Bubble tea

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Boba/bubble tea
Classic bubble tea.jpg
Alternative names Pearl milk tea
Boba milk tea
Boba tea
Tapioca tea
Course Drink
Place of origin Taiwan
Main ingredients Tapioca, milk/creamer, brewed tea, sugar, water
Cookbook: Bubble Tea  Media: Boba/bubble tea

Bubble tea (also known as pearl milk tea, bubble milk tea, boba juice, boba tea, or simply boba) (Chinese: 波霸奶茶; pinyin: bōbà nǎichá, with tapioca balls it is 珍珠奶茶; zhēnzhū nǎichá) is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Tainan and Taichung in the 1980s.[1] Most bubble tea recipes contain a tea base mixed with fruit or milk, to which chewy tapioca balls (known as bubbles, pearls, or boba) and fruit jelly (especially tropical fruits like lychee) are often added. Ice-blended versions are usually mixed with fruit or syrup, resulting in a slushy consistency.[2] There are many varieties of the drink with a wide range of ingredients with some ingredients being mango, taro, coconut, and peach. The two most popular varieties are bubble milk tea with tapioca and bubble milk green tea with tapioca.[2]


Honeydew-flavored bubble tea

Bubble teas are typically of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas and milk teas. Some shops offer hybrid fruit milk teas. Most milk teas include powdered dairy or non-dairy creamers, but some shops offer fresh milk as an alternative. Other varieties are 100% crushed-fruit smoothies with tapioca pearls and signature ice cream shakes made from local sources. Many American bubble tea vendors sell milk smoothies, which are similar to bubble tea but do not contain any tea ingredients. Some small cafés offer sweetener substitutes such as honey, agave, stevia, and aspartame upon request.

The oldest known bubble tea consisted of a mixture of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls (粉圓), condensed milk, and syrup (糖漿) or honey. Many variations followed; the most common are served cold rather than hot. The most prevalent varieties of tea have changed frequently.

First to gain popularity was bubble green tea, which uses jasmine-infused green tea (茉香綠茶) rather than black tea. Larger tapioca pearls (波霸/黑珍珠) were adapted and quickly replaced the small pearls.[3] Peach or plum flavoring soon became popular, followed by additional fruit flavors. Such fruit flavors gained popularity to the extent that, in some variations, the tea was removed entirely in favor of real fruit. These variants sometimes contain colored pearls (or jelly cubes as in the related drink taho), for which the color may be chosen to match the fruit juice used. Flavors may be added in the form of powder, fruit juice, pulp, or syrup to hot black or green tea, which is then shaken in a cocktail shaker or mixed with ice in a blender. Cooked tapioca pearls and other mix-ins (such as vanilla extract, honey, syrup, and sugar) are added as a final step.

Today, one can find shops entirely devoted to bubble tea, similar to the juice bars of the early 1990s.[4] Some cafés use plastic dome-shaped lids, while other bubble tea bars serve drinks using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane (often printed with designs). 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 pearls 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). Pearl milk tea may be used by English speakers and overseas Chinese and Taiwanese speakers, but it is usually called "bubble tea" or "boba tea" by English speakers, with the former seemingly more common in locations with less Chinese influence. In parts of California, areas with a relatively large Asian population, the drink is often referred to simply as "boba."


Each of the ingredients of bubble tea can have many variations depending on the tea store. Typically, different types of black tea, green tea, white tea, or even coffee form the basis of this beverage. The most common black tea varieties are assam, oolong and Earl Grey, while jasmine green tea is a mainstay at almost all tea stores. Another variation called yuenyeung (鴛鴦, named after the Mandarin duck) originated in Hong Kong and consists of half black tea and half coffee. Some people add milk to the drink. Decaffeinated versions of teas are sometimes available when the tea house freshly brews the tea base.

The milk in bubble tea is optional, though many tea stores use it. Some cafés use a non-dairy creamer milk substitute instead of milk because many East Asians are lactose intolerant and because it is cheaper and easier to store and use than perishable milk.[5] In Western countries, soy milk options are widely available for those who avoid dairy products. This adds a distinct flavor and consistency to the drink.

