My: AALIJIAH MINNIEWEATHER
If you don’t live under a rock and go outside, you have probably heard of the term ‘boba’ or at least seen people with ambiguously colored drinks in their hand with black or blue balls at the bottom and with a ‘Quickly’ or ‘Tapioca Express’ or the like-branding on the cup.
For those of you out there that don’t know what boba is, ‘boba tea’ or ‘bubble tea’ is a milk tea that originated in Taiwan and saw its first surge in popularity in the late 1980s. It can be incorporated or prepared into different flavors (examples include chocolate milk tea or red bean milk tea), and made into different styles such as “snows” (frozen drinks), slushes, fresh tea, lattes, milkshakes, rose tea, smoothies, and “flirty milk” (another type of frozen drinks). The term ‘boba’ is commonly used as a special term for little tapioca balls. Now, boba drinks are popular in regions and countries like the US, Canada, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Japan as well.
Boba’s popularity in the USA was a sleeper one. According to the article “It’s Quali-tea: How Boba Became A Craze”, written by Grace Xu and published by Business Today in January of 2019, “In America, the drink has been around for longer than you probably think: it first migrated to the west coast of America in the 1990s, where it quickly became a fad. The trend began in Taiwanese immigrant communities, and became a part of Taiwanese-American culture.” As the years went on into the 2010s-2020s, however, boba has become a cultural staple as far popular beverages are concerned. But how? Xu went on in her article, “Bubble tea has the incredible power of change. Sure, bubble tea at one point was new and interesting, but what happens after the original novelty wears off? Bubble tea, in order to keep up with changing aesthetics and interests, has changed as well.” She added more to her explanation with, “The versatility of bubble tea as a product lends itself to innovation. As boba became more popular, new flavors were introduced (like fruit boba) along with new toppings (like grass jelly, almond jelly, egg pudding, and red beans). Sellers of bubble tea have a lot of wiggle room in deeming things “bubble tea,” as in reality these new drinks have strayed far away from the original concoction brewed up by [the original creators of boba], Liu Han-Chieh and Lin Hsiu Hui. However, this very newness and differences between types of “bubble tea” keep customers coming.” It’s absolutely true that part of the reason why boba is so popular now is because the extensive and creative menu at various places leaves customers curious and intrigued enough to want to try their favorite flavor in some type of exotic drink, especially if it’s their first time trying boba or said drink place. It also gives them a chance to want to try a different flavor than what they’re used to drinking or eating, and if they like it enough, they will want to try the said different flavor in other food endeavors; things like ice cream and cake come to mind.
As tasty as it is in the opinions of all types of Americans and worldwide citizens in general, boba plays a sentimental role in Asian-American culture. In an article titled, “The Rise (and Stall) of the Boba Generation” published by Eater in November of last year, author Jenny G. Zhang writes, “Bubble tea, as in the material world of boba shops, is more than just a drink. Like other alimentary items that have become tokens of Asian-American popular culture — rice, dumplings, pho, soy sauce, Korean barbecue — it’s an identity. And that, of course, comes with its own complications.” She continues on, “The story of bubble tea is one of disparate parts coming together, a collision of cultural products and practices in one drink. Its origins date back much further than the last few decades, with historical roots in Middle-period China, according to Miranda Brown, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Michigan.” Boba is something substantial and important to Asians, Asian-Americans and their culture; they are the ones who created it and tried to introduce the beverage to a broader audience the first time, and it saw a major resurgence in recent years. They have a good reason to take pride in it, as is the case with their other food creations. It’s delicious, it’s fulfilling, so many people like it, and it’s something pleasantly different as opposed to the regular coffee lattes, milkshakes, and smoothies that were more prominent in America and other places for a much longer time.
To sum it up, the reason why boba has become so popular in the US boils down to a number of factors:
- The tapioca balls-boba- are delicious and so fun to chew on as you are sucking up the liquid or slushy part of your drink.
- Variety is also a major factor. There are so many forms of drinks you can choose from when ordering yours. As mentioned before, there’s milk tea, rose tea, fresh tea, flirty milk, snows, milkshakes, smoothies, etc., and it doesn’t matter what you get; it’ll probably taste delicious. On top of that, you get to pick the flavor you want out of several flavors to choose from. Examples include but are definitely not limited to, chocolate milk tea, caramel milk tea, red bean milk tea, taro milk tea, thai milk tea, orange milk tea, honey dew milk tea, and white tiger milk tea. And this is just for the milk teas! We didn’t even discuss all of the flavors for milk tea. When you’re ordering another type of drink, it’s pretty much the same concept. Go into any Quickly restaurant, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In addition to all of this, you’ll have a variety of different “toppings” (food sources that reside at the bottom of your drink) to choose from. There’s the omnipresent regular boba, and then there’s lychee jelly, grass jelly, egg pudding, coffee jelly, strawberry boba, blueberry boba, beans, among other things. If “choose your avatar”, “choose your fighter”, and “choose your weapon” were food and beverages, this would be it.
- It’s a staple in Asian and Asian-American culture and they are among the drinks’ most loyal and frequent customers. They worked to create a delicious innovation 30 years ago and didn’t mind sharing it with the world, and we have what we have today. And it’s absolutely something to give them thanks for.
If I do say so myself, boba drinks are the most satisfying and feel-good drinks I’ve ever tasted and drank in my life, and now, Starbucks faces major competition when it comes to what my favorite drink places are.
In the simplest of terms: I have become addicted.
Really addicted. I am craving another boba drink right now as we speak, and I just had one yesterday!