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How Can I Drink Bubble Tea Without Finishing the Tea Before the Bobas?

There is data science and there is boba science

Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images; all other images: Krist Wongsuphasawat

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

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

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These simulations show the optimized sip based on the amount of bobas and tea in the straw (method adapted from this post). It assumes that all bobas stack on top of each other nicely in the bottom of the cup. 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 their mouth, then stops. After each sip, these n bobas and tea inside the straw are gradually reduced from the cup.

Several factors can affect the drinking experience and whether you can finish the bobas before the tea:

1. Cup Dimension

The shape of the cup affects how well bobas can stack up. If the cup is wider, the bobas spread more and you get fewer bobas per sip.

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Comparing different cups: top, slim cup; bottom, wide cup

2. What You Put in the Cup

Of course, the more tea, more chance of success. More bobas mean less space for tea and more bobas to finish. Ice is an additional variable that 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

3. How You Drink It

Not everybody drinks the optimized sip. Consuming more tea per sip or aggressively sucking bobas or drinking so slowly that all the ice melts can all affect the results. See the comparison of these three cases:

  1. optimized sip
  2. more tea per sip (200% of tea in an optimized sip)
  3. more bobas per sip (200% of bobas in an optimized sip)
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Comparing various drinking styles: top, optimized sip; middle, more tea per sip; bottom, more bobas per sip

Create Your Own Simulation

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

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Create your own simulation!


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

  • It’s better to use a slim cup than a wide cup. This can create a taller layer of bobas, and there is less area to catch the bobas when few are remaining.
  • Don’t add too much ice. If you add ice, let it melt to add volume to the tea. I usually shake my cup before drinking to ensure the entire drink is cold in case the ice was dropped on top without shaking or stirring. The trade-off is that it might dilute the tea.
  • It’s better to take a powerful sip than a weak sip. Powerful sips ensure you get the bobas, while weak sips may only give you the tea. Just don’t be so aggressive you end up choking.

Credits and Disclaimer

This interactive article was heavily inspired by this lighthearted yet informative Facebook post about bubble tea from ME สาระ with Chatriel さん. (The original post was in Thai.) 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 and adds ice to the simulation.

Please keep in mind these simulations are not verified by any real drinking experiment. On the bright side, no humans were harmed during the development of this project.

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.

Check out the interactive version of this article made with Observable.

Krist Wongsuphasawat

Written by

Data Experience @airbnb / Prev: Turn data into pixels @twitter • Invent new vis @UofMaryland HCIL PhD • From @Thailand • http://kristw.yellowpigz.com

Krist Wongsuphasawat

Written by

Data Experience @airbnb / Prev: Turn data into pixels @twitter • Invent new vis @UofMaryland HCIL PhD • From @Thailand • http://kristw.yellowpigz.com

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