Bubble tea

Bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea, bubble milk tea, or boba) (Chinese: 珍珠奶茶; pinyin: zhēn zhū nǎi chá, 波霸奶茶; bō bà nǎi chá; or 泡泡茶; pào pào chá in Singapore) is a tea-based drink originating in Taichung, Taiwan in the early 1980s[1] that includes chewy tapioca balls ("boba" or "pearls") or a wide range of other toppings.[2][3]

Bubble tea
Classic bubble tea.jpg
A glass of bubble tea with pearls
Alternative namesBoba
Pearl milk tea
Boba milk tea
Boba tea
Boba nai cha
Tapioca tea
Place of originTaiwan
Region or stateWorldwide, specifically East and Southeast Asia
Serving temperatureCold or hot
Main ingredientsTapioca, milk, creamer, brewed tea, sugar, flavorings

Ice-blended versions are frozen and put into a blender, resulting in a slushy consistency.[4] There are many varieties of the drink with a wide range of flavors. The two most popular varieties are black pearl milk tea and green pearl milk tea.[4]


Bubble teas fall under two categories: teas (without milk) and milk teas. Both varieties come with a choice of black, green, or oolong tea, and come in many flavors (both fruit and non-fruit). Milk teas include condensed milk, powdered milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, 2% milk, skim milk, or fresh milk.

Some shops offer non-dairy creamer options as well. In fact, many milk tea drinks in North America are made with non-dairy creamer. In addition, many boba shops sell Asian style smoothies, which include a dairy base and either fresh fruit or fruit-flavored powder in order to create fruit flavors such as honeydew, lemon, and many more (but no tea). Now, there are hot versions available at most shops as well.

The oldest known bubble tea consisted of a mixture of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls (Chinese: 粉圓; pinyin: fěn yuán), condensed milk, and syrup (Chinese: 糖漿; pinyin: táng jiāng) or honey. Many variations followed; the most common are served cold rather than hot. The most prevalent varieties of tea have changed frequently. The tapioca pearls are made from the starch of the cassava which was introduced to Taiwan from South America during Japanese colonial rule.[5]

Bubble tea first became popular in Taiwan in the 1980s, but the original inventor is unknown. Larger tapioca pearls (Chinese: 波霸/黑珍珠; pinyin: bō bà/hēi zhēn zhū) were adapted and quickly replaced the small pearls.[6] Soon after, different flavors, especially fruit flavors, became popular. Flavors may be added in the form of powder, pulp, or syrup to oolong, black or green tea, which is then shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker. The tea mixture is then poured into a cup with the toppings in it.

Today, there are stores that specialize in bubble tea.[7] Some cafés use plastic lids, but more authentic bubble tea shops serve drinks using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane. The latter method allows the tea to be shaken in the serving cup and makes it spill-free until one is ready to drink it. The cellophane is then pierced with an oversize straw large enough to allow the toppings to pass through. Today, in Taiwan, it is most common for people to refer to the drink as pearl milk tea (zhēn zhū nǎi chá, or zhēn nǎi for short). Other flavors than the original black tea and brown sugar have appeared.[8]

Bubble tea has now become a signature flavor itself and inspired a variety of bubble tea flavored snacks such as bubble tea ice cream and bubble tea candy.



Each of the ingredients of bubble tea can have many variations depending on the tea store. Typically, different types of black tea, green tea, oolong tea, and sometimes white tea are used.[citation needed]

Another variation called yuenyeung (Chinese: 鴛鴦, named after the Mandarin duck) originated in Hong Kong and consists of black tea, coffee, and milk. Decaffeinated versions of teas are sometimes available when the tea house freshly brews the tea base.[citation needed]

Other varieties of the drink can include blended tea drinks. Some may be blended with ice cream. There are also smoothies that contain both tea and fruit.[citation needed]

Although bubble tea originated in Taiwan, some bubble tea shops are starting to add in flavors which originate from other countries. For example, hibiscus flowers, saffron, cardamom, and rosewater are becoming popular.[9]


Tapioca (boba)

Tapioca pearls, (boba) are the prevailing chewy spheres in bubble tea, but a wide range of other options can be used to add similar texture to the drink. These are usually black due to the brown sugar mixed in with the tapioca. Green pearls have a small hint of green tea flavor and are chewier than the traditional tapioca balls. White pearls, not to be confused with the original pearls, are made with seaweed extract making them slightly healthier with a crunchier texture.

