Community & Science: Boba Tea

Science At Home People and Place, Science Skills and Core Concepts

Have you ever tried boba tea or noticed shops around your community? Between the chewy tapioca balls, creamy milk tea, or just using a fat straw- boba craze had great success on the west coast.

Bubble tea, also known as boba drink, pearl tea drink, or boba tea, originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. These drinks are usually cool, refreshing, and sweet with tapioca pearls sitting on the bottom of a clear cup. Sometimes the drink is made with fresh fruits, milk, and crushed ice to create a healthy milk shake. 

Let’s Visit: Toast La Tea

More than six years ago, Vietnamese born, Kathy and Leo opened Toast La Tea, in Portland’s Jade District. Although boba is originally from Thailand, they opened the shop because of their love for boba. Toast La Tea is known for great customer service, a broad selection, and their custom made Oregon cups that make any drink picture ready for social media.

The Jade District is a program of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) that focuses on community development work in the neighborhood around Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street.  They take a comprehensive approach to helping the neighborhood develop without displacing the residents and businesses in the neighborhood.

What’s the Science of Tea?

All matter is made of molecules. Molecules are always in motion and colliding with one another. The tea bag has holes in it and is therefore permeable, so the water moves through the bag and interacts with the dry tea leaves. Water can move through permeable membranes. If there are more water molecules outside the tea bag than inside, the water moves inside the bag and makes the concentration of water molecules more similar. This movement of water through a membrane
is called osmosis.

At the same time, tiny particles from the tea leaves begin to dissolve and move throughout the cup, wherever there is a lower concentration of tea particles. The process of particles moving from higher to lower concentration is called diffusion. By the time the water has changed color, the water has saturated the tea bag, and the tea particles have been bounced all around the cup

Many boba shops don’t focus on the quality of the infusion itself. They use blends which are more affordable in bulk and quicker to make. That’s why Toast La Tea’s process is so important.

Try It At Home!

Activity Instructions

Prepare the tea.

Ask a grown up to help boil water on the stove.

Safely pour the hot water into glasses. Steep your tea bags or leaves in the freshly boiled water.

Let the tea stay in the water until completely cooled.

Cook the tapioca pearls.

Bring about 4 cups of water to boil and add the tapioca pearls.

Stir the pearls and wait for them to float to the top. Then, cook them about five more minutes or as long as your directions suggest.

Test a pearl to see if it has reached the desired level of softness. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pearls from the hot water. Quickly rinse the pearls with water. Transfer the pearls into a bowl, and mix the pearls with sweetener if desired.

Prepare your drinks.

Strain the tea into a serving pitcher and grab a few drinking glasses.

Add the tapioca balls and ice cubes to the bottom of the glass. Pour the tea and add milk.

Stir and taste the milk tea. Add sweeteners to your desired taste.

More For You

Try Fruit Bubble Tea

Now that you know how to make boba tea, what happens when you try different variations? Some of the most popular fruit bubble teas are strawberry, mango, lemon, and apple. Or how about if you change the tea flavor to matcha or oolong?


If you’re a fan of this drink, you should carry reusable tumblers and boba straws to shops in order to reduce your usage of single-use plastic. These straws can even be used while you are making and serving this bubble tea recipe at home.

Explore All!

Check out all of OMSI’s Science at Home videos and experiments.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

This project is made possible by a grant from the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation.