August 2, 2007

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Bubble Tea

Asian cuisine is often associated with an aura of health and balance. This doesn't strike me as particularly weird, since traditional Asian diets are lower in saturated fat and less processed than those of Western countries.

However, the Americanization of Asian food has resulted in sushi rolls dowsed in mayonnaise and covered in over-sized tempura shrimp as well as Chinese food that often surpasses McDonald's worst offenders in the sodium and saturaed fat categories (If General Tso ate his chicken every day, he probably suffered a massive heart attack at 25).

One "healthy" Asian drink that continues to increase in popularity is boba, affectionately known on these shores as bubble tea.

Quite the rage in Los Angeles and New York, this drink consists of tea, milk, sugar or honey, and 30 or 40 tapioca balls. It is consumed via a thick, colorful straw that allows the sweet, gummy tapioca balls to fly into your mouth and deliver quite a unique sensation.

Bubble tea can be comprised of black, green, or white tea, either plain or flavored in a variety of ways (ie: mango, sesame, coconut, etc.)

Before I understood much about nutrition, I considered this a light, refreshing, exotic treat. In fact, I lived exactly half a block away from an amazing bubble tea "house", which basically turned into my home away from the dorms.

I might as well have visited McDonald's.

Consider a standard 12 ounce serving of bubble tea.

Four ounces of whole milk provide 73 calories
Eight ounces of black tea provide 2 calories

One tablespoon of honey provides 64 calories

Here comes the pearl-clutching shocker.

Each tapioca ball packs in approximately 10 calories. Multiply that by 30 and you get... 300 calories of pure starch!

A little addition brings the total to 439 calories, and approximately 50 grams of sugar -- almost two soda cans' worth!

That's calorically equal to two grande skim caramel macchiatos or two 10 ounce cups of Dunkin' Donuts Hot Chocolate.

Bubble tea is one of my favorite indulgences and I encourage everyone to try it at least once in their lifetime, but consider it a high-calorie, high-sugar treat and not your daily dose of tea antioxidants.

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