How can I drink a bubble tea to ensure that I don’t finish the tea before the bobas?

By Krist Wongsuphasawat

Note: There is an interactive version of this article, made with Observable.

Have you ever feel frustrated when you finish all the tea in bubble tea before the bobas (tapioca balls)? I am pretty sure you are not alone.

Image from https://www.misstamchiak.com/ultimate-bubble-tea/

One greedy strategy is to maximize boba consumption in every sip, i.e. try to get the maximum amount of boba while getting minimum amount of tea possible. But what are the maximum and minimum?

This article simulates an optimized sip based on amount of boba and tea in the straw before sipping (method adopted from this post). The simulation assumes that all bobas sit in the bottom of the cup and stack on top of each other nicely. If you put a straw straight down when there are n layers of bobas, you will get n bobas in the straw. The rest of the straw up to the drink's height is tea. The drinker sips until all n bobas are in his/her mouth then stop. After each sip these n bobas and tea inside the straw are gradually reduced from the cup.

There are several factors that can affect your drinking experience and affects whether you can finish the bobas before the tea or not:

The shape of the cup affects how well bobas can stack up. If cup is wider, the bobas spread more and you get less boba for each sip.

Comparing different cups — top: slim cup, bottom: fat cup
  • Tea: Of course, more tea, more chance of success.
  • Boba: More bobas mean less space for tea and more bobas to finish.
  • Ice: Takes up space, but also melts and gradually increases tea volume.
Simulations for different amount of ingredients — top: no ice, middle: more boba, bottom: with ice

Not everybody drink like the optimized sip. If you have a habit of consuming more tea per sip, or aggressively sucking bobas, or drinking so slow that all the ice melts, these can affect the results. See the comparison of these three cases below:

  • Optimized sip
  • Consume more tea per sip (200% of tea in an optimized sip)
  • Consume more bobas per sip (200% of bobas in an optimized sip)
Comparing various drinking styles — top: optimized sip, middle: more tea per sip, bottom: more bobas per sip

Use this interactive simulator to simulate how long it may take to finish a cup of bubble tea in your own style. See if you can finish the bobas before the tea.

Create your own simulation!

Based on the simulations above, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Better use slim cup than fat cup. Can create taller layer of bobas and there is less area to catch the bobas when they are a few remaining.
  • Don’t add too much ice. If you add ice, make them melt early to add volume to the tea. I usually shake my cup before drinking, which also ensures the entire drink is cold in case the shop just drop the ice on top without shaking or stirring. The trade-off is it may dilute the tea.
  • Better do a powerful sip than a weak sip. Powerful sips ensure you get the bobas and maybe some more while weak sips may only give you the tea. Just don’t be too aggressive and end up choking yourself.

This interactive article was heavily inspired by this lighthearted yet informative Facebook post about bubble tea by ME สาระ with Chatriel さん. (The original post was in Thai language.) I adopted the idea for simulation by computing the volume of tea and boba in each sip. This article uses its own calculation for simulation, cup volume and drink height, as well as includes ice melting into the simulation.

Please keep in mind that these simulations are still not verified with any real human drinking experiment. (Not that I have any budget or IRB to run them.) On the bright side, no humans were harmed during the development of this project. However, if you would like to sponsor me a few cups of bubble tea, I will gladly volunteer myself as a participant.

If you are looking for more strategies to drink your bubble tea like a pro, I highly recommend this thread on Quora. A lot of boba wisdom awaits.