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  • Lisa

The Origins of Bubble Tea

Bubble tea consists of a beverage, usually tea-based, with chewy tapioca balls in the bottom of the cup. Believed to have originated in the country of Taiwan in the 1980's, this fun drink has since become popular around the world.

Today, bubble tea is known by several different names: milk tea, boba tea, pearl tea, to name some of the the most common names. The original beverage was created using Taiwanese black tea mixed with milk and adding small, white tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. Later the white pearls were changed to the larger, black tapioca pearls most common today, and over time, the tapioca pearls were added to different types of tea-based beverages and eventually to powder-based milk beverages such as coconut, almond, and taro.


The many names for the popular drink come from the spherical globs of tapioca placed in the bottom of the cup. Made from cassava root, these tasty globs resemble black pearls or bubbles. The name "boba" comes from a slang word used in the Chinese Cantonese language. (We'll let you research that one, if you choose.) These large tapioca pearls get their dark color from caramelized brown sugar mixed in with the tapioca, yielding a sweet and chewy treat to add to your favorite beverage. Because of the larger size of the black tapioca pearls, the drink is consumed using a large diameter straw which has become commonly associated with bubble tea.


There are several stories about exactly how the idea for the fun beverage came about. Our favorite, and perhaps the most widely accepted story, is that it was invented in 1988 when someone got bored in a meeting and dumped their tapioca dessert into their Assam black tea. The place was Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichung, Taiwan. The founder of the tea house began selling cold versions of tea after seeing coffee served cold in Japan in the early 1980's. It was his Product Development Manager who later poured her tapioca pudding into her tea. The resulting treat was loved by everyone in the meeting. The new invention next became the top selling item at the tea house. The rest, as they say, is history.


Sources:

"Bubble tea: How did it start?", Derrick Chang, CNN,12 July 2017, http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/bubble-tea-inventor/index.html

"A Brief History of Boba", Priya Krishna, Food & Wine, 22 May 2017, https://www.foodandwine.com/tea/bubble-tea-taiwanese-street-drink-turned-american-addiction