What I *really* mean when I text you the bubble tea emoji


The phrase “bubble tea” is inextricably woven into my daily vocabulary. I feel like I can’t go to school without asking my friends if they want to get bubble tea afterward.

But it’s not just a social call. Bubble tea is the physical embodiment of Asian culture-- more specifically, Taiwanese culture. While the drink originated in Taichung, in recent years, bubble tea has grown to become the subject of one too many memes on Subtle Asian Traits and the worldwide phenomenon it is today. 

The insurgence of bubble tea chains allowed Asians dispersed around the world to feel more in touch with their roots. Food makes up a critical part of our identity. The appreciation for food moves beyond the stimulation of taste buds, but rather encompasses its association with family, traditions, and memories.  

During my most homesick moments away from home, I always found comfort at the bottom of a cup of bubble tea. Granted, the taste was often lost in translation, but it replicated the comfort I desperately needed.

I need the bubble tea emoji because it is a part of my love language.

I need the bubble tea emoji because it is a part of my love language. I think knowing someone’s bubble tea order, waiting in line, and bringing it to them is an act of caring and a display of affection. I like getting bubble tea with my friends, a ritual that allows us to walk around the city and relieve us from our daily stresses.

The long-overdue bubble tea emoji is set to debut this year as part of Unicode 13.0; it’s truly the emoji of our dreams, and one we’ve been pleading for for years. At last, I do not have to drag my fingers across the keyboard several times just to express the urgency of my bubble tea cravings. However, I can think of several more instances where the bubble tea emoji would come in handy.

1. Expressing my “complicated” bubble tea order

While my bubble tea order rolls easily off the tip of my tongue in Mandarin (“波霸奶茶少糖去冰”), I find it difficult to describe to my friends here without coming off as a high-maintenance princess with a tongue-twisting demand for perfection. In simply five emojis, I am able to tell my friends to get me a bubble tea with no ice and less sugar. 

I know, one basic bubble tea emoji is not a sufficient representation of all the options at the bubble tea place. More often than not, I find myself contemplating in line every time if I should get coconut milk with mango poppings, even though I always resort to the basics with just milk tea and tapioca balls. 

2. Talking about inconveniences indirectly

If you’re a Mandarin speaker, you might be familiar with the hidden meaning behind the tapioca balls. While the smaller tapioca balls are called pearls (“珍珠”), the larger tapioca balls are dubbed as boba (“波霸”), which, not coincidentally, is a slang term for “big breast.”

While not all of us are “well-endowed” enough to fit the description of the emoji, if you ever want to coyly complain about your case of period boobs and to back out of going outside for boba, let the bubble tea emoji rise to the occasion.

3. Making elaborate dinner plans

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of food emojis, enough to make up a comprehensive selection at an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you throw in a few others, you have a whole dinner plan ready for you. Who doesn’t want to get invited to a Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant for Shanghai dumplings and pork broth Ramen, with plans for bubble tea and ice cream afterwards?

4. Forgetting you’re lactose intolerant

Over 90% of the Asian population is plagued by lactose intolerance. Growing up, I wasn’t lactose intolerant, I’d like to think that my mother’s method of getting me to chug through a gallon of milk a week was able to fend off any intolerance. However, as soon as I moved out and was no longer forcibly chugging my weight in milk, I became lactose intolerant. 

In my oversharing fashion, I always let my friends know just how lactose intolerant I am. Seeing the bright smile on the cartoonish pile of feces always lets them forget how crude I am being with my oversharing.

5. Expressing the excellence of the bubble tea 

Alongside the bubble tea emoji is the debut of the “pinched fingers emoji,” dubbed by internet users as “Italian hand emoji.” With this emoji, you’re able to give a chef’s kiss to how appetizing the bubble tea was. This cultural crossover truly highlights the important use case of multiculturally aware emojis.

Is it because the bubble tea place didn’t opt for powdered milk and undercooked tapioca balls? Whatever it was, I gladly chugged my bubble tea down.

6. Drinking too much bubble tea

On a bad day, I would buy two large bubble teas, one for now and one for later if my bad day was not forecasted to get any better. After the two bubble teas, I would look bloated and have the same physical appearance as someone who is eight months pregnant. Yes, a “boba baby” would be the correct way of describing it.

You can check out the complete list of 62 newly approved emojis here, and expect them to update on to different platforms and devices in the second half of the year.

As of now, while we’re still deprived of the new bubble tea emoji, here is how I will be expressing all of my bubble tea communicative needs: