What is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s, with two teahouses claiming to be the creator.  If you have ever been to Taiwan you will most certainly have tasted it as most Taiwanese are rather proud of their “Zhen Zhu Nai Cha” as it is called there.  Now it can be found all over the world in teahouses in America, Australia, Europe and of course all over Asia.

My First (and Last) Bubble Tea

Photo By: AZAdam

Upon arriving in Taiwan I was told that I absolutely must try some Bubble Tea (as well as Stinky Tofu or  tsoh doh-foo as it is also known as) and some other fairly questionable foods and drinks. I was willing to try, however I am not fond of drinking tea with milk so I was skeptical as to how much I would enjoy it.  The tea came in a huge plastic cup with plastic stretched tight to seal it over the top. I was instructed how to turn the large cup up and down and given a humongous straw to poke through the plastic.  Dutifully I poked the straw through the plastic and, as the weather quite hot and the tea was nice and cold, took a long suck on the straw. I almost choked as my mouth filled with large black balls–tapioca balls as I found later. It was such a surprise that I never really recovered.  So as tea with milk is not my favorite and as I’m not that fond of floating things in my drinks I generally opted to buy a mango slushy instead. (Incidentally, the mango slushies made in Taiwan are awesome, made with real fruit–not flavored syrups, etc.  You can also buy them with our without the small tapioca balls–my choice was usually without them.)

Photo By: Infrogmation of New Orleans

What is Bubble Tea Made From?

These days there are many variations of bubble teas to choose from. Many are made from a black tea or green tea base with milk and either tapioca balls or candied taro being added. Building on this, some teas have flavors added–fruit flavors or even coffee flavoring. Additionally, some teas have small jelly cubes instead of tapioca, or different sizes and colors of tapioca. The sky is the limit really when it comes to thinking up new ideas and recipes for bubble tea–it reminds me a little of the many different recipes you can find for cocktails. So, when it comes to bubble tea flavors there are a huge variety to choose from, with many teahouses making up their own variation.

Different Names For Bubble Tea

Bubble milk tea is sometimes referred to as tapioca bubble tea, foam milk tea, pearl milk tea, or simply pearl tea. It is usually referred to as bubble tea by westerners, and is known as Boba tea in many Asian countries.  Usually tapioca bubble tea is more common than taro bubble tea, with the larger one quarter inch, black tapioca balls included in the drink.

Incidentally, the drink was not named after the “bubbles” or tapioca balls, but rather it was originally called bubble tea because it was shaken vigorously after being made resulting in a top layer of foam and froth — the bubbles. Hence the origination of the name ‘bubble tea’.

The First Recipe for Bubble Tea

As stated in Wikipedia and also mentioned quite a few other places online, the very first milk tea was actually made from hot black Taiwan tea and it was not served cold. The tapioca balls were added–though the smaller balls, not the ¼ inch ones, and it was topped with both condensed milk and syrup.  Now that would have been one sweet cup of tea!  As mentioned before, these days it is generally made using ice and served as a cold tea drink not as hot tea.

Can You Make Your Own Bubble Tea?

Yes, you can. I will try to dig up some recipes for bubble tea and post them soon. It is possible to make them without buying expensive bubble tea equipment though of course the equipment does make the job a whole lot easier, especially if you are making a lot of bubble tea.

So if you haven’t yet experienced bubble tea I’d suggest you do so. There are so many varieties to choose from, some with and some without tapioca balls, that you will most likely be sure to find something that suits your tastes. And, if tea is not your favorite, try some of the great tasting fruit slushies that are also often served as well.



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2 Responses to “What is Bubble Tea?”

  1. Chamomile Tea Benefits says:

    LOVE bubble tea. My favorite is a water melon milk tea that i get from a tea shot beside my favorite korean restaurant. I’ve tried making the tapioca at home… but with little success 🙂 Great post!

  2. Robyn says:

    I just added a post with a Bubble tea recipe, that includes how to cook the tapioca. The main thing is to find the right type of tapioca pearl, I believe. My daughter is a Bubble tea addict — teenager growing up in Taiwan, what did I expect, but to date she said she has not found anything like the Taiwan teas in Australia which is where she is studying now.

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