Jelly comes in different shapes: small cubes, stars, or rectangular strips, and flavors such as coconut jelly, konjac, lychee, grass jelly, mango, coffee and green tea available at some shops. Azuki bean or mung bean paste, typical toppings for Taiwanese shaved ice desserts, give the drinks an added subtle flavor as well as texture. Aloe, egg pudding (custard), grass jelly, and sago can be found in most tea houses.

Popping boba are spheres and have fruit juices or syrups inside them. They are also popular toppings. Flavors include mango, lychee, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, pomegranate, orange, cantaloupe, blueberry, coffee, chocolate, yogurt, kiwi, peach, banana, lime, cherry, pineapple, and red guava.

Some shops offer milk or cheese foam top off the drink too, which has a thicker consistency similar to that of whipped cream. In some cases, the foam is meant to be drunk with the tea by tilting the cup to get a good balance instead of mixing the foam into the tea.

Bubble tea cafés will frequently offer drinks without coffee or tea in them. The dairy base for these drinks is flavoring blended with ice, often called snow bubble. All mix-ins that can be added to the bubble tea can be added to these slushie-like drinks. One drawback is that the coldness of the iced drink may cause the tapioca balls to harden, making them difficult to suck up through a straw and chew. To prevent this from happening, these slushies must be consumed more quickly than bubble tea.

Ice and sugar levelEdit

Bubble tea stores often give customers the option of choosing the amount of ice or sugar. Sugar level is usually specified in percentages (e.g. 30%, 50%, 70%, 100%), and ice level is usually specified ordinally (e.g. no ice, less ice, normal ice).

Bubble tea is also offered in some restaurants, like the Michelin-awarded Din Tai Fung.

Some bubble tea sellers have tried to market their products by packaging it in unique shapes, like this lightbulb. Offering a fresh change from the traditional takeaway cup[10] with plastic sealing.


In Southeast Asia, bubble tea is traditionally packaged in a plastic takeaway cup, sealed with plastic or a rounded cap. New entrants into the market have attempted to distinguish their products by packaging it in bottles[11] and other interesting shapes.[12] Some have even done away with the bottle and used plastic sealed bags.[13] Nevertheless, the traditional plastic takeaway cup with a sealed cap is still the most ubiquitous packaging method.

Preparation method

The traditional way of bubble tea preparation is to mix the ingredients (sugar, powders and other flavorants) together using a bubble tea shaker cup, by hand.

Many present-day bubble tea shops use a bubble tea shaker machine. This eliminates the need for humans to shake the bubble tea by hand. It also reduces manpower needs as multiple cups of bubble tea may be prepared by a single human.[14]

One bubble tea shop in Taiwan, named Jhu Dong Auto Tea, has taken the human-out-of-the-loop approach. The store does not rely on human manpower at all. All stages of the bubble tea sales process, from ordering, to making, to collection, is fully automated.[15]


Bubble tea from a tea house in San Francisco

There are two competing stories for the origin of bubble tea.[16] The Hanlin Tea Room of Tainan, claims that it was invented in 1986 when teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he was inspired by white tapioca balls he saw in the Ya Mu Liao market. He then made tea using the tapioca balls, resulting in the so-called "pearl tea".[citation needed]

The other claim is from the Chun Shui Tang tearoom in Taichung. Its founder, Liu Han-Chieh, began serving Chinese tea cold after he observed that coffee was served cold in Japan while on a visit in the 1980s. The new style of serving tea propelled his business, and multiple chains were established. The creator of bubble tea is Lin Hsiu Hui, the teahouse's product development manager, who randomly poured her fen yuan into the iced tea drink during a boring meeting in 1988. The beverage was well received at the meeting, leading to its inclusion on the menu. It ultimately became the franchise's top-selling product.[4]

The drink became popular in most parts of East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s.[6][17] In Malaysia, the number of brands selling the beverage has grown to over 50.[18]