Four Bubble Tea drinks of different flavors.
Four bubble teas: mango green tea, lychee green tea, strawberry green tea with strawberry jelly, and a coconut cream blend with tapioca.

Flavorings can be added to bubble tea. Some widely available fruit flavors include strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, watermelon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwifruit, and jackfruit. Other popular non-fruit flavors include taro, pudding, chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, caramel, violet, and Thai tea. Some of the sour fruit flavors are available in bubble tea without milk as the acidity tends to curdle the milk.

Other varieties of the bubble tea drink can include blended drinks. Many stores in the US provide a list of choices. Some may include coffee-blended drinks or even smoothies.

Although bubble tea originated in Taiwan, bubble tea 'mash ups' are becoming popular, where inspiration for flavours comes from other cuisines. For example, using hibiscus flowers from Mexico; saffron, cardamom, and condensed milk for Indian bubble tea; and rosewater for Persian flavoured bubble tea.[6]

Tapioca balls (boba) are the prevailing chewy tidbits 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. Jelly is used in small cubes, stars, or rectangular strips, with flavors such as coconut jelly, konjac, lychee, grass jelly, mango, and green tea available at some shops. Rainbow, a fruit mix of konjac, has a pliant, almost crispy consistency. 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), sago, and taro balls can be found in most tea houses.

Popping Boba are popular too as fruit flavoured pearls added to bubble tea. The many flavors include mango, lychee, strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, pomegranate, orange, cantaloupe, blueberry, coffee, chocolate, yogurt, kiwi, peach, banana, lime, cherry, pineapple, red guava.

Due to its popularity, single-serving packets of black tea (with powdered milk and sugar included) are available as "instant boba milk tea" in some places.

Bubble tea cafés will frequently serve drinks without coffee or tea in them. The 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.

Occasionally, nata de coco is used in mass-produced bubble tea drinks as an alternative to tapioca starch. Nata de coco is high in dietary fiber and low in cholesterol and fat. The nata de coco is sliced into thin strips to make it easier to pass through a straw.[7]

Bubble tea stores often give customers the option of choosing the amount of ice or sugar. Bubble tea is more commonly being offered at restaurants. Few places have started to include the "popping boba" in their alcoholic drinks, such as champagne.


Milk-tea-flavored bubble tea

The most accredited story for the origin of bubble tea comes from the Hanlin teahouse in Tainan, Taiwan. In 1986, in the Ya Mu Liao market, teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he got the inspiration when he saw white tapioca balls. He then made tea using the traditional white tapioca balls, which have the appearance of pearls, supposedly resulting in the so-called "pearl tea". Shortly after, Hanlin changed the white tapioca balls to the black version that is seen today. At many locations, one can purchase both black tapioca balls and white tapioca balls; two kinds of bubble tea.

An alternative origin is the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. Its founder, Liu Han-Chieh,[1] observed how the Japanese served cold coffee (while on a visit in the 1980s) and applied this method to tea.[2] The new style of serving tea propelled his business, and multiple chains were established. This expansion would be the stepping stone for the rapid expansion of bubble tea.[2] The creator of bubble tea is Lin Hsiu Hui, the teahouse's product development manager, who poured a sweetened pudding with tapioca balls into the iced tea drink during a meeting in 1988.[2] The beverage was well received at the meeting, leading to its inclusion on the menu. It ultimately became the franchise's top-selling product.[2]

The drink became popular in most parts of East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s.[3] The drink is well received by global consumers from Canada and USA, specifically around areas with high Asian demographics. In contemporary times, bubble tea has achieved cultural significance outside of Taiwan in some areas for Asian-Americans, Asian-Canadians and major overseas populations of Asians. [8]


