Boba Tea: How healthy is it?

The bell rings and a swarm of students rush to the rally court in pursuit of their favorite drink.

Boba tea, pearl tea, bubble tea or tapioca tea — whatever name you prefer– has become a popular drink at MVHS and the Bay Area as a whole. Boba tea is sold not only during semiannual club food days but also after school for club fundraisers.

The Taiwanese tea-based drink was first invented in Taichung in the 1980s. Although the true founder of this popular tea drink cannot be confirmed, the creation of boba tea is most often accredited to Liu Hsiu Hui of the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. Lin Hsiu Hui, the teahouse’s product development manager, allegedly poured a sweetened pudding with tapioca balls into an iced tea drink during a meeting in 1988. The new concoction was loved by those at the meeting and therefore it was included on the menu. Soon, the beverage became the teahouse’s top-selling product.

How much do MVHS students really know about this popular drink that they are constantly consuming?


How much do we know?

It turns out that while most MVHS students are aware that boba tea is unhealthy, they don’t know why.

Junior Haritha Shah is well aware of the boba craze, although she does not consider herself a big fan of the popular drink. Even then, she’s unsure about the actual contents of boba tea. 

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Students gather at Interact’s Tea Era fundraiser on Oct. 6. Boba tea fundraisers are a common sight on campus during seventh period and after school. Photo by Alice Lou.

“It has milk and sugar and tapioca pearl things,” Shah said. “My parents say that it’s very unhealthy and has too much sugar but it’s okay once in a while if you drink it.” 

Shah’s take on the ingredients of boba tea and its health risks is very similar to that of other MVHS students.

Senior Ankita Chatterjee is also unsure about the composition of our beloved drink, and she justifies her consumption of the sweet treat using by explaining the concept of toxicity, a topic covered in her APES class.

“The whole thing is that the dosage determines how toxic it is,” Chatterjee said. “So even if it is bad for you, if you don’t have that much of it, it won’t do anything.”

 

Boba tea is not only sold practically weekly in MVHS, it is also common for students to go on boba trips with their friends or study at a boba shop. Despite the drink’s overwhelming popularity, few students know what they are consuming.


Nutritional breakdown
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Infographic by Alice Lou

A cup of boba tea contains at least two tablespoons, or six teaspoons, of sugar. When compared to the recommended sugar consumption by the American Heart Association — no more than six teaspoons of added sugars for women and no more than nine teaspoons for men — boba tea can be seen as unhealthy.

In addition to the high sugar content, the tapioca present in boba tea is a carbohydrate that is a simple sugar and easily broken down by your body, resulting in sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

While tea, especially black and green teas, bring many health benefits, the relatively insignificant amount of tea in bubble tea is offset by the surplus of sugar it contains.

There have also been rumors that cancer-causing chemicals known aspolychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in tapioca, but the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) claims that the chemicals in boba tea are not PCBs but legally permitted “synthetic flavoring substances.” Nevertheless, the data is still inconclusive and boba tea should be consumed with caution, not only because of its high sugar and calorie content, but also because of potential health risks.


So what?

Now that MVHS students are aware of the nutritional content and potential health risks of boba tea, will they change their boba-drinking habits?

Although it can be concluded that boba tea is far from healthy and has no nutritional value, MVHS students just can’t seem to give up their beloved drink.

“I think everything in moderation is fine,” Chatterjee said. “I’m okay with how much boba I have like right now, so I probably won’t change anything.”

Other students are tentative when it comes to changing their boba habits. When questioned, they responded hesitantly that they will try to drink it less.

However, students are aware that it is their responsibility when it comes to their boba consumption.

When asked about the many boba fundraisers in MVHS, students generally agree that it would be better if the fundraisers were spaced out more but argue that the responsibility does not land — at least entirely — on the school.

“I don’t think the school should be more aware or held accountable,” Siow said. “I feel like the students make their own decisions of buying it too.”

Thankfully, many popular boba tea shops in the area such as Tpumps, Cafe Lattea, Monster Boba, Super Cue, Tea Era and Happy Lemon let customers adjust the sweetness level of their drink, allowing for increased control over their sugar consumption.