Taiwan’s Bubble Tea – A Sweet, Colorful, Flavorful, and Fun Iced Tea Drink

To the Taiwanese, tea is serious business, so much so that they serve the pre-
ferred hot 
oolong tea to customers waiting in line at government businesses
such as banks and civic offices.  But they can also appreciate the lighter side of
tea, having concocted over 100 different flavors of 
iced tea.  One of these is
Bubble Tea, a brightly colored mixture of tea, fruit, and tapioca pearls drunk with
a large, oversize straw.
Created in Taiwan in the 1980’s, bubble tea
first made its way to nearby East Asian
countries, on to Canada, then spread to
Chinatowns throughout the U.S., before
wending its way through various college
towns along the West Coast.
The recipes for bubble tea vary, but the basic
ver- sion is made with a tea base mixed with
various fruits (or fruit syrup) and/or milk.
Most bubble teas contain small tapioca balls
or pearls called “boba.”  Pearls made of jelly
are also often available in many places.  The
concoction is shaken to mix the ingredients,
creating a foam top, which is where the
name originates.

There are two distinct types of bubble tea:

fruit flavored teas and milk teas.  Some shops offer a third hybrid style-fruit milk tea.

Milk teas can be made with dairy or non-dairy creamers.  Local shops
often offer signature ice cream shakes made from popular local varieties
of ice cream flavors.  Many American shops sell a similar version of bubble
tea called a “milk smoothie,” which doesn’t contain any tea.

Because many East Asians are lactose intolerant, many tea houses use a
non-dairy creamer milk substitute or offer soy milk as an option, which
changes the flavor and consistency of the drink.

There are numerous variations of bubble tea, as each of the ingredients
can differ, depending on the location of the teahouse and where in the world it’s being offered
from.  Different types of black tea, green tea, or even coffee can be used as a base.  Oolong and
Earl Grey are the most common black tea varieties used, and 
jasmine green tea is the most
popular green nearly everywhere.

Another interesting variation called “yuan-
yang” (named after the mandarin duck) orig-
inated in Hong Kong and is made with one
half black tea and one half coffee, with decaff-
einated versions offered by some cafes.

Just about every popular type of fruit you can
think of is used to make bubble tea, including
the obvious favorites-peach, water-
melon, strawberry, grape, etc., and
even cantaloupe, honeydew, lychee,
avocado, and kiwi, just to name a few.

Of the popular non-fruit flavors there’s
pudding, chocolate, coffee, mocha,
caramel, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, and violet.  The list of added flavorings is only
limited by your imagination.

The tapioca balls provide the interesting chewy bits in
bubble tea, but here again there’s a long list of other
options that can be added to achieve a similar texture
and consistency.

Green pearls with a hint of green tea flavor are often
added, which are chewier than traditional tapioca balls.
Small cubes, stars, or rectangular strips of jelly are also used, with flavors like jelly,
coconut, lychee, grass, mango, and green tea.

A rainbow fruit mix with an almost crispy consistency is a popular add-
ition, as is red bean or mung bean mush, popular toppings for Taiwan-
ese shaved ice, which also add a subtle flavor and texture to bubble

Two different tea houses claim Bubble Tea as their creation. The first
is Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichung, Taiwan. Liu Han Chie’s ear-
liest creation was experimented with a mixture of hot Taiwanese black
tea, small tapioca pearls, condensed milk, sugar, and honey.

The drink received very little interest until it was featured
on a Japanese TV show where drink vendors eventually
adopted the concoction, spreading it throughout Asia.

The second originator was the Hanlin Teahouse in Tainan,
Taiwan.  Owner Tu Tsong He Hanlin created a version of
bubble tea using traditional white fenyuan that looks like
pearls, resulting in the name “pearl tea.”  A short time later
Hanlin changed the recipe, replacing the white fenyuan with the black version used today.

There are cafes and tea shops devoted entirely to Bubble Tea throughout the world,
similar to the health conscious juice bars of the early 1990’s.

If you don’t happen to have any local tea or coffee houses that offer Bubble Tea, it wouldn’t be hard to conjure up
your own recipe with your favorite ingredients and flavors, personalizing the concoction and making it your “cup of