Cultural impactEdit

According to Al Jazeera bubble tea has become synonymous with Taiwan and is an important symbol of Taiwanese identity both domestically and internationally.[19]

Within TaiwanEdit

Within Taiwan bubble tea is iconic, to the point of serving as a representation of the nation. A stylized embossed gold image of bubble tea was even suggested as an alternative cover for the country's passport.[20]

Outside of TaiwanEdit

Many Taiwanese immigrants settled in California, leading to a number of bubble tea shops opening around Los Angeles.[21] Two of the first dedicated bubble tea shops were Tapioca Express and Lollicup, both of which were originally owned by Taiwanese immigrants.[22]

Bubble tea has become an icon for Chinese Americans in Los Angeles and is commonly known as simply "boba" in California.[23] However, its symbolism has also been denounced for its superficiality and lack of inclusiveness, and it is used in the pejorative "boba liberal".[24]

A bubble tea emoji has been accepted as part of the Unicode standard and will be issued in 2020.[25]

Bubble tea is used to represent Taiwan in the context of the Milk Tea Alliance.[26][19]


Known locally in Chinese as 泡泡茶 (Pinyin: pào pào chá), bubble tea is loved by many in Singapore, exemplified by the laments of the public during COVID-19 when bubble tea shops had to close temporarily.[27]

The drink was sold in Singapore as early 1992 but only surged in popularity in 2001.[28] Then, bubble tea shops were mostly locally owned. Shops were reportedly able to sell 800 to 1,000 cups a day.[29]

Popularity of bubble tea suffered in 2003 for a number of years until 2010, as Taiwanese chains like Gong Cha and Koi entered the Singaporean market. A resurgence of popularity came in 2018, as Singaporean tourists returning from Taiwan wanted a more authentic product available in their own country.[29]

Non-drink related bubble tea products such as bubble tea cosmetics, bubble tea cake rolls and buns have also entered the Singapore market.[28]

Health concernsEdit

In May 2011, a food scandal occurred in Taiwan when DEHP (a chemical plasticizer) was found as a stabilizer in drinks and juice syrups.[30][31] In June the Health Minister of Malaysia, Liow Tiong Lai, instructed companies selling "Strawberry Syrup", a material used in some bubble teas, to stop selling them after chemical tests showed they were tainted with DEHP.[32]

In August 2012, scientists from the Technical University of Aachen (RWTH) in Germany analyzed bubble tea samples in a research project to look for allergenic substances. The result indicated that the products contain styrene, acetophenone, and brominated substances, which can negatively affect health.[33] The report was published by German newspaper Rheinische Post and caused Taiwan's representative office in Germany to issue a statement, saying food items in Taiwan are monitored.[34]

Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration confirmed in September that, in a second round of tests conducted by German authorities, Taiwanese bubble tea was found to be free of cancer-causing chemicals. The products were also found to contain no excessive levels of heavy-metal contaminants or other health-threatening agents.[35]

In May 2013, the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration issued an alert on the detection of maleic acid, an unapproved food additive, in some food products, including tapioca pearls.[36] The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore conducted its own tests and found additional brands of tapioca pearls and some other starch-based products sold in Singapore were similarly affected.[37]

In May 2019, around 100 undigested tapioca pearls were found in the abdomen of a 14-year-old girl in Zhejiang province, China after she complained of constipation.[38] However, physicians believe that consuming tapioca pearls should not be a concern, as it is made from starch-based cassava root which is easily digested by the body, similarly to dietary fiber.[39]

In July 2019, Singapore's Mount Alvernia Hospital warned against the sugar content of bubble tea since the drink had become extremely popular in Singapore in recent years. While it acknowledges benefits of drinking green tea and black tea in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer, respectively, the hospital cautions the addition of other ingredients like non-dairy creamer and toppings in the tea, which raises the fat and sugar content of the tea and increases the risk of chronic diseases. Non-dairy creamer is a milk substitute that contains trans fat in the form of hydrogenated palm oil. The hospital warns that this oil has been strongly correlated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.[40][41]

See alsoEdit


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  22. ^ Wei, Clarissa (16 January 2017). "How Boba Became an Integral Part of Asian-American Culture in Los Angeles". LA Weekly. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
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External linksEdit