What Does Your Boba Order Say About You?

A series of vignettes on love, heartache, discovery — and most importantly, boba.

Alicia Chow
Sep 29, 2020 · 7 min read
An inviting cup of milk tea with pearl, shot by Samantha Fang (@sweetnsam_)

A lot of online quizzes do this. That’s how they get you — they make you think your favorite food will reveal something about you, that your favorite color opens up your inner thoughts, that your hopes and dreams lie at the bottom of your latte. They say they can tell your personality from your boba order, your sun sign, or any other various tidbits of information that only make up a fraction of the person you really are. They think they know you. They don’t.

Let’s pretend. Pretend that all the boba orders you’ve memorized could tell you something about the people they belong to. You like this game. You know it doesn’t work, but you like imagining that you’re more clever than you really are. Pretend that their order means something other than a fleeting preference. Let’s pretend you understand them.

#1: Jasmine Green Milk Tea with Grass Jelly, 50% Sugar, No Ice

You know this order like the back of your hand. You’ve bought it for him too many times, a careless offer when you’re heading out the door: $5 didn’t mean much until you realize you’ve done it 20 times over. His order is always the same; you know it better than the back of your hand. You don’t ask what he wants anymore, and he doesn’t say it either.

You tried a sip of it once, wincing a little at the lack of sugar. It’s milk tea. You’re lactose-intolerant. It’s fine. You tell him not to worry about it, a smile on your face. It’s good, you tell him. No offense to him but you would never order this on your own. Jasmine isn’t your thing and neither is grass jelly.

How many times have you gotten boba for him, studying together in his room or in Moffitt Library? How many times have you thought the drink is like him, bitter and bracing when you first take a sip, a gentle floral sweetness developing as you drink more and more?

You don’t order it anymore. You haven’t ordered it in a year now. He has someone else to memorize his order, someone else to buy it for him and receive his smiles. Somehow, you still can’t forget his order.

You remember it like his touch on your skin, his laughter, the teasing way he complimented your hair. You hate it, but you can’t bring yourself to forget any of it. You wonder if you ever will. Memories of an old friendship leave a bittersweet stain on your tongue; there’s no taking back what you both did, what you both said to each other. Like oil and water, you know you weren’t ever really meant to be together.

The best of times and the worst of times twist together in your mind, tainted by sickly sweet jasmine. Crying on his shoulder, all-nighters, walking to class, yelling, screaming, the anger and fear at losing him and yourself… It will be a long time before you can even try to wash the bitter taste out of your mouth, artificial and sticky and toxic.

You don’t drink jasmine green milk tea again.

#2: Mango Green Milk Tea with Ice Cream and Pudding, 80% Sugar, Lite Ice

She’s pretty, but in all of the two years you’ve known her, you’ve never thought about her like this before. When she asked you what drink you wanted, you asked her to surprise you. She whipped up a cup full of fruity, creamy heaven. The tangy mango, the rich velvety texture, the melty vanilla ice-cream lightly coating the slippery-sweet egg pudding makes your heart pound at the first sip. She is an entirely new experience. Hours and hours spent working in a boba shop, and this is the drink she offers you: a masterpiece.

You know she won’t ask for payment. This one is on her; call it an investment on her part, an invitation, a promise of more tantalizing drinks to come. Excited, she tells you about the honey she used to sweeten it (none of the corn syrup served to regular customers), and how this specific oolong was one of her favorite teas. Red lips curve into a self-satisfied smirk as she finishes her rambling explanation. You have never appreciated her more, reveling in the sweet warmth of her hands on yours despite the cool drink. Her eyes pierce you until your lungs feel breathless. Or is it the nerves, the unrelenting worry that you’ll get caught? That someone will see you two together and judgment will come, unprovoked?

Her friends have also come to visit so you awkwardly shuffle out, drink clutched in your hands as you savor every sip. You take her out on a few dates, each time your smiles as sweet as honey but it just doesn’t go through. Like two misaligned puzzle pieces, the two of you just never clicked. You still cherish the nights where you would talk until the sun rose. There is no third date — instead, you promise to stay friends.

