Boba tea trend takes root in Rochester

Popular Asian tea with boba pearls, made from starch of tapioca root, is gaining popularity in Minnesota.

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Lydia Bell scoops boba pearls into a cup at Tea Time, 20 Second Ave. S.W., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A specialty style of drink from Taiwan has made it to Minnesota and is giving tea drinkers something to chew on.

Boba tea, or, bubble tea, is on menus at about half a dozen locations in Rochester. The drink is distinguished by pearls of chewy tapioca.

Huishu Lin says selling boba was a way of bringing a taste of home to Rochester. Lin is owner of Tea Time in the Kahler Grand hotel in downtown Rochester.

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“She felt like it could be successful because it had been in many other states and in many other cities,” said Lydia Bell, a manager at Tea Time. “From there, people start getting more curious about it.”

As far as Lin knows, Tea Time was the first in Rochester to regularly offer boba tea when she opened the business more than six years ago.


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Alisha Bauman puts a straw in a tea drink at Tea Time, Jan. 27, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Pho Chau, Wabi Sabi, Lee Market and Asian Fusion include boba tea options on their menus. Kung Fu Tea, which opened in 2019, specializes in a boba-heavy menu .

Bell said she's glad more places offer boba now.

"It raises more awareness about what it is," she said.

For people who don't know what it is, the textured pearls showing through a clear cup and a colorful, wide straw catches their eye.

"For someone who hasn't tried it, the biggest hurdle is explaining what it is," Bell said.

Maria Zarate tries a different boba each time she stops at Tea Time.

“I change it up,” she said.

The texture of the drinks keeps her coming back to try different flavors, she added.


“I’m a texture person,” she said.

The texture forces people to slow down and chew as they drink, Bell said.

“It’s a sipping thing and it’s a social thing,” Bell said.

Boba teas are generally divided into two categories — milk teas and teas without milk. The base tea in the drinks is usually a black, green, or oolong tea, though fruit teas are becoming increasingly popular with younger tea drinkers. However, many of those aren’t technically boba tea because they come with a flavored gelatin and not tapioca boba pearls.

The next choice for a boba drinker is how much sugar to have in the tea. Tiffany Alexandria, chef at Choochoo-ca-Chew, who grew up in Taiwan, chooses no sugar for her drink at Kung Fu tea.

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Tiffany Alexandria stirs a boba tea drink at Kung Fu Tea, 1006 Broadway Ave. N., Jan. 20, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Kung Fu tea marinates their boba pearls in brown sugar, which gives the pearls a hint of sweeter, molasses flavor.

Alexandria remembers seeing the fast boba trend explode among young people when she was growing up.

“Almost every school had a boba stand open across the street,” she said. “They know exactly where their audience is.”


Alexandria said it was second nature to have a cup of boba in her hand as she would walk around to shop or explore the city.

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Lydia Bell scoops boba pearls into a cup at Tea Time, 20 Second Ave. S.W., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

“I like boba tea because you drink it slowly,” she said. “It’s a leisure activity to drink it.”

What was a labor intensive process of making tapioca starch pearls became streamlined in the 1980s. After that, more tea shops began offering boba in drinks.

Bell said Tea Time marinates the boba pearls in brown sugar too. She recommends ordering a traditional Asian flavor such as taro or lychee with little or no sugar. That helps bring out the tea and boba flavors, she said.

Alexandria admits she’s picky about her boba and has had some disappointing beverages despite her initial excitement when she saw the trend reach the U.S. The texture has to be just right, she said.

“I like it a little soft, a little chewy, a little bouncy,” Alexandria said. “There’s a very slight difference between good boba and bad boba.”

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Lydia Bell places an order of boba teas into a holder at Tea Time, 20 Second Ave. S.W., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Few local places prepare the pearls to her standards, she added. That includes her own kitchen.

“I haven’t been able to get it to the texture I like,” Alexandria said.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or
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