Can you get boba tea dairy free?

Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, has become an incredibly popular drink around the world in recent years. The signature ingredient of boba tea is the “boba”, which are small, chewy tapioca pearls that sit at the bottom of the cup. While traditional boba tea is made with milk tea, boba tea comes in many flavors and can also be customized to be dairy free.

What is boba tea?

Boba tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It was created by a tea shop owner who decided to add chewy tapioca balls, inspired by a dessert he had in Japan. He called the drink “Zhenzhu Nai Cha”, meaning “pearl milk tea” in Mandarin Chinese. The “boba” in boba tea refers to these tapioca pearls.

The classic preparation of boba tea consists of a tea base mixed with milk, ice, and sweetener. This could be black tea, green tea, oolong tea, or another type of tea. The “boba” are made from tapioca starch that is boiled then shaped into small spheres. They have a soft, chewy texture and sweet flavor. The boba sink to the bottom of the drink, to be sucked up through a large straw.

Boba tea started gaining popularity internationally in the 2000s. As it spread beyond Taiwan, boba tea shops experimented with different flavors and toppings. Today, boba tea comes in many varieties besides the classic milk tea. Some examples of popular flavors are matcha, Thai tea, taro, honeydew, mango, lychee, and coffee. The “boba” can be replaced with other toppings like fruit jelly, red bean, grass jelly, aloe vera, pudding, popping boba, and more.

Why get boba tea dairy free?

While the traditional milk tea boba has a sweet, creamy texture, it does contain dairy. For those who are vegan, lactose intolerant, or avoiding dairy for other reasons, boba can still be enjoyed dairy free. Here are some of the reasons one may want to get dairy free boba:

  • Vegan diet – Vegans do not consume any animal products, including dairy. Getting non-dairy boba allows vegans to enjoy this popular drink.
  • Dairy allergy or intolerance – Those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance cannot comfortably consume regular dairy milk boba. Going dairy free allows them to still sip boba tea.
  • Preference for non-dairy milk – Some people simply prefer the taste and nutrition profile of non-dairy milks like almond, soy, oat, and coconut milk. They can choose their favorite for boba.
  • Health reasons – Some avoid dairy for potential health concerns like hormones or inflammation. Non-dairy boba allows them to avoid dairy while relaxing with a boba drink.
  • Weight loss – Dairy milk can be high in calories and fat. Choosing lower calorie non-dairy milk may help those managing their weight.

No matter the reason, more and more boba shops recognize the demand for dairy free options. Customers do not have to miss out on the boba trend just because they avoid dairy.

Non-dairy milk options for boba

When ordering dairy free boba, the first decision is which milk substitute to use. Here are some of the most common types of non-dairy milks used:

Soy milk

Soy milk has a smooth, creamy texture that makes it one of the most popular choices for dairy free boba. Plain or vanilla flavored soy milk both work well. Soy pairs nicely with many boba flavors like taro, matcha, and coffee.

Almond milk

Almond milk is another favorite for boba thanks to its mild nutty taste and frothy texture when shaken. It has less fat than soy or coconut milk, making it lower in calories too. Almond milk boba goes well with fruit flavors like mango, lychee, and strawberry.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk has a rich flavor and creamy consistency that mimics dairy milk. Full fat coconut milk works best to avoid watery boba. Coconut pairs especially nicely with tropical boba flavors like mango, pineapple, or coconut. Just be aware that coconut milk is higher in saturated fat and calories than other non-dairy milks.

Oat milk

Oat milk offers a light sweetness and foamy texture when shaken. It’s a great neutral base that lets fruity boba flavors like passionfruit and lychee shine. Oat milk is lower in calories than soy or coconut milk, so it’s a good option if managing weight.

Cashew milk

Cashew milk has a velvety, mildly nutty flavor. It froths up nicely when shaken too. Cashew milk works well in nutty or creamy flavored bobas like hazelnut, chocolate, or coffee.

Hemp milk

Hemp milk has an earthy, nutty taste. The texture is on the thinner side, so it may not be the best for floating boba pearls. But it can make a nice base for fruity bobas where you want the fresh fruit flavor to stand out.

Besides these common options, occasionally boba shops may also offer other non-dairy milks like rice milk, quinoa milk, flax milk, macadamia milk, or pea milk. The possibilities are expanding as vegan milks become more mainstream.

