What is Bubble Tea?
Certainly, bubble tea has come of age. Who would think that a
spur-of-the-moment action of pouring fen yuan (a sweetened tapioca dessert) into a cup of iced black Assam tea by one Taiwanese manager in the 80’s out of boredom would spark a global phenomenon these days? And the world is definitely better for it.
For starters, bubble tea or more commonly called “boba tea” is a most enticing drink. The tea topped with chewy tapioca balls is bound to satisfy each and every palate with its innumerable variety of flavors and toppings. You can take this Pearl Milk Tea hot — though its best form is one with served cold. You can also have this magical tea drink mixed with your fave fruit juice. Indeed, you open up a whole new world of wondrous options when you decide to take a sip with boba.
This hearty tea will definitely not disappoint. Bubble tea is tea in its most pleasing form — thanks largely to its entirely customizable nature. Small wonder the fad that started in Taiwan has become an unstoppable trend today. It’s taking the biggest cities of the world by storm.
Secondly, and most importantly, boba has given humanity a welcome way to stay healthy. The nootropic drink filled with chewy tapioca and shaken like a martini is a great alternative over carbonated drinks. Plus, it’s a 100% gluten-free drink. That should get you closer to the best version of yourself. Read on.
What’s even more surprising is how the drink by its sheer uniqueness won the hearts of millions in the world today in stunning fashion.
Arguably, we can say that boba is Taiwan’s most iconic export to the world, so much so that the tiny island nation has declared April 20 as National Bubble Tea Day. What’s more, the Taiwanese government is putting bubble tea as the alternative cover design for its passport.
Milk and sugar have long been a staple in Taiwanese tea ever since the Dutch colonized Taiwan in 1664 to 1662. Then the East Asian country that’s about 3.4 times smaller than New York (122,283 sq km) in size was named Formosa. It was Portuguese sailors who named the island Ilha Formosa (“beautiful island”) in 1542.
As tea has been a staple of China for thousands of years, starting as a choice drink with the majestic courts of the mighty emperors that ruled the land, it’s amazing how bubble tea is but a relatively new discovery. Specifically, we’re talking about the ’80s, the time when Michael Jackson ruled the global charts.
For one, milk tea was already flourishing in Taiwan before the roaring ‘80s came.
Also, the lethal combination of shaved ice and tapioca balls has been established as a common dessert long before bubble tea came into the scene.
In a way, boba’s arrival seems predictable. That someone would combine the three elements was just a matter of time. What many didn’t realize is how such a powerful drink would change the world we live in.
There’s a lot of speculation and debate as to who truly started the drink. In fact, conflicting versions coming from different Taiwanese sources have led toa somewhat bitter court battle. Fortunately, the legal squabble ended in 2019 amicably with no clear winners. The beverage is not legally patented.
What’s generally accepted, however, is that it is in Chun Sui Tang, a teahouse in Taiwan where bubble tea started. Its owner, Liu Han-Chieh, began offering cold Chinese tea flavored with various fruits and syrups. The idea, of course, was nothing new. No doubt Liu has experimented as he became fascinated with his experience in Japan where he was served cold coffee.
As the tea shop owner was vigorously shaking the tea over ice, frothy bubbles would surface on top of the drinks. In a sense, those were the first “bubble teas”.
But credit the discovery to Lin Hsiu Hui, Liu Han Chieh’s product development manager. In one staff meeting in 1988, Lin brought fen yuan, a traditional sweet Taiwanese dessert laden with tapioca. As the meeting wore her down, she nonchalantly tipped her dessert into a cup of iced Assam black tea she was drinking. The resulting taste so overwhelmed her that she decided to pass the just-found concoction to everyone’s delight.
And in that instant, bubble tea was born. Its creation was by accident but its conquest of the world clearly is not.
● Since the invention of bubble tea in 1988, approximately 380 bubble tea shops have opened worldwide yearly.
Today, bubble tea is a world phenomenon. It’s tea at its trendiest. Its appeal is all-encompassing. It appeals to tea traditionalists as it is still tea at its core. The drink could be served using green, black, or even white tea. But also its taste and its largely customizable form appeal to millennials and all the new generation who wants to be as trendy as can be.
● In Taiwan alone, especially in Taipei, there are over 6,500 stores serving boba tea.
● Worldwide, there are over 4,070 tea shops all over the world — and growing.
