Bubble tea is a popular tea-based Asian drink that comes in a variety of styles and flavours. But what exactly is bubble tea? How did it start? Why do people love it so much? And what options are available?
Here’s everything you need to know about this tasty beverage.
What is bubble tea and why is it so popular?
Bubble tea is a tea-based drink most commonly served cold which originates from Taiwan. The most popular versions consist of a base of black, green or oolong tea (a type of Chinese tea) alongside milk, chewy tapioca balls and flavouring. The mixture is typically shaken with ice and serve with a big fat straw.
Bubble tea is popular because it tastes and feels great! The tea itself is both sweet and refreshing while the tapioca balls add an addictive, chewy texture. The nature of the drink also makes it possible to satisfy all different tastes - green tea, black tea, more sugar, less sugar, milk, no-milk - you call the shots!
And guess what? You don't need to travel to Asia for some great tasting bubble tea drinks either! You can get some right here at home… Bubble Tea cafes have been popping up all over the place recently – from London to Sheffield to Birmingham and even Glasgow!
What’s the history of bubble tea?
Bubble tea is a Taiwanese invention that has become popular throughout South-East and East Asia and most recently, the West.
Although there is some debate, it is generally accepted that, the drink was invented in the 1980s by a Taiwanese man named Liu Han Chieh (sometimes spelled Lee Han Chieh). Liu Han had the idea for a drink that combined three popular Taiwanese desserts and refreshments from the time: milk tea, tapioca balls and shaved ice.
Bubble tea evolved over time and grew in popularity across Taiwan. More hawker and night market stalls started taking the concept forwards, innovating and coming up with ever more tasty variants.
Due to its popularity, the drink spread through Asia quickly, reaching the USA in the 1990’s and the UK in the 2000’s.
What is boba tea? Is there a difference?
Boba tea is really just another term for bubble tea. It's also sometimes referred to as boba tea, tapioca milk tea, pearl milk tea, as well as a number of variations on these names.
That said, “bubble” and “boba” both relate to the tapioca balls in some way. The term “boba” is based on a Chinese slang term used to describe the large round shape of the tapioca pearls. The name "bubble" comes from the fact that the balls have a tendency to move around in liquid much like bubbles do while they're floating around in air.
What types and flavours of bubble tea exist?
The variety of bubble tea options varies by type of tea, milk, toppings and flavours. There are an infinite number of variations possible and this is one of the main reasons that people love it so much.
Some bubble tea stores will allow you to choose your preferences, while others may have a selection of their own recipes.
Types of tea
When ordering bubble tea, the first thing to consider is the tea base.
- Black tea - the most popular option
- Green tea - includes matcha green tea
- Oolong tea - another popular option
- Fruit tea - seasonal fruits or concentrates
- Smoothies / Milkshakes - both dairy and fruit based blends
Types of milk
The second thing to consider is the type of milk.
- No milk - popular for those on diets or with some fruit or smoothie bases
- Fresh milk - the original 1980’s recipe
- Non-dairy creamer - by far the most popular
- Condensed milk - for an extra sweet, creamy taste
- Soy milk - low-fat, plant-based, vegan option
- Lactose-free milk - for people with lactose-intolerance
- Yoghurt like drinks - for a sweet, creamy yoghurt taste
Types of toppings
The third thing to consider is the type of toppings. You can choose as few or as many as you want but the tapioca pearls are hard to beat.
- Tapioca pearls
- Popping tapioca pearls
- Taro balls
- Grass jelly
- Fresh fruit
- Red bean
- Ice cream
- Cookie crumbs
- Chia seeds
- Caramel pudding
- Ice cream
Types of flavour
The final (and arguably most important) decision is the flavour which may be the type of tea itself or a sugar syrup or powder mixed into the tea. There are literally tons of these so here’s just a small selection.
- Banoffee Pie
- Chocolate Smoothie
- Creme Brulee
- Coconut Water
- Earl Grey
- Hong Kong Milk Tea
- Milk coffee
- Passion Fruit
- Strawberry Milkshake
- Thai Milk Tea
What is the point of the pearls in bubble tea? Do you eat them?
The pearls are chewy balls of tapioca starch that look like large pearls or ovals when cooked up into drinks. The pearls are made from a gelatinous substance called tapioca flour (which is also used to make puddings).
Some people choose not to use the pearl balls at all because they don't like them (we respect that choice) but most folks love adding these chewy balls into their beverages for something extra special!
What is the tastiest bubble tea?
There are simply so many variations to choose from and so many individual preferences that it is impossible to say. The tastiest or best bubble tea really comes down to a personal decision.
If you like your bubble tea less sweet then choose a non-milk option with no additional sugar.; if you do, then add it back! The perfect combination depends on personal preference so try different combinations until you find something you like!
How healthy is bubble tea?
Bubble tea is not always considered to be a healthy drink. Although there may be some health benefits associated with drinking green tea and black tea or eating fruit toppings, some bubble tea recipes are high in calories and sugar.
Most bubble teas contain more than 500 calories per cup (remember that you need about 2,000 calories a day). If you're watching your weight then you may wish to choose a low-sugar option such as one that does not contain milk, additional sugar or flavours.
We hope you’ve learned something new about bubble tea. Have fun experimenting with all the different flavours and styles of our favourite bubble tea drinks! If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask us. We love hearing from our readers!