was first invented in the 1980's by a small Taiwanese merchant.
Discovered by Japanese businessmen and popularized through a Japanese
television show. By the 1990's. bubble tea was all over Asia.
Now, it has migrated to North America. California was the first North
American state to embrace bubble tea. Today, bubble tea can be
found in major Canadian city malls."
tea, also called boba tea, is a tea beverage containing gelatinous
tapioca pearls. It originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, spread to nearby
East Asian countries, and migrated to Canada before spreading to
Chinatown in New York City, then to various spots throughout the West
Coast of the United States. The literal translation from Chinese is
pearl milk tea.
The word "bubble" refers to "bubbling", the process by which certain
types of bubble tea are made, and not the actual tapioca balls. The
balls are often called "pearls." Drinks with large pearls are consumed
along with the beverage through wide straws; while drinks with small
pearls are consumed through normal straws. Bubble tea is especially
popular in many East Asian and Southeast Asian regions such as Taiwan,
Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and more recently
popularized in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and
The distinctive characteristic of bubble tea is the presence of chewy
translucent balls of pearl tapioca (that sit at the bottom of the
glass). Usually the pearls are "large pearl," larger than the "small
pearl" that is customary in tapioca pudding. Cooked, large pearls have a
diameter of at least 6 millimeters. Occasionally, "small pearl" tapioca
is used. Both sizes of pearls are available in a variety of colors. The
pearls boiled in water for 25 minutes, until they are cooked thoroughly
but have not lost pliancy, then cooled for 25 minutes. After cooking
they last about 7 hours. The pearls have little taste, and are usually
soaked in sugar or honey solutions.
Bubble teas are generally of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas,
and milk teas. However, some shops offer a hybrid "fruit milk tea." Milk
teas may use dairy or non-dairy creamers.
The original bubble tea consisted of a hot Taiwanese black tea, brown
large pearl tapioca, condensed milk, and honey. As this drink became
more popular, variations were created. Iced versions appeared soon, and
came along green bubble tea which uses jasmine green tea instead of
black tea. Peach or plum flavoring began to appear, then more fruit
flavors were added until, in some variations, the tea was removed
entirely in favor of real fruits. These fruit versions usually contain
colored pearls (and/or "jelly cubes" as in the related drink taho), the
color chosen to match whatever fruit juice is used. Flavors may be added
in the form of powder, fruit juice, pulp, or syrup to hot black or green
tea, which is shaken in a cocktail shaker or mixed in a blender with ice
until chilled. Cooked tapioca pearls and other mix-ins are added at the
Today one can find shops entirely devoted to bubble tea, similar to
juice bars of the early 1990s. Bubble tea bars often serve bubble tea
using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane. This
allows the tea to be shaken in the serving cup. The cellophane is then
pierced with a straw. The straw may be brightly colored, and is
oversize, large enough for sucking up the pearls. Other cafés use
plastic dome-shaped lids.
Different flavoring can be added to bubble tea. Some widely available
fruit flavors include strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango,
lemon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana,
and kiwi. Other popular non-fruit flavors include taro, coconut,
chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender,
rose, violet. Some of the sour fruit flavors are usually only available
in bubble tea without milk as the acidity will curdle the milk.
Tapioca balls of big and small sizes are of course the prevailing chewy
tidbit in bubble tea, but a wide range of other options can add equally
tantalizing texture to the drink. Green pearls have a small hint of
green tea flavor, and are chewier than the traditional tapioca balls.
Jelly, in small cube or rectangular strips, with flavors like coconut
jelly, konjac, lychee, grass, mango, green tea, or rainbow (a fruit
mix), has a pliant, almost crispy consistency. Red bean or mung bean
mush, also typical toppings for Taiwanese shaved ice, give the drink an
added subtle flavor as well as texture. Aloe, egg pudding, sago, taro
balls can also be found in most tea houses to complete the perfect cup
Bubble tea cafes are often popular hangouts for younger south east
Asians. Stores are generally small, so it is often a stop before student
gatherings or activities. Such a youth culture in adoption to western
countries result in stacks of magazines (both Asian and American
versions), Chinese manga, and showing of music videos of Asian pop
These cafes generally have a small food menu catering to its clientele,
among the most common Deep-Fried Chicken with Salt & Pepper (鹹酥雞) and
thick sliced toast in sweet flavors (厚片土司). In the early 2000, some
bubble tea cafes emerged in more elaborate versions, providing larger
space, better sittings, and exquisite products.
Drinking the pearls through a straw is common, usually a large diameter
straw is provided to accommodate the particular size of the pearls. A
common error for non experienced drinkers is to empty the container of
fluid before all of the pearls are consumed, thus making it difficult or
impossible to collect the pearls with sufficient vacuum using a straw.
History of the Bubble Tea (How it all Began)
There are two shops that claim to be the first creator of bubble tea.
One is Liu Han Chie who worked in Chun Shui Tang teahouse (春水堂)Taichung
City, Taiwan in the early 1980s, and experimented with cold milk tea by
adding fruit, syrup, candied yams, and tapioca balls. Although the drink
was not popular at first, a Japanese television show generated interest
among businessmen. The drink became well-known in most parts of East and
Southeast Asia during the 1990s.
An alternative origin is the Hanlin (翰林)Teahouse in Tainan City, Taiwan,
owned by Tu Tsong He Hanlin. Bubble tea is made by adding traditional
white fenyuan which have an appearance of pearls, supposedly resulting
in the so-called "pearl tea." Shortly after, Hanlin changed the white
fenyuan (粉圓) to the black, as it is today.
In the late 1990s, bubble tea began to gain popularity in the major
North American cities with large Asian populations, especially those on
the West Coast and East Coast and in Texas. The trend in the United
States was started by Lollicup in the city of San Gabriel, California
and quickly spread throughout Southern California. The
beverage has received much attention from mainstream American media,
including covers on National Public Radio show Morning Edition and the
Los Angeles Times. In the U.S., national and local chains are expanding
into suburban areas, particularly those with large Asian populations.
Bubble tea shops can now be found in shopping malls and shopping centers
in the suburbs. It can also be found in a number of Chinese and Thai
restaurants in and around large cities and college towns. Los Angeles
and Orange County currently has one of the highest concentration of "boba"
bars in the U.S., due to the region's large number of Asian residents.
Bubble tea has spread internationally through Chinatowns and other
overseas Asian communities. It can be found in major European cities
such as London and Paris. Bubble tea is also gaining popularity in
Canada, particularly in and around the cities of Kamloops, British
Columbia; Vancouver, British Columbia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Toronto,
Ontario; Edmonton, Calgary; Alberta; and Montreal, Quebec where there
are large Asian-Canadian communities. It is also gaining popularity in
Australia, especially in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne where Asian
immigrants and descendants are highly populated.
More recently, bubble tea has quickly spread in the Mexican city of
Monterrey, and the "Chinatown" neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina,
where Taiwanese communities have introduced it.
The Chinese term for this drink would be literally translated "pearl
milk tea" (traditional Chinese:
珍珠奶茶; "Bubbling tea" in Chinese
actually refers to a modern method of beverage preparation: to
efficiently and homogeneously mix various ingredients in these drinks
(e.g., sugar, powdered milk, tea, and ice), drink makers often shake the
tea up just like how bartenders normally do with cocktails.