● In 2012, McDonald’s Germany added bubble tea to its menu.
● In 2018 alone, bubble tea orders rose by as high as 3000% all over Southeast Asia.
Finding a treasure trove, Taiwanese entrepreneurs didn’t waste time exporting the gluten-free drink to America and to the world. Already, the drink has become a pop phenomenon especially with Asian Americans who refer to their lifestyle as the “boba life” or “boba culture”.
Today, the U.S., Germany, and Canada have strong bubble tea markets while India, Brazil, and China are catching up. What used to be an accidental find is expected to be a $4.3 billion industry by the year 2027.
Indeed, bubble tea, Taiwan’s fad not-too-long-ago is now officially a global trend. And it shows no stopping.
Boba Tea: From Taiwan to the World
Over time, bubble tea has been known by a lot of names. Chief of which is boba tea. Also, it’s more commonly called:
● pearl tea drink ● boba ice tea ● pearl milk tea ● pearl ice tea
● Tapioca ball drink ● Pearl shake
● QQ (meaning chewy in Taiwanese)
The defining ingredient for bubble tea is, of course, the tea and the tapioca balls. It’s called pearl tea in reference to the tapioca balls which every bubble tea harbors.
Over time, boba tea evolved as its popularity grew all throughout Taiwan. For one, fruit powders and syrups were used instead of the actual fruits which not only were too pricey but also went bad easily.
The Two Categories
Strictly speaking, there are two types of bubble teas: milk teas and teas without milk. For both varieties, you can use any major tea type: black, green, white, and oolong. As for milk teas, just about every milk has been used. This includes coconut milk, condensed milk, powdered milk, skim milk, or fresh milk.
A traditional form of bubble tea was hot. It involved Taiwanese black tea with tapioca pearls mixed with condensed milk and honey or syrup. Today, the majority of bubble tea is served cold.
Tapioca pearls are made from the starch of the cassava plant. The plant is not originally from Taiwan but was introduced from South America during Japanese rule.
Even how bubble tea is served has become varied over the years. Many tea shops use plastic lids. However, a few authentic tea shops use a machine to seal the cup’s top using heated plastic cellophane. Doing so means you can shake the serving cup as much as you want. You can then proceed to pierce the cellophane with an oversized straw (boba straw), just the right size to let the tapioca toppings pass through.
Tapioca may be the most essential ingredient other than the tea itself. But there are a host of ways to come up with the chewy spheres in boba tea. Usually, these pearls vary in color depending on the mixed ingredients. However, for the most part, they are black due to brown sugar.
Instead of milk usually used in the milk tea, traders used non-dairy creamer resulting in a stunningly sweet yet creamy taste.
Over time, a slew of other ingredients has followed suit to make bubble tea a most customizable beverage. Some of these are:
● Jelly of all sizes and shapes
● Azuki bean
● Mung bean
● Egg pudding
● Flavors: lychee, konjac, coconut jelly, honey lemon
Sometimes shops offer cheese or milk foam to give the boba tea a whipped-cream consistency. To give wider options, shops allow customers to choose the amount of sugar, usually done in percentages (e.g., 100%, 75%). The same holds true for the ice level. Some shops allow customers to order their preferred amount of ice (e.g., normal ice, less ice, no ice0.
Also, bubble tea has inspired other tea-flavored snacks (e.g., bubble tea candy, bubble tea ice cream).
Most Popular Bubble Tea Flavors
Right from the get-go, tapioca balls come from tapioca, a starch extract from cassava roots. Often, their diameter is 5 to 10 millimeters in boba tea, an improvement of the traditional 2.1 mm diameter tapioca balls used before. Typically, these balls, lacking flavor naturally, take on the flavor of bubble tea. Naturally, tapioca balls are naturally white but are colored to the desired color upon processing. Also, tapioca is a cheaper alternative to sago pearls, balls made from the starch from tropical palm stems.
The name Tapioca comes from the word tipi'óka, which means “coagulant” in the Tupi language spoken by natives in Brazil around 1500. Over the years, tapioca has been a staple food in many tropical countries. It is high in carbohydrates but low in vitamins and minerals or protein.
Cassava is a root vegetable and is much like potato and yam. Its roots are similar to that of sweet potatoes. The perennial plant is native to South American and grows in tropical and subtropical regions. It’s a sturdy plant that can grow in poor soil. It has been brought by the Japanese to Taiwan from South America.
