Did You Know

What Is Bubble Tea?

While people mistake the name bubble tea because of the tapioca pearls, the name is actually due to the foamy bubbles that appear at the top after shaking it.  

What is sweet, refreshing, blended, hot or cold, shaken, and bubbly? Bubble tea or “boba tea” is the new craze. You might wonder what boba is. With flavored tea, milk, and bubbles, you need three more ingredients; water, tapioca flour, and brown sugar. That is how you make tapioca balls (boba), which are at the bottom of the cop. This refreshing beverage is also called pearl milk tea and bubble milk tea. So, is that why it is called bubble tea? Well, you have the tapioca balls and the transparent bubbles which you get by shaking it vigorously. 

Where Did Bubble Tea Come From?

Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s. The original inventor remains unknown, but two stories are surrounding its origin. A teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he of the Hanlin Tea Room of Tainan, claims to have invented it in 1986. Inspired by tapioca balls, he made tea with them, which lead to its name “pearl tea.” Not long after that, he mixed the tea with either brown sugar or honey, and that is why today there is a black version of tapioca balls. 

The other story comes from the Chun Shui Tang tea room in Taichung. Supposedly, its founder, Liu Han-Chieh, visited Japan in the 80s, where they served cold coffee. He used this in his tea; it became a hit, his business flourished and expanded.

While people mistake the name bubble tea because of the tapioca pearls, the name is actually due to the foamy bubbles that appear at the top after shaking it.  

How To Make Bubble Tea?

Homemade iced milky bubble tea with tapioca pearls.
Homemade iced milky bubble tea with tapioca pearls. 

The tea can be in any flavor, and it can be in different forms, for example, syrup, pulp, powder, black, or green tea. If you want your bubble tea to be slushy, you can use cocktail shaker and ice and give it a good shake. You can also add milk or milk flavor, and sugar which is optional.

Apparently, the temperature of the water is an important detail. After shaking come the toppings, as mentioned before, the pearls (also called boba or tapioca balls). There are also other topping options like popping boba, aloe vera jelly, grass jelly, fruit jelly agar jelly, puddings, and sago (extracted starch from palm stems). Bubble tea is typically served in a transparent cup with a round lid, and a big straw, and each sip seems to be a surprise. You have no idea if you will get the liquid or the squishy sweet tapioca ball.

Types Of Bubble Tea

Black pearl milk tea, along with the green pearl milk tea, are the most popular kinds of bubble tea. 

Black pearl milk tea has bigger seven-millimeter tapioca pearls, and they are sold in markets as “black pearls.” 

Another type, directly translated as “foam red tea,” does not have tapioca. Instead, hot or warm tea is mixed with sugar or syrup and ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Other types of bubble tea are directly translated as “foam milk tea,” “pearl milk tea,” “bubble milk tea,” “milk pearl tea,” and “milk cap tea.”    

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.


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