Bubble Tea: Sweet Treat or Bitter Bite?

I first had bubble tea a whole bunch of years ago on a visit to San Francisco.  Slurping the gelatinous fat “bubbles” up the extra wide straw was a strange, but addictive encounter.  They were sweet and a little chewy, bouncing around in the bottom of my Thai tea.  At the time, this tasty treat wasn’t available in my city – at least not that I was aware of – so I tried making it myself with large tapioca pearls, simple syrup, and strong brewed tea, but I never did get it right.  It was either too sweet or the pearls were too soft; somehow, it just wasn’t right.

Now there are lots of recipes online and there’s a bubble tea shop in my neighborhood!  This weekend I had the chance to give it a try and I enjoyed a 20 oz matcha bubble tea made with tapioca pearls, matcha powder, green tea, vanilla syrup and a simple syrup made from honey and brown sugar.  It was tasty.

Me Bubble Tea

I asked about nutritionals, but they had none.  As an individually owned foodservice establishment, they don’t have to provide calorie information, unlike chains.  But they were quick to tell me that they “know” their drinks are mostly under 200 calories each – unlike Starbucks – because the owner’s daughter said so.  I’m a natural skeptic, so I decided to take a look around and see if I could figure out about how many calories my drink might have had.  Looking around at nutrition information from various bubble tea restaurants around the country, calories for a matcha bubble tea (which is what I had) varied from around 200 to more than 500 calories!

Since I don’t have all of the information on composition and proportions, I’m guessing a bit, but here’s my educated guess:


Matcha Powder

Tapioca Pearls – 135 calories per 1/4 cup = 135 calories
Sugar from rehydrating the pearls in sugar and water = ?? maybe 100 calories (but probably more)
Matcha Powder – 25 calories each x 1 scoop = 25 calories
(Additional) Green Tea – 0 calories each x 16 oz = 0 caloriesVanilla Syrup – 20 calories per pump = 20 calories
Simple Syrup for sweetening – 50 calories per ounce = 50 calories
Total calorie estimate = 330 calories

So, this is definitely something to enjoy in moderation.  Especially when you consider that a tall skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks has less than 1/2 of the calories and also includes calcium rich milk (plus some of the same possible benefits of green tea).  AND lemon water has zero. This bubble tea has a lot of sugar – in fact, most the calories come from sugar or the simple carbs in the tapioca pearls.  I really wish they had a smaller version – a 12 oz would be perfect.

By the way, there are some purported benefits to matcha (such as cardiovascular and cancer protection due to polyphenols) and some known benefits of green tea (such as cancer protective effects of catechins, potent antioxidants).  Matcha and green tea also contain caffeine, which is a stimulant and can improve focus and mood and may be enjoyed in moderation.

I really like my sweet little neighborhood bubble tea spot and will definitely be back to enjoy the occasional bubble tea.  Any suggestions on which kind to try next?

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