• Sun. May 26th, 2024


Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

What is bubble tea and why is it so popular?

ByAnjali Phagami Pun

Mar 9, 2022

Bubble tea – also called boba tea – is a sweet drink that combines milk, flavored tea, and tapioca pearls that people suck through an extra-large straw and chewed. Invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, it has now become popular worldwide. It is a modern invention originating from Taiwan. In its most basic form, the drink is a blend of milk, black tea, and sugar with a few spoonfuls of caramelized tapioca balls called ‘pearls’ or ‘boba’. But why is it called bubble tea? what are the tropical pearls that are at the bottom of the drink?

what is bubble tea-bubble tea
<bubble tea>

Why is it called boba?

It is an understandable misconception that it gets its name from the bubble-like tapioca pearls that fill the bottom of the cup. Rather, the truth behind the origin of the tea name can be seen at the top of the beverage. When you order a bubble tea, the mixture is shaken vigorously, by hand or by machine, before being served. This shaking process creates foamy bubbles at the top of the drink, and this uppermost layer gives this drink its name. Also, when it was first created in Taiwan, Boba was a slang term for “big breast” denoting the spherical shape of the tapioca pearls.

Have you found that your bubble tea doesn’t have many or any bubbles at the top? If so, then this may be because you order it without any milk in it. Bubble tea that contains milk will have more foam and bubbles after a good shake, so consider trying a milk tea version the next time you order.

History of bubble tea

Without a doubt, the history of boba tea goes back to Taiwan. It was invented in Taiwan during the 1980s and their rich culture in both tea and food make it the perfect birthplace for it. The only question is, where did bubble tea originate?

Rumor has it that a project manager invented it at a tea house during a spell of boredom. Two tea houses, Chun Shui Tang Tea House and Hanlin Tea House, both claim that the drink is their invention. Boba is a slang term for “big breast” denoting the spherical shape of the tapioca pearls. Tapioca is from the South American Cassava plant brought over to Taiwan by the Portuguese. The pearls are famous for their signature Q texture.

what is bubble tea-types of boba
<different types of boba tea>

After the United States changed its immigration law in 1965 there was a wave of Taiwanese immigrants. This influx brought with them a new understanding of Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. Restaurants were no longer serving just American patrons but also creating menus for the immigrant populations who were missing home. The drink wasn’t introduced to the U.S. until the 90s. And did not become popular until 2013 when the Fung Brothers created a music video called “Boba Life.”

Making tropical pearls for bubble tea

Good bubble tea all comes down to good tapioca pearls or boba balls.  But how can you make sure that your boba has that perfect blend of chewiness and sweetness without being mushy and too sweet? Here´s how:

Boba Ingredients: 1 Bag of Tapioca Pearls and brown sugar, fructose, or honey.

What is a bubble tea recipe?

  • Start boiling water in a 10 to 1 ratio.  So for example, if you are making 200 grams of tapioca then you will need 2000ml of water.
  • Next, put your tapioca into the boiling water and start stirring them until they are floating on the top.  At this point turn the heat down to medium.  Just make sure that you don’t turn the heat down too low or else your boba will sink to the bottom of the pot and start to burn!
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and keep stirring every few minutes.
  • Now it’s time to prepare your sweetener.  You can use brown sugar, fructose or honey and you can also mix the sweetener with an equal part hot water to help your tapioca absorb the flavor better.  Put your sweetener into your serving container.
  • Finally, drain your tapioca and run them under cool water for 3 minutes.  Once cooled put the cooked tapioca into your serving container and let them soak in your sweetener for 30 minutes before serving.
<tropical pearls of bubble tea>

Make it with fresh milk or powder

Now that your boba is ready, it’s time to make your milk tea.  Most bubble milk tea can be classified into two categories.  One that uses fresh milk and one that uses a non-dairy creamer or a flavoring powder. People usually make fresh milk boba by mixing chilled black Ceylon tea with milk in a 50/50 ratio.  You can also substitute black tea for green or oolong tea but black Ceylon tea is the most common.  Once you mix your tea with fresh milk you can pour them over your cooked boba and enjoy!

Flavored one is also extremely popular. To make this type of drink, you just need to mix your flavoring powder with hot tea or hot water until it dissolves.  Next, add ice to your drink and shake for 8 seconds. Once you properly shake your tea, it’s time to pour it over your tapioca pearls.

<milk or milk powder for the bubble tea>


Drink: It comes in many variations which usually consist of black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and sometimes white tea. Another variation, yuenyueng originated in Hong Kong and consists of black tea, coffee, and milk. Other varieties of the drink include blended tea drinks. People often blend these variations using ice cream or are smoothies that contain both tea and fruit.

<different bubble tea>

Toppings: Pearls (boba) are the most common ingredient, although there are other ways to make the chewy spheres found in the drink. The pearls vary in color according to the ingredients mixed in with the tapioca. Most pearls are black from brown sugar. Jelly comes in different shapes: small cubes, stars, or rectangular strips. And flavors such as konjac, coconut jelly, lychee, grass jelly, mango, coffee, green tea, Azuki bean, or mung bean paste.

what is bubble tea-toppings
<toppings of a bubble tea>

Ice and sugar level: Shops often give customers the option of choosing the amount of ice or sugar in their drink. The sugar level is usually specified in percentages (e.g. 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%), and ice level is usually specified ordinally (e.g. no ice, less ice, normal ice), though they can both be specified ordinally in some shops.

Preparation method: The traditional way of preparation is to mix the ingredients (sugar, powders, and other flavors) together using a shaker cup, by hand. Many present-day shops use a shaker machine. This eliminates the need for humans to shake it by hand. It also reduces staffing needs as multiple cups of bubble tea will need a single barista.

Its popularity

Due to its popularity, it has inspired a variety of bubble tea flavored snacks such as bubble tea ice cream and bubble tea candy. People used to sell boba in Chinese restaurants for one dollar as a side drink upon request. Now it is valued as a $1.9 billion dollar industry with $3.2 billion projected sales by 2023. New trends are constantly emerging like cheese foam tea and tiger tea. Bubble tea has become so popular that the United States is even expecting a shortage this coming summer.

Want to know more about this drink? Click here.

If you want to read more articles like this, click here.