & Wine). Yes, it's super sweet, but Thai tea is delicious on its own, and turning it into a milk tea only enhances it.

The boba version is essentially the same as your standard Thai iced tea, but with the addition of tapioca pearls and occasionally other syrups and flavors (via Full Coffee Roast). Despite the fact that the sweetened condensed milk takes this fully into drinkable dessert territory, the medley of spices and the black tea base help to balance things out. This fusion of Thailand and Taiwan is a huge success.  

6. Honeydew milk tea

One of the more underrated melons finally gets its chance to shine in this pretty, luscious boba option. Often the last pick on a fruit plate, honeydew's mild, subtle flavor lends itself particularly well here, as it's pureed with green tea, ice, and creamer or condensed milk (via Talk Boba) to help enrich the drink and enhance the natural sugars in the green melon.

Like lychee, this one is super refreshing, but the added richness from the creamer helps smooth things out, and the honeydew has a more pronounced flavor that carries through to the last slurp. Despite the fact that dairy is typically blended in, it's on the lighter side, making this a good summertime sipper. If you're looking for an excuse to drink a pretty, thirst quenching, light, and mildly sweet drink with chewy tapioca pearls, here you go. Even honeydew detractors are bound to enjoy this one.  

5. Black milk tea

A classic for a reason, black milk tea is as basic as it gets — in the best way possible. An ideal gateway flavor for boba newbies, it's a straightforward mix of black tea, milk, ice, and tapioca pearls, hitting all the right middle-of-the-road notes of balanced sweetness, chewy tapioca balls, and slight creaminess without being too rich or dessert-y.

The texture is on point, and while the flavor of the black tea is discernable, its not too intense, which works just fine for u. This one ends up being more of a showcase for the tapioca pearls than the drink itself. And really, when a lot of folks order boba, they're really just looking for an excuse to slurp up those tapioca pearls anyway, right? In terms of timeless, people-pleasing treats, black milk tea boba deserves to rank up there with red velvet cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies.

4. Horchata

Horchata is a crossover boba flavor that's starting to emerge particularly in California, popping up at spots like Boba Guys and Viva La Boba. And yes, it's just as epic as it sounds. On its own, horchata is a delicious, creamy drink that is native to Mexico and Latin America. It's commonly made from rice milk, cinnamon, and sugar, and the flavor often tastes like drinkable rice pudding. So naturally, turning this into a boba beverage just sounds like a win-win.

Though the boba version may take a slight detour from traditional horchata (Boba Guys, for instance, adds almond milk for mouthfeel, though the drink isn't given a tea boost), the beverage remains delightfully sweet and creamy, redolent with notes of cinnamon-sugar and vanilla. It's also one of the more refreshing milk-based flavors out there, and despite the fact that it conjures notes of rice pudding, it thankfully avoids cloyingly sweet territory.  Like we said, epic.

3. Avocado

Is there anything avocado can't do? From guacamole to toast, tacos to sushi, the buttery fruit is perfect in practically any form, and this is certainly true of avocado boba. Another prime example of two trendy titans converging with great success, this is one perfect rendition of a drink that refreshes and quenches, while still feeling like an indulgent little treat.

For this one, silky-smooth avocado puree lends a smooth texture and natural richness. According to Culinary Cents, beyond the main fruit attraction, the drink is prepared with ice, sweetened condensed milk, and a splash of regular milk. The avocado also provides a vibrant green hue, which not only gives it a stunning appearance, but also makes it look downright healthy. Though it resembles the honeydew boba, it's a lot more flavorful and pronounced.

Thanks to its smoothie-like quality and the fact that it's not super sweet, this is one you can finish without feeling bloated after a few sips. In fact, you'll feel downright virtuous.

2. Brown sugar

One of the buzziest flavors out there right now, brown sugar tea has been exploding in worldwide popularity as of late, thanks in large part to the rapid international expansion of Taiwan-based chain, Tiger Sugar. Known for its creamy brown sugar flavor and unique tiger stripe pattern, the boba shop has been on a tear in the U.S., expanding from coast to coast (via Eater).  

Made with brown sugar and cream, it's definitely richer and more decadent than most boba, but brown sugar tea tastes far fresher and more pure than other sweeter flavors; it isn't nearly as treacly as, say, strawberry. The tapioca pearls are actually cooked in brown sugar syrup to help absorb the flavor and enhance the drink with notes of molasses.

This one has boomed in popularity thanks in part to how wildly photogenic it is. As What Now Atlanta reported when the chain opened its first Georgia location, the drink became an Instagram sensation for the unique tiger strip pattern that emerges in the drink when brown sugar syrup is added. But it's the tremendous flavor which ultimately earns brown sugar boba such high marks.  

1. Taro milk tea

From brown sugar and avocado to Thai tea and honeydew, the common thread with successful boba flavors tends to follow a through line of Instagram-worthy aesthetics, balanced sweetness, and refreshment. Many flavors pull this off, but one that nails those key features with bullseye-accuracy is the humble taro.

It may sound weird to drink a purple root vegetable, but there are a few things that taro has going for it. Taro's natural sweetness, and the fact that's it's a visually striking tuber, makes it the perfect boba beverage. The startchy, high fiber vegetable is inherently sweet like yams (via Healthline), and combined with tea the result is a drink that is hearty and enriching without being excessively indulgent. Unlike pumpkin spice boba, this one doesn't taste like a pie milkshake.

The subtle sweetness of the taro, balanced with a whisper of earthiness and nuttiness, and rounded out by the simple striking color of the drink, make this a boba worth slurping to the last drop.