Bubble tea is a tea beverage typically served cold. It originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, first spread to nearby East Asian countries, migrated to Canada before spreading to Chinatown in New York City, and then to various spots throughout the West Coast of the United States.
There are many variants of the drink, depending on types of tea used and ingredients added. The most popular kinds are "bubble black tea" (traditional Chinese: 泡沫紅茶; pinyin: pào mò hóng chá; literally "froth red tea"), "bubble green tea" (traditional Chinese: 泡沫綠茶; pinyin: pào mò lǜ chá), and "pearl milk tea" (traditional Chinese: 珍珠奶茶; pinyin: zhen zhu nǎi chá).
In the most common English usage, the name "bubble tea" is often associated with pearl milk tea, as it is the most popular variant of the drink. Pearl milk tea, also known as "boba milk tea", is traditionally made by adding boba balls (made from a mixture of tapioca and carrageenan powder), large or small, to shaken milk black tea. Some tea houses use pre-mixed milk tea to simplify the steps and reduce cost, thus removing the "shake" part from step and lessening its connection to the "bubble tea" name. This has caused some confusion as to what "bubble" is referring to in pearl milk tea.
Bubble teas are generally of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas, and milk teas. However, some shops offer a hybrid "fruit milk tea." Milk teas may use dairy or non-dairy creamers. Some more healthful varieties are 100% crushed fruit smoothies with pearls and signature ice cream shakes made from local ice cream sources. Many American bubble tea vendors sell "milk smoothies", which is similar to bubble tea but does not actually contain any tea ingredients. Some small cafes offer sweetener substitutes such as honey, agave, stevia, and aspartame upon special request.
The oldest known bubble tea consisted of a mixture of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls (粉圆), condensed milk, and syrup(糖浆) or honey. According to the contested originator (春水堂) from Taichung, the drink was not popular at first, but after being featured on a Japanese TV-show, the concept started to be adopted and popularized by drink vendors throughout Asia. Many variations were created, the most common improvement is to serve the drink cold rather than hot. The tea type is frequently replaced. First was the bubble green tea- which uses jasmine-infused green tea (茉香绿茶) instead of black tea. Big tapioca pearls (波霸/黑珍珠) were adapted and quickly replaced the small pearls. Peach or plum flavoring appeared, then more fruit flavors were added until, in some variations, the tea was removed entirely in favor of real fruit. These fruit versions usually contain colored pearls (and/or "jelly cubes" as in the related drink taho), the color chosen to match whatever fruit juice is 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 until chilled. Cooked tapioca pearls and other mix-ins are added at the end.
Today one can find shops entirely devoted to bubble tea, similar to the juice bars of the early 1990s. Some cafes use plastic dome-shaped lids, while other bubble tea bars serve it using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane. This allows the tea to be shaken in the serving cup. The cellophane is then pierced with an oversize straw large enough to allow the pearls to pass through.
Each of the ingredients of bubble tea can have many variations depending on the tea house. Typically, different types of black tea, green tea, or even coffee can form the basis of this beverage. The most common black tea varieties are Oolong and Earl Grey, while jasmine green tea is a mainstay at almost all tea houses. Another variation called 鸳鸯 (yuanyang, named after the "mandarin duck") originated in Hong Kong and consists of half black tea and half coffee. Decaffeinated versions of teas are sometimes available when the tea house fresh brews the tea base.
The milk in bubble tea is optional, though many tea houses use it. Some cafes use a non-dairy creamer milk substitute instead of milk because many East Asians are lactose intolerant. Soy milk options are widely available for those who avoid dairy products. This adds a distinct flavor and consistency to the drink.
Different flavorings can be added to bubble tea. Some widely available fruit flavors include strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana, avocado, coconut, kiwi, and jack-fruit. Other popular non-fruit flavors include taro, pudding, chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, and violet. Some of the sour fruit flavors are only available in bubble tea without milk as the acidity will curdle the milk.
Tapioca balls great and small are the prevailing chewy tidbit in bubble tea, but a wide range of other options can add equally tantalizing texture to the drink. Green pearls have a small hint of green tea flavor, and are chewier than the traditional tapioca balls. Jelly is also used in small cubes, stars, or rectangular strips, with flavors like coconut jelly, konjac, lychee, grass, mango, and green tea. Rainbow (a fruit mix), has a pliant, almost crispy consistency. Red bean or mung bean mush, also typical toppings for Taiwanese shaved ice, give the drink an added subtle Cavour as well as texture. Aloe, egg pudding, sago, and taro balls can also be found in most tea houses to complete the perfect cup of tea.
Single-serving packets of black tea (with powdered milk and sugar included) are available as "Instant Boba Milk Tea".
Bubble tea cafes will also 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 also be added to these slushie-like drinks. One drawback to Snow Bubble 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, Snow Bubble must be consumed more quickly than bubble tea.
Occasionally, nata de coco is used in mass-produced bubble tea drinks as a healthier alternative to tapioca. 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
There are two shops that claim to be the creators of bubble tea. One is Liu Han Chie who worked in Chun Shui Tang tea-house (春水堂) in Taichung, Taiwan, in the early 1980s, and experimented with cold milk tea by adding fruit, syrup, candied yams, and tapioca balls. Although the drink was not popular at first, a Japanese television show generated interest in it among businessmen. The drink became well-known in most parts of East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s
An alternative origin is the Hanlin (翰林) Teahouse in Tainan, Taiwan, owned by Tu Tsong He Hanlin. Bubble tea is made by adding traditional white fenyuan which have an appearance of pearls, supposedly resulting in the so-called "pearl tea." Shortly after, Hanlin changed the white fenyuan (粉圓) to the black, as it is today.
CELEBS WITH BUBBLE TEA
Lauren Conrad and Stephanie Pratt