Slurp ‘Em Up! 8 Flavorful Fun Facts About Bubble Tea
Sweet. Refreshing. Chewy (or QQ to be more precise). How many drinks are all of those in one? But for some, bubble tea is much more than just a beverage slash dessert. Learn more by slurping up these eight tasty tidbits about the Taiwanese phenomenon.
The supposed inventors sued each other over it
While many agree that bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, it’s unclear who the inventor was. Hanlin Tea Room says their founder came up with the idea in 1986 upon seeing discount tapioca balls at the market. He brought the balls home, cooked them up, and threw them in some milk tea. Voila! Pearl milk tea, or zhēnzhū nǎichá (珍珠奶茶) in Mandarin, was born. But another tea house, Chun Shui Tang, makes a similar claim: one of their employees came up with the idea one day a year later by experimenting with tapioca balls and milk tea.
The two tea houses ended up suing each other, and settled the case in court. But neither was ever able to patent their “invention,” and soon the yummy drink was seen in teahouses all over Taiwan.
The true inspiration might be a drink from Malaysia
If ever find yourself in Malaysia or Singapore on a hot day, you might cool off with a delicious glass of cendol. This layered dessert drink is made of shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, and squiggles of rice flour jelly. Some argue that a version of cendol might have made it way over to Taiwan, perhaps by way of night market vendors.
"Boba" versus "bubble"
While in Taiwan and perhaps more old-school circles, the delectable concoction is still referred to as pearl milk tea, in the U.S. you’ll mostly hear it called bubble tea or boba. What’s the difference? None except where they come from. According to Eater, bubble tea is used more on the east coast while boba is distinctly Califoranian.
Which came first?
As for which came first, it could be bubble tea, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Bubble tea first appeared in print in a September 1993 issue of a publication called Sinorama Magazine: "A nice open space and low prices