Food Knowledge, Tea Knowledge

What is Bubble Milk Tea?

Bubble Tea Explained 

One popular go-to drink is milk tea. With a growing market size of approximately 2.5 billion baht just in Thailand and even more so around the world, this trend has lasted over a decade and shows no signs of stopping. What exactly is this everlasting trendy drink and where did it come from?

Bubble tea (also refer to as pearl milk tea or boba tea) consists of tea mixed with milk or fruit syrup with an option to add on toppings such as the tapioca pearls which it is famous for, cheese, coconut jelly, potatoes, etc. There exist limitless combinations as each brand tries to add their own distinct touch. For example, there are even cotton candy and popcorn bubble tea.

Mysterious Birth
Bubble tea originated from Taiwan in the 1980s and grew to become a major export. This fact is certain.  However, the true creator remains disputed as there are two plausible claims.

The Hanlin Tea Room of Tainan, Taiwan in 1986 made the first claim. Upon a visit to the Ya Mu Liao Market, white tapioca pearls on sale caught the eyes of teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he. He successfully experimented with adding white tapioca pearls to his tea. Later the mixture of honey and brown sugar gave the white tapioca pearls a sweet taste and black color, which is the distinct feature of the drink to this day.

However, the founder of Chun Shui Tang tearoom of Taichung, Taiwan insists otherwise. A company employee, Lin Hsiu Hui, made this discovery by chance. Bored during a company meeting in 1988, she poured fen yuan (chewy dough desert) into cold tea and served it. This tasty combination had to be included in the teahouse menu, igniting the start of this popular drink.

Whichever story is true, bubble tea is a brewed tea drink deeply rooted in Taiwanese culture. Over time tea shops have evolve and slightly tweak the formula to suit diverse tastes from all over the world. Yet its iconic tea base with a pleasant aroma, chewy black tapioca pearls, and distinct fat straws continue to be craved for by people of all ages.


  • Bubble tea can also be called “Boba” on the western side of the States. However, be careful as boba is a slang in Taiwanese meaning large breasts. The name was marketed as a gimmick by a Taiwan teashop to reference Amy Yip, a popular sex symbol in Hong Kong at the time.
  • Considering the number of toppings possible and the different flavors of fruit and milk, some shops offer over 200 combinations of pearl or bubble tea. However, not all combinations are wise as acid from fruit juice and milk may upset the stomach.

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