As bubble tea is basically tea adorned with tapioca and usually with milk, the drink also maintains the many health benefits of tea. It follows that if you use green tea as your base, you’d be enjoying the health benefits of unoxidized tea. And that means tons of antioxidants and polyphenols doing your bidding — not to mention the catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG.
That should tell you, you have greater protection against free radical damage every time you take a sip from a cup of boba.
Also, you’d be getting plenty of theaflavin polyphenol if you incorporate a bag of black tea in your favourite bubble tea. This means you have a wonderful tool to reduce plaque formation in the blood vessels and lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
The same holds true if you use the freshness of white tea, the rarest (and most expensive) of all tea types. You treat your body to a number of antioxidants that could be more numerous than the ones found in green tea.
To give you an idea, here are 4 major health benefits of drinking boba:
Bubble tea like any tea in the market today is nootropic. Quite simply, that means it can enhance your brain function. We’re talking about giving you a shot in the arm when it comes to memory work, focus, and overall productivity. The best part’s tea is a natural nootropic, unlike many supplements in the market today.
As mentioned, tea has two active ingredients that can boost the brain and promote relaxation: EGCG and I-theanine. What’s even more exciting is that EGCG can enter your brain and pass through the blood-brain barrier. That means it can exert stunning beneficial effects on a man’s brain combatting neurodegenerative diseases in the process.
Studies show tea has been found to reduce the risk for dementia, especially for those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or AD. So if you need a mental boost, take a boba. It can be a great alternative to coffee as it has less caffeine. Small wonder Taiwanese-American students in California easily made a habit out of boba while studying and hanging out.
It can help you lose weight
Boba tea can be a pat on your shoulder when you want to sculpt your body for those washboard abs. That’s because all the polyphenols and caffeine can act as dietary agents, helping you lose weight faster.
Then again, you need to keep to a healthy amount of bubble tea and less sugar. Too much sugar can be counterproductive if you plan to shed those flabs. It can also lead to a higher calorie and fat count for your body, thereby making you gain weight.
It’s a timely energy boost
Bubble tea can give your body a wake-up call. And that’s no accident. To note, the drink is a powerful combination of caffeine and sugar. That should provide you a major energy boost when you need it.
Then again, you should be warned. Too much of anything is never good news. Overdoing bubble tea with its high-calorie content and sugar count can lead to health issues despite tea’s overall health benefits.
In 2019, Singapore’s Mount Alvernia Hospital issued a warning against the sugar content of boba. Specifically, the medical institution cautions that all the other ingredients added such as the toppings and the non-dairy creamer can spike the sugar and fat content of the drink. In the process, too much boba can elevate the risk of chronic diseases.
It can help fight the virus
Surprise, surprise. You may have been totally caught flat footed by the virus, given its devastating effects on the planet. It seems the pandemic is fast becoming an existential threat threatening the lives of millions of people around the world.
But this is where tea could come in handy. The latest studies under the watch of U.S. government health agencies show that tea has antiviral components that can possibly be useful in the treatment of COVID-19. Specifically, these studies reveal that two polyphenols from tea - namely theaflavins and EGCG - can interact positively with the receptors of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.
That should be a timely boost for you. Every time you drink boba, you’re also strengthening yourself against the attacks of the virus.
Remember that these health benefits are just some of the great benefits of drinking tea. As time goes by, more and more studies have shown incorporating tea in your life is a monumental health decision. Indeed, there’s more to tea than meets the eye.
Of all tea types, bubble tea is the most versatile. As it can have all sorts of tea as its base, its taste is varied. So you’re looking at the world’s most customizable tea. You can use just about any tea on the planet to make bobarom traditional green tea to black tea to oolong and white tea. Added to this, the drink can use all sorts of fruits and flavors: mango, kiwi, strawberry, and even chocolate just to name a few.
Add to the mix the milk (which is also varied) and the sugar, and chances are you have a tea that’s as delicious as can be. People may not even suspect the drink is essentially tea.
And that’s the beauty of it all. You can avail yourself of all the health benefits tea can offer while at the same time give your palate a treat. In short, it’s tea in its most delicious form. Indeed, these pearls are Taiwan’s best export to the world: bubble tea.