Bubble Tea: A History


Maybe it’s the creaminess of the drink, or the texture of the tapioca balls, or the overall aesthetic of the drink, but bubble tea, more commonly known as boba, has become one of the most popular drinks not only in its country of origin, Taiwan, but also abroad! All over the world boba shops have opened up, but where did this new beverage come from?

Where it came from

Many places in Taiwan have claimed to be the creator of this drink. Most say that the  origin of this drink comes from the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung, a city in Taiwan. As the story goes, the owner of the shop had added iced milk tea to the menu after trying Japanese coffee. Soon after, a young teahouse employee named Lin Hsui Hui mixed the tapioca balls from a popular Taiwanese pudding dessert called fen yuan, into her glass of iced milk tea. An alternative origin is the Hanlin Teahouse in Tainan, Taiwan, owned by Tu Tsong He Hanlin. He made tea using traditional white fenyuan which have the appearance of pearls, resulting in a “pearl tea.” Shortly after, Hanlin changed the white fenyuan to the black version that is known today as boba. 

These stories might just be clever marketing tactics, but many food historians and bubble tea makers agree that bubble tea first popped up in the 1980s among Taiwanese street food culture. There were many other popular Taiwanese beverages, such as slushies, cream floats, and flavored teas far sweeter than those found at traditional teahouses.

The Different Types

Many shops sell the straightforward black, oolong, or green tea with some sweetener added. These teas are still a popular choice among people, but shops now offer a wide variety of flavors. Some new flavors consist of  strawberry, mango, passion fruit, and many more. Shops also offer substitutes for milk for those who are lactose intolerant. There is also a wide variety of pearls and jellies to choose from, such as grass jellie to even different sizes of pearls! 

How it Became Popular

During the 1990s bubble tea became popular around East Asia and eventually followed Taiwanese migrates around the world. At first, bubble tea could only be found at restaurants until the late 1990s, when the first bubble tea shops were opened in Los Angeles. Bubble tea became an integral part of Asian-American culture. In L.A. Weekly, writer Clarissa Wei recalls drinking bubble tea as a kid in the San Gabriel Valley with her friends, whom she deems “the boba generation.”

As you can see, boba has become a very popular drink/snack combo for many people around the world! There have been many different adaptations of the original drink from Taiwan, but the variety has helped the beverage become even more popular around the world. Next time you’re in Taiwan, make the local pearl tea shop your first stop!

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