The next time you visit her at work, you order it on your own. You pull out your wallet and she doesn’t stop you. The drink doesn’t taste the same.

#3 Jasmine Green Milk Tea with Pearl, 20% Sugar, Lite Ice

You did a double-take the first time you heard his order. Familiar but not quite the same, the words backhand you into memories of another body tight against yours, sleepless nights where you just talked and talked until the sun rose. You smile and nod, retreating before he sees something’s wrong.

You shouldn’t compare them. You know you shouldn’t. They’re so different that comparison is laughable — he’s so much better than the last guy, and you’re actually dating this time. He’s genuine, sweet, caring, someone who truly appreciates you. So why can’t you shake the feeling of déjà vu?

Maybe because you remember they started out the same. Meaningless, drunken revelries on a lonely twin bed once upon a time, the taste of peach soju setting fire to every bit of skin you touch. Maybe because, as much as the drink burned your throat, he burned you more when he replaced you. Onto the next one, not even bothering to look back.

He won’t replace you. Right? You can see him in your mind’s eye as you pay for his boba, laughing with all your friends as he finishes his work. He’s still waiting for you. Right?

There’s a chill in the air as you cling to your drink and his. You take it up to where he’s studying, a smile on your lips. You know better than to take a sip this time: you remember the taste well enough, and the 20% sugar kills it for you even more. He sneaks a few sips of yours though, nodding approvingly at the passionfruit yakult you ordered.

You play rounds of mahjong throughout the night, laughter filling the empty air of the study room. You look at him and smile — you can’t help but smile. Your heart melts like the ice in your drink as his eyes crinkle at you, a softness in his gaze that makes you think about how lucky you are. There’s a bitter taste in your mouth when you catch sight of his drink again, but it’s sweeter now, with a touch of honeyed words whispered in the night. You catch his gaze and you know it will be better this time.

It is.

#4 Passionfruit Yakult, 80% Sugar, Lite Ice

Passionfruit is your mother’s favorite. She grew up in Taiwan where tropical fruits like passionfruit and mangoes flourish; they are sweeter, fuller there, and she taught you how to slurp at the flesh while spitting seeds out. This is your go-to drink after dance practice, after your feet are sore and your head hurts from being in a ponytail all day. The tang of passionfruit mixed with yakult quenches your thirst brilliantly until you swallow a seed. Coughing, eyes watering, you choke it down and resolve to be more careful.

It’s almost 11 PM and the streets are empty, with an occasional car roaring past the boba shop. This particular shop always sees a lot of visitors at this time of night, starkly lit and still bustling with people. You like to pretend getting yakult is healthier than milk tea. It’s a probiotic after all, good for digestion right? You like to pretend reducing sugar to 80% actually does something. It doesn’t.

Pretend. That’s all you can do, right? Pretend to look wistfully out of a rainy car window like you’re in a music video. Pretend your drink is healthy. Pretend you understand these people, pretend that drink orders actually mean something, pretend that you aren’t clueless or oblivious like the others say. Pretend, just like the boba shop pretends yakult can also be classified as boba.

You know you can’t pretend tomorrow. Tomorrow you’ll have to wake up, go to work, pay rent, buy those groceries as you said you would. But for now, just pretend one more time. Pretend you know your friends, the almost-lovers, the significant others. Sip your yakult like it’s honeyed wine; tonight, we are drunk off delirium and fantasy.

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Alicia Chow

Written by

Eating since 1999, writing since I learned how to! Usually based in the Bay Area, currently based in Hong Kong. Passionate about anything food-related!

Have You Eaten Yet?

This is a publication about Asian food and voices. Asian grandmothers begin phone calls with “Have you eaten yet?” The greeting is interchangeable with “Hello.” Food is a language of love for our people. When we talk about food, we talk about so much more.

Alicia Chow

Written by

Eating since 1999, writing since I learned how to! Usually based in the Bay Area, currently based in Hong Kong. Passionate about anything food-related!

Have You Eaten Yet?

This is a publication about Asian food and voices. Asian grandmothers begin phone calls with “Have you eaten yet?” The greeting is interchangeable with “Hello.” Food is a language of love for our people. When we talk about food, we talk about so much more.

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