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What is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea, also known as “pearl tea” or “boba tea”, is a Taiwanese tea-based frothy beverage that is commonly served cold and made with iced tea, sweetened milk or fruit flavorings, and usually with sweet boba (tapioca) or “pearls”. To create the “bubbles”, bubble tea is shaken why syrup and ice in a cocktail shaker. Ingredients other than boba may be added, such as jelly or pudding, which are consumed through a large straw. The most popular bubble tea beverages are Boba Milk Tea (also known as “pearl milk tea”) and Boba Milk Green Tea.

Boba, also known as “tapioca pearls” or “tapioca balls”, is derived from the starch of the cassava root, a versatile South American vegetable. Adding brown sugar gives them their dark color, so boba can also be white, transparent, green or other colors depending on the ingredients. When cooked perfectly, boba becomes sweet chewy balls and should have the consistency of gummy bears. If the boba feels starchy like an unripened banana, then it is undercooked. If the boba feels like Jell-O, then it is overcooked! Boba may be added to any beverage: milk tea, icy, smoothies, juice, and coffee.

Varieties of bubble tea include smoothie and slush options resulting in endless recipes and ingredient combinations. Bubble tea can come in an array of flavors, including lychee, cantaloupe, honeydew, avocado, jackfruit, taro, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender… The list goes on and is endless! All kinds of toppings, not just boba, can go into bubble tea to enhance it’s flavor or just to add more fun! Extras include fruit, pudding, aloe vera, ice cream, a variety of jellies, and the newest craze, popping boba.


Bubble tea is said to be invented in 1988 when Lin Hsiu Hui, the Product Development Manager at Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichung, Taiwan, decided to pour her tapioca dessert into her iced tea during a meeting. The beverage was well-received by her colleagues, leading to its inclusion on the menu, ultimately becoming the franchise’s best-selling product. Although the beverage was only popular locally in the beginning, bubble tea became well-known in East and Southeast Asian during the 90s. In Chinese, bubble tea is 珍珠奶茶 (zhen zhu nai cha), which translates to pearl milk tea. When it was introduced in Hong Kong, locals started calling it boba, which means “big pearls.”


In February 2013, The Fung Brothers, an Asian American comedic duo, coined the term “bobalife”, an Asian American lifestyle consisting of socializing while consuming boba/bubble tea. Much like how coffee is very prominent in American culture, bubble tea defines young Asian American culture.


Today, bubble tea shops can be found across the nation. Most cafes will use a machine to seal their beverages with a plastic cellophane seal atop. This method allows the tea to be shakened in the serving cup, as well as spill-free until ready to be consumed. Most people today in Taiwan refer to bubble tea as “Pearl Tea”, which is also used overseas. However, it is most commonly called “bubble tea” by English speakers in locations with less Chinese influence. A common misconception that the “bubble” in bubble tea refers to boba, “bubble” actually refers to the bubble foam at the top of the tea after it’s been shaken to enhance its flavor. Technically, bubble tea is just shaken tea, with or without boba! Regardless of what it’s called, many can agree that bubble tea is the next best thing since sliced bread.