How to order dairy free boba

Ordering dairy free boba is easy, you just need to follow these steps when customizing your drink:

  1. Choose your tea base – Select a black, green, oolong, herbal, or other tea. Skip milk tea.
  2. Select your milk – Request a non-dairy milk like soy, almond, oat, or coconut.
  3. Pick your boba – Choose from traditional tapioca boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, etc.
  4. Add flavor – Select your desired fruit, matcha, coffee, chocolate, or other flavor.
  5. Customize sweetness – Decide on sugar level and extras like honey.
  6. Specify ice and toppings – Request ice level and any other toppings like lychee jelly.

The standard boba order formula is: tea base + milk substitute + boba topping + flavor + sweetness level + ice level + extra toppings. As long as you specify the non-dairy milk, the staff will prepare it dairy free.

Dairy free boba menu ideas

New to dairy free boba? Not sure where to start? Here are some popular boba tea orders to try without the dairy:

Almond milk matcha boba

Creamy, earthy matcha green tea paired with nutty almond milk is a delicious combo. Add your choice of boba, like classic tapioca pearls. Finish it off with a dusting of matcha powder on top.

Soy milk taro boba

Sweet taro boba goes perfectly with creamy soy milk. Top it off with taro boba balls for extra taro flavor and fun chewy texture. This is a go-to boba order.

Coconut milk mango boba

Tropical mango boba made with coconut milk is fruity and refreshing. Include some coconut jelly for an extra pop of sweet coconut. It feels like a beach vacation in a cup.

Oat milk brown sugar boba

This unique twist on classic milk tea replaces the dairy with oat milk. The brown sugar gives it a lovely caramel-like flavor. Brown sugar boba with oat milk is comforting and nostalgic.

Strawberry soymilk boba

Make your strawberry boba without dairy by requesting it with soy milk. The soy enhances the berry flavor without overpowering it. Add your favorite fruit jelly for a jelly-filled treat.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match flavors until you find your perfect dairy free boba orders. The possibilities are endless.

Making dairy free boba at home

While going out for boba is fun, you can also DIY it at home. This lets you control the ingredients to be completely dairy free. Follow these simple steps for homemade dairy free boba:

  1. Make the tea base – Brew black, green, oolong, herbal, or coffee tea. Sweeten while hot to dissolve sugar.
  2. Prepare non-dairy milk – Heat up or froth your milk of choice like soy or almond milk.
  3. Cook the boba – Boil tapioca pearls until cooked through then coat in sugar.
  4. Mix and assemble – Add boba, milk, and any fruit or flavorings to tea. Adjust sweetness. Serve over ice.
  5. Add toppings – Finish with extra toppings like fruit jelly, cocoa powder, or matcha powder.

The basic process is easy and you can get creative with flavors. Have fun developing your own signature dairy free boba recipes to enjoy anytime.

Where to find dairy free boba

Luckily, getting dairy free boba is becoming easier as more shops expand non-dairy options. Here are some tips for finding it near you:

  • Boba chains – Popular chains like Gongcha, Sharetea, Vivi Bubble Tea, Kung Fu Tea, T4, and others offer non-dairy milks.
  • Coffee shops – Shops like Starbucks, Peet’s, and local cafes can make boba with non-dairy milk too.
  • Vegan restaurants – Check out Asian fusion and vegan spots which are likely to have dairy free boba.
  • Online vendors – Order pre-made or DIY boba kits online from sites like Boba Direct and Dilettante.
  • Asian grocery stores – Stores often stock boba, non-dairy milks, teas, and toppings to DIY at home.

Call ahead or check online menus to confirm dairy free options. Customization is key for specialty drinks, so don’t be shy asking about plant-based milk substitutions.

Tips for the best dairy free boba

To get the tastiest dairy free boba, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use full fat versions of non-dairy milks for a thick, creamy texture.
  • Froth or shake the non-dairy milk before adding for a nice foam topping.
  • Customize the tea base, fruit flavors, and sweetness to your taste.
  • Add extra toppings like fruit jelly for more texture and pop of flavor.
  • Swap out the classic boba for different toppings like grass jelly, egg pudding, or aloe vera.
  • Order it freshly made instead of pre-mix bottled versions for better quality.
  • Stick to trusted boba shops known for great non-dairy options.
  • Ask for recommendations from the staff on best sellers and pairings.

It may take some experimenting to find your perfect customized dairy free boba order. But once you do, you’ll be able to satisfy your boba craving again and again.


Boba doesn’t have to mean dairy these days. With so many milk alternatives, getting dairy free boba is easier than ever. Whether avoiding dairy for diet, health, or ethical reasons, plant-based milks offer lots of tasty ways to customize boba exactly how you like it. From the classic tapioca pearls to fun new toppings, let your creativity run wild crafting your ideal dairy free boba tea.

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