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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels’ tastes on boba vary

Two Boba shops have arrived on Franklin Street in the past coupel of years: Yaya Tea and Cha House. Boba, a fairly new genre of food shop in America, has quickly risen to popularity from Asian countries. Yaya Tea and Cha House both have standard options for boba, such as the black milk tea with tapioca, taken here on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 on a park bench in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Editor's Note: After publication, it became apparent that this article excluded many relevant and important perspectives on boba tea, trivializing the origins and cultural significance of the beverage. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error, and we will make an effort to do better in the future.

One year into boba tea shops opening on Franklin Street, it seems like Chapel Hill may have a new unofficial drink. 

While boba may not be the most-liked drink, it certainly is talked about. Most Tar Heels either love or hate the new fad. Boba is a Taiwanese drink created in the late 1980s that has found a cult-like following in the United States. 

The drink consists of a variety of teas, most commonly milk tea, with black tapioca pearls in the bottom. Many tea shops however, have begun to add their own spins on the traditional drink, often adding jelly- or fruit-flavored balls in the bottom of the cup.

Many UNC students have fully embraced the boba trend, participating in a self-accepted boba subculture on Carolina's campus. Student Alex Barnett talked about how boba has become a part of her friend group's routine on sunny days. She also attributed some of boba's popularity in Chapel Hill to the relatively young demographic of college students.

"It's also sort of trendy. I think it's a thing for younger kids, it's the type of thing an older generation may not understand, and I feel like that sort of makes it appealing," Barnett said. 

Barnett has been drinking boba since high school and is a huge fan. She recommends boba novices try the Taro Milk Tea because it is relatively tame in flavor, and it's her personal favorite. 

Like Barnett, senior Joanne Thayil has been drinking boba since high school. Thayil is an avid boba drinker and frequents both Cha House and Meet Fresh in Chapel Hill. She credits boba in helping her expand her social circle.

"I think boba is great. It definitely helped me with my social circle. I've met a lot of people getting boba with friends," Thayil said. "It's a great conversation topic, and I think that boba coming to campus is one of the best things that's happened in a while." 

Despite many students enjoying boba, some people aren't sold on the craze. Junior Hailey Brown is not a fan of boba. Her first experience with boba left her throwing up outside the tea shop.

Brown described the flavor of boba as sickly sweet and felt that the tapioca balls felt odd accompanying the thin drink. She theorized that a thicker consistency, like a milkshake, may make the drink more enjoyable. Brown also suggested that the root of the fad may go beyond flavor. 

"Americans tend to really pick pieces of other places' culture and latch on to them. Like the same thing with the pho craze, like everyone I know is obsessed with pho now, and I think it's just because it’s different, and we want to be a part of it," Brown said. "I think we all crave to be a part of something that isn't normal, that maybe sets us apart." 

While Brown, Thayil and Barnett all have strong opinions on boba one way or another, senior Jack Carmichael has a pretty middle-of-the-road opinion on boba. Even though he doesn't personally enjoy the drink, he does understand the appeal. Carmichael attributes both the popular appeal and his dislike of boba to its exotic and unique qualities.

"I definitely wish I was better at expanding my palette, and I'm always open to trying new things," Carmichael said. "I do sincerely feel like me not enjoying boba is just like some weird part of my brain that is scared of new things, and I hope that one day, whether it's boba or something else, maybe I will not be as freaked out about it."

From popping the plastic top, to the huge plastic straw and black tapioca pearls, boba is definitely a unique experience. People would be hard-pressed to find a similar American drink, and that is part of what makes boba special. Barnett claims that your boba experience depends on your receptiveness to it.

"Just keep an open mind," Barnett said. "It's totally worth it if you're willing to try it."

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