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The Bubbling History of Boba

Jasmine Johal

Monday, 11 March 2024

Bubble tea is currently a major trend, but what are its origins and who invented it?

Bubble tea, also known as boba tea or pearl milk tea, has taken the world by storm. Its vibrant colours, chewy tapioca balls and delightful flavours have captivated the hearts of millions. But where did this trendy beverage originate? And who deserves the title of “Inventor of Boba”?

The origins of bubble tea can be traced back to Taiwan in the 1980s. Whilst tea has been a staple in Chinese culture for thousands of years, the addition of tapioca pearls and other toppings to create bubble tea is a relatively new innovation. The exact origin is disputed, with several Taiwanese tea houses claiming to have invented the drink.

One account attributes the invention of bubble tea to Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui, the product development manager of the Chun Shui Tang teahouse in Taichung, Taiwan. In 1988, during a staff meeting, Ms. Lin playfully poured her sweetened tapioca pudding into her iced Assam tea and invited her colleagues to try it. The drink was an instant hit and became the chain’s best-selling item.

Another claim states that bubble tea came from the Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan, Taiwan in 1986. The owner of this tearoom, Tu Tsong-he, was inspired by the white tapioca balls, a traditional Taiwanese snack, and decided to add them to his tea. The Hanlin Tea Room’s version used smaller pearls, which resembled pearls in oysters, thus the name “pearl milk tea”.

Regardless of its true origin, the popularity of bubble tea quickly spread throughout Taiwan. Vendors experimented with various tea bases, such as black, green and oolong tea and introduced a wide range of flavourings, including fruit syrups and powders. The drink became an integral part of Taiwanese youth culture and everyday life.

Bubble tea began to spread beyond Taiwan in 1990s. Taiwanese immigrants opened tea shops in other parts of Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, with each region adapting the drink to its local preferences. In the early 2000s, bubble tea started gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, particularly in cities with large Asian American communities.

Today, bubble tea is a global phenomenon enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. The key to its success is how versatile the drink is, from classic milk tea with tapioca pearls to alcoholic versions of the beverage. The bubble tea market continues to grow, with new flavours and variations constantly coming to light. Whilst the inventor of bubble tea may remain a subject of debate, this beverage has transformed from a small tea stand creation to a cultural phenomenon across the globe.


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Barbara Dawson

average rating is 3 out of 5

Lovely tasty dish. Try it you won’t be disappointed.

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Aunty Liz

average rating is 3 out of 5

Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?

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average rating is 3 out of 5

Such an interesting article!

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