By now, you’ve probably either tasted or heard of the dessert-like tea drink known as Boba (also commonly referred to as bubble tea or pearl tea). A couple years ago, it seemed to take the country by storm, with new Boba shops popping up everywhere and well-known restaurants opting in to selling the tasty tapioca treat. But where exactly did this trend come from? We’re here to give you all the facts and answer all your questions about the popular drink.
It originated in Taiwan.
The first ever boba tea drink was invented in Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980s. Although no one’s certain exactly where the idea came from, the most circulated story credits Liu Han-Chieh as the mastermind. The founder of Chun Shui Tang Teahouse, he wanted to experiment with the possibility of serving tea cold – a new style that ended up propelling his small business to massive success. He mixed the cold milk tea with creative additions like fruit, syrup, candied yams, and tapioca bubbles, which resulted in the creation of the popular Boba tea drink as we know it today. The drink became popular in many parts of East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s before making its successful debut in the US and other countries around the world.
There are multiple ways to make (and drink) Boba tea.
In general, Boba tea recipes call for a tea base (green, black, etc.) mixed with fruit or milk, to which tapioca balls are then added. This will result in two main types: fruit-flavored teas and milk teas, although many shops now offer a hybrid of the two, combining the fruity mixtures with milk (or non-dairy creamers/milk substitutes). The flavoring is added in the form of syrup, powder, fruit juice or pulp to the hot tea, which is then chilled. Both variations can be served over ice or blended. The cooked tapioca pearls are added as a final step.
Choosing a flavor can be difficult.
The countless flavors for Boba tea can be overwhelming. They range from popular fruit flavors like strawberry, grape, and watermelon to more exotic, adventurous fruits like passion fruit, avocado and jackfruit. They also come in non-fruit flavors for a richer, creamier drink. Some popular types include taro, rose, almond, ginger and Thai tea. Although the drink is defined and often characterized by the black, marble-sized balls that sit at the bottom of the cup, there are many variations on the type of “bubble” you choose as well. The spheres can vary in color depending on the ingredient of the boba – options include green tea, aloe, custard, sago and taro. The chewy tidbits also don’t always come in the form of balls. Jelly is formed in the shapes of cubes, stars and rectangular strips with flavors such as coconut jelly, lychee, grass jelly and mango.
The straw is a dead giveaway.
Chances are you’ve already indulged in one of these delicious drinks, but if you haven’t (or let alone seen one), there’s one surefire way to know whether it’s the real deal: the straw. The oversized, often colorful straws must be large enough for the pearls to pass through; therefore, they can typically be spotted from a distance. Otherwise, the packaging of Boba tea can vary. Some cafes use plastic, dome-shaped lids while more customary Boba shops use a machine that seals the tops of the cups with plastic cellophane. These are often customized with the shop’s logo, only to be pierced by the straws. A benefit to the latter method: it’s spill-free, allowing patrons to shake up their drinks directly in the cup or save them to enjoy later.