Bubble Tea

I love bubble tea. Actually, I really only like chocolate bubble tea. So when the waiter handed me a cup of some bright pink liquid, I just stared at him.

“I thought I got chocolate.”

“No, you said strawberry.”

“But, I don’t like strawberry.”

And off he went to make me another. I felt bad. But, I really don’t like strawberry.

This happened today at Ichiban Café, a restaurant of “Chinese and Japan Fusion” in Columbia, MD, where they serve both Chinese and Japanese entrees. This is funny because although there are speculations about the origin of bubble tea, many point to Liu Han-Chieh and Lin Hsiu Hui as the creators of bubble tea. Both are Taiwanese.

In the 1980s, Liu Han-Chieh said that after seeing the Japanese serve cold coffee, he tried it with tea. Then at a meeting with his product development manager, Lin Hsiu Hui, who brought sweetened tapioca pearls and dumped them into her tea, the bubble tea was born.

Today, she said that 80-90% of their sales come from bubble tea. In fact, every corner of the streets of Taiwan have little bubble tea shops where kids can buy some as after-school treats.

But for those who are completely lost on what bubble tea (also known as boba tea) is, no, it doesn’t literally have bubbles everywhere. It’s not carbonated or anything. Some say the bubbles come from the bubbles that surface after shaking it up. Others say that the bubbles are actually tapioca pearls.

black tapioca pearls

And here it is hiding within the bubble tea.

bubble tea 2

Bubble tea usually has black tapioca pearls even though they come in a variety of colors like white or colorful ones. Now, the confusing part of bubble tea is the actual tea part. From all my bubble tea experiences, I noticed that many vendors just use powder and water as their “tea.” But traditionally, bubble tea uses real tea. For example, the following recipe uses tea that’s been made and chilled before adding tapioca pearls.

The Kitchn’s ingredients from How to Make Boba & Bubble Tea at Home

1/4 cup dried boba tapioca pearls per serving (NOT quick-cooking boba)
1-2 tea bags per serving, any kind
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Milk, almond milk, or sweetened condensed milk
Fruit juice or nectar (optional)

Nobody seems to really know how bubble tea was brought to America or why vendors started using powders instead of real tea, but it has become popular with the young adults and bubble tea places are expanding from the big cities.

bubble tea 1

If you’re interested in all the crazy ways bubble tea can take form, check out this Buzzfeed article on “23 Bodacious Bubble Tea Recipes You Need to Try This Summer”


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