Maybe you’ve crossed the sight of this odd little drink before once upon a time in summer. It’s made of tea, mixed with either fruit or milk and made weirder still by the presence of small soft and chewy gel-like balls called tapioca. It can be served both hot and steaming in a mug or cold with crushed ice in a tall glass and large straws big enough for the tapioca pearls to pass through. You look around the shop and spot someone friendly enough to ask. The person replies that this is something called the bubble tea. Perplexed you order one and you find that you actually like it but you begin to wonder. What is this drink really? Where did it come from? What exactly is bubble tea?
The origins of this sweet, foamy drink can be traced back to Taiwan in the 1980’s when vendors began to introduce to the public a sweet mixture of hot Taiwanese tea, that’s black, along with small tapioca pearls, condensed milk and syrup or honey. At first the tea drink wasn’t a success but after it was featured in a Japanese show, the idea caught on and soon the rest of Asia was serving the tea drink. From there the bubble tea fascination spread throughout the western world, first in Canada then to the various Chinatowns in the United States and finally it was adopted by the sunshine loving people of the colleges in the west coast of the U.S.
The name bubble tea however is common misconception of the drink’s variant the pearl milk tea. However the name “bubble tea” is simply referring to the drink’s tea base which is shaken or stirred to produce the foam on top of the drink. A more proper name would be “bubble tea with pearls” if you want the Taiwanese shaken/stirred tea with tapioca pearls.
Bubble teas are generally served two in ways. First as fruit flavored teas and the second as a milk tea. There are some shops however which serve a hybrid “fruit milk tea.” There are also some healthy variants of the drink which consist of a 100% crushed fruit smoothies with pearls with ice cream on the top.
The original bubble tea however was a mixture of black tea, small tapioca pearls, and condensed milk, with syrup or honey. Today however the tea base can be replaced by a lot of other tea flavors, not just black tea. The first variation was the green bubble tea, which has a jasmine flavored tea base which was then followed by a plum flavored tea base and a peach flavored tea base even followed after that. In Hong Kong even a new variant was developed that was composed of half black tea and half coffee.
Now bubble teas are sold all over the world alongside coffees and teas in most coffee or tea houses and there are even cafes that are dedicated solely to selling bubble tea alone. Indeed the bubble tea has gone a long way from its humble beginnings in Taichung, Taiwan to be enjoyed by everyone in the world.