  • 泡沫紅茶 (pinyin: pàomò hóngchá): "Foam red tea", by direct translation, is the drink that is more appropriate for the more literal name of "bubble tea"; the English name, foam tea, is not used much in Asia. Consequently, in non-Chinese-speaking Asian countries, "bubble tea" is commonly used to refer to this drink.[9] There is no tapioca in this drink. To create it, vendors mix hot or warm tea (in this case, black tea) with syrup or sugar and ice cubes into a cocktail shaker. Then they shake the mix either by hand or by machine before it is served. The resulting tea is be covered by a layer of foam or froth and the tea has a light foamy feel.
  • 泡沫奶茶 (pinyin: pàomò nǎichá): "Foam milk tea:" One of the many variants that is prepared the same way as the "foam red tea", well-shaken before serving.
  • 珍珠奶茶 or 珍奶 for short) (pinyin: zhēnzhū nǎichá): "Pearl milk tea" or more commonly referred to as bubble tea by most English speakers and overseas Chinese speakers. The "pearl" name originally referred to the small tapioca pearls added to the drink. Though most modern vendors serve only the bigger 7mm pearls, they still use "pearl tea" as the name.[3]
  • 波霸奶茶 (pinyin: bōbà nǎichá): "Bubble milk tea" is commonly referred to as boba tea by English speakers and Asian Americans. The name refers to the variant with the bigger, 7mm tapioca pearls.[3]
  • 黑珍珠奶茶 (pinyin: hēi zhēnzhū nǎichá): "Black pearl milk tea:" Since the bigger 7mm tapioca pearls are separately sold as "black pearls" (黑珍珠) in markets, this name was the logical first choice and is more popular with consumers. "Boba" (波霸) is an alternative name that is less commonly used these days.
  • (奶)茶珍珠 (pinyin: (nǎi) chá zhēnzhū): "(milk) tea pearl" (less common).
  • 泡泡茶 (pinyin: pào pào chá): used interchangeably with 珍珠奶茶 to refer to "bubble tea" in Singapore.
  • 奶蓋茶 (pinyin: nǎi gài chá): "milk cap tea": A layered tea drink with a frothy top layer of cream (hence the name milk cap) made from milk, salt and/or cheese, giving it a slightly salty taste. The base tea is usually served without milk. It is often recommended one takes a sip of the tea and milk cap layers first before mixing them together. It is sometimes called "milk foam tea" but should not be confused with 泡沫奶茶.

Health concerns[edit]

In May 2011, a food scandal broke out in Taiwan where DEHP (a chemical plasticizer and potential carcinogen used to make plastic) was found as a stabilizer in drinks and juice syrups. Some of these products may have been exported and used in bubble tea shops around the world. DEHP can affect hormone balances.[10][11]

In June 2011, 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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Martin, Laura C. (2007). Tea: The drink that changed the world. Rutland: Tuttle Publishing. p. 219. ISBN 9780804837248. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Chang, Derrick (12 June 2012). "Is this the inventor of bubble tea?". International Edition. CNN. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d "珍珠奶茶的製作方法(pearls)". Crystalpalace.poempalace.org. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  4. ^ https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2004/10/7/whose-boba-is-best-the-new/
  5. ^ Chao, Julie (12 December 1999). "Taiwan tapioca tea on tap". San Francisco Examiner. 
  6. ^ "Everything You Need to Know About Bubble Tea -". 2016-07-27. Retrieved 2016-08-15. 
  7. ^ "Healthier Bubble Tea". Five by Fifty - Asian Consumer Intelligence. 17 March 2009. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. 
  8. ^ http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/how-boba-became-an-integral-part-of-asian-american-culture-in-los-angeles-7819797
  9. ^ "Yes411 全球華人首選生活資訊網 - 加拿大黃頁". Yes411.com. 19 November 2010. 
  10. ^ Yi-yu, Juan; Yi-chia, Wei; Su-ching, Hung (29 May 2011). "FOOD SCARE WIDENS:Tainted additives used for two decades: manufacturer". Taipei Times. 
  11. ^ "167 food ingredient suppliers affected by toxic contamination: DOH". Focus Taiwan News Channel. 26 May 2011. 
  12. ^ Lee Yen Mun (17 June 2011). "Taiwanese syrup used in bubble tea found to be DEHP contaminated". The Star. Archived from the original on 19 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "Bubble tea 'contains all sorts of crap'". The Local. 22 August 2012. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Tests rebut claims about carcinogenic German bubble tea". Taipei Times. 11 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "'Reckless' report has hurt Taiwanese bubble tea industry: supplier". Central News Agency. 28 September 2012. 
  16. ^ "Taiwan recalls food products due to unapproved food additive" (PDF). Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-16. 
  17. ^ "Recall of starch-based products from Taiwan due to maleic acid" (PDF). Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 September 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2013.