The History of Bubble Tea

Bubble Tea

is quickly becoming one of the most popular drinks in the world.  The main ingredient is tapioca which is used to make the “bubbles” or boba on the bottom of the drink.  Next, ice and milk tea are shaken together and then poured over the tapioca pearls.  Finally the tea cup is sealed with a sealer machine and a fat straw is used so that you can suck up all the bubbles!

Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan during the 1980’s and their rich culture in both tea and food make it the perfect birthplace for bubble tea.  Taiwan is a small island with a population of about 23 million people.  Despite it’s size it has established itself as an exporting powerhouse and is home to big companies like Acer, Asus, HTC, Giant Bicycles and was once the leading semi-conductor producer in the world.


History of bubble tea taiwan

Why is it called boba tea?

Before we can start dissecting the history of bubble tea, we need to first look at the name.  Bubble Tea or Boba Tea is what most people call milk tea with tapioca pearls (boba) in the bottom of the cup. However, the “bubbles” in bubble tea actually refer to the bubbles that are made from shaking tea.  When the tea is shaken it creates bubbles  (泡泡 paopao in Mandarin Chinese).  So while bubble tea is technically the name for the bubbles on top of the tea, here we’ll be talking about the tapioca pearls on the bottom of the tea.

One more quick point we want to cover is the difference between bubble tea and boba tea.  Both bubble tea and boba tea are describing the same thing, but boba is taken directly from the Chinese – 波霸奶茶 (bōbà nǎichá).


why is it called bubble tea


Who invented boba tea?

Without a doubt, the history of bubble tea goes back to Taiwan.  The only questions is, who actually invented bubble tea first?

Two tea shops claim the fame to inventing Bubble Tea: The first takes places in Taizhong, this is a city in the middle of Taiwan (Taizhong 台中,literally means Tai middle).  Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui from the Chun Shui Tang (春水堂) Teahouse claims to be the first one to add the sweet taipioca balls (bubbles) to some milk tea during one of the tea house’s meetings.  Everyone loved the drink and they began selling it in their tea shop which then spread quickly across the island.

The second story occurs in Tainan, a city in Southern Taiwan (Tainan 台南, literally means Tai south).  Here in the Hanlin Tea House, Tu Tsong-He added white tapioca balls to his milk tea.  The white appearance made the tapioca balls look like “pearls” and were subsequently called “pearl milk tea” which is a literal translation from the Chinese is 珍珠奶茶 (pronounced zhēnzhū nǎichá).  Tu Tsong-He then switched to the black tapioca balls that are more commonly seen in traditional Taiwanese bubble tea.

So who is the rightful inventor of bubble tea?  No one can know for sure, but either way it’s clear that bubble tea has gained worldwide acceptance and isn’t going away anytime soon.  Many big franchises in Taiwan have been opening stores abroad such as 50Tea, Gong Cha, Kung Fu Cha, Chatime and more.  This is making bubble tea more mainstream and many entrepreneurs are recognizing this opportunity.


50 tea bubble tea shop


Making Tapioca for Bubble Tea

comes down to the best ingredients and the best recipes.  The most crucial ingredient are the boba or tapioca pearls and  Boba Tea Connoisseurs will search far and wide for properly made tapioca.


tapioca boba


Ingredients: 1 Bag of Tapioca Pearls and brown sugar, fructose or honey.

  • Start boiling water in a 10 to 1 ratio.  So for example, if you are making 200 grams of tapioca then you will need 2000ml of water.
  • Next put your tapioca into the boiling water and start stirring them until they are floating on the top.  At this point turn the heat down to medium.  Just make sure that you don’t turn the heat down too low or else your boba will sink to the bottom of the pot and start to burn!
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and keep stirring every few minutes.
  • Now it’s time to prepare your sweetener.  You can use brown sugar, fructose or honey and you can also mix the sweetener with an equal part hot water to help your tapioca absorb the flavor better.  Put your sweetener into your serving container.
  • Finally, drain your tapioca and run them under cool water for 3 minutes.  Once cooled put the cooked tapioca into your serving container and let them soak in your sweetener for 30 minutes before serving.

Now that your boba is ready, it’s time to make your milk tea.  Most bubble milk tea can be classified into two categories.  One that uses fresh milk and one that uses a non-dairy creamer or a flavoring powder.  Fresh milk bubble tea is usually made by mixing chilled black ceylon tea with milk in a 50/50 ratio.  You can also substitute black tea for green or oolong tea but black ceylon tea is the most common.  One you mixed your tea with fresh milk you can pour them over your cooked boba and enjoy!

boba milk tea

Flavored bubble tea is also extremely popular and is usually made by using a 3 in 1 flavoring powder.  To make this type of bubble tea, you just need to mix your flavoring powder with hot tea or hot water until it dissolves.  Next add ice to your drink and shake for 8 seconds.  Once your tea is properly shaken it’s time to pour it over your tapioca pearls.


BubbleTeaology Honeydew Powder


Bubble Tea Today

Now that we know how bubble tea got it’s start, let’s see where it is today.  Today bubble tea can be found in over 50 countries in the world and has been increasing in popularity everyday ever since it originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s.  Many franchises that originated in Taiwan have expanded to other countries and are making history of their own!

Bubble Tea Trends

If you would like to make history of your own and start your own bubble tea shop you can click here to learn about opening your own bubble tea business!


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