What Is Bubble Tea and Where Did It Come From?

Bubble tea is to Taiwan what coffee is to the U.S.

Bubble tea is an iced, sweet, tea drink that contains what looks like bubbles at the bottom of the drink.

Some would say that bubble tea is to Taiwan what coffee is to the U.S. It’s trendy, it’s addictively tasty and, in Taiwan, it’s on nearly every street corner. Now, bubble tea shops are popping up in cities around the U.S. and in countries all over the world, making us wonder what this drink is and how it originated.

What Is It?

Bubble tea was supposedly given its name due to the fact that when flavor is added to it and the drink is shaken up, it forms bubbles. Another theory is that that the tapioca balls that sit at the bottom of the drink resemble bubbles, and so the drink was named for them.

A drink of many names, bubble tea is most commonly called bubble tea, boba tea, pearl tea, or tapioca tea, but is also known as boba nai cha, zhen zhou nai cha, black pearl tea, BBT, PT, pearl shake, momi milk tea, QQ, and many other names.

Bubble tea is an iced, sweet, tea drink that contains what looks like small bubbles at the bottom of the drink. It comes in many flavors and is generally made in two forms: a fruity, iced tea, consisting of fresh fruits, tea, and crushed ice, or a milkshake-like tea, made by combining tea, (sometimes) milk, powdered flavoring, creamer, water, and crushed ice. Common flavors are green tea, strawberry, lychee, blueberry, jasmine, taro, honeydew melon, passion fruit, and original, and dozens of other flavors are available depending on the shop.

But what really defines this drink is the "bubbles," or round and chewy marble-sized, tapioca balls, which sit at the bottom of the drink and can be sucked up through an extra-large straw. They can be black, white, transparent, or other colors, depending on the ingredients they’re made with. While tapioca balls are the most popular kind of "bubbles" to put in bubble tea, other options are available, including bubbles made out of green tea, aloe, egg custards, sago, and taro, and jelly made from fermented coconut water, fruits, teas, or konjac.

Where Did It Come From?

Originating in the 1980s, bubble tea is a drink that began in Taichung, Taiwan, and has spread quickly throughout the world. Several tea companies claim to be the creator, so it’s not clear which is the true founder of the popular tea. But one Taiwanese man, Liu Han Chie of Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan, claims that in the early 1980s, he experimented with cold milk tea by adding fruit, syrup, candied yams, and tapioca bubbles. During the 1990s, the drink became popular in most parts of East and Southeast Asia. Since that time, it has spread to regions around the world, including the U.S., Australia, Europe, and most recently South Africa.


Haley WIllard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.