Bubble tea is a tea-based drink with chewy tapioca balls (aka “boba” or “pearls”) at the bottom. The treat originated in Taiwan in the ’80s and has been quickly growing in popularity over the last decade or so. But one question remains: Is bubble tea vegan? And the answer is … maybe! It depends on how you order it.
The pearls itself is usually vegan, as it’s typically made from tapioca. Grass jelly, which you can also add to your drink, is also vegan.
Tapioca is a starch that comes from the cassava root—compassionate pearl addicts can rest assured that gelatin is usually not used in the making of bubble tea. This is great news, since gelatin is made from the bones, skins, ligaments, and tendons of dead animals like cows, pigs, and fish. No one wants to sip on cruelty while they’re having a delicious treat.
Aside from the pearls itself, bubble tea is typically made two ways—as a fruity drink or a milky drink (although some people like to blend the two together). The fruity versions are almost always vegan, since they’re typically made with a fruit-based syrup.
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The milky versions of bubble tea are usually not vegan. Most places do use cow’s milk—which is unfortunate, since the list of cruel acts involved in the production of it is long.
Calves born to cows used for their milk are usually torn away from their mothers a few days after they’re born, which is a traumatic event for both. The male calves are often sold to the veal industry, and they live in tiny crates until they’re slaughtered at just a few months old. The female calves are put back into the dairy industry, where they’re bred over and over until their milk production declines and they’re slaughtered.
But the great news is that you can sip on bubble tea without contributing to any of this cruelty, since you can ask for your drink to be made with all vegan ingredients. Some places even offer bubble tea with vegan milk like oat milk or soy milk. Also, be sure to ask that your sweet drink be made without honey so that no bees are harmed in the making of it. Bubble tea is all over the place now, so a vegan version shouldn’t be hard to find!
You can help animals suffering on factory farms just by avoiding dairy foods, meat, and eggs.
For help getting started, check out our online Guide to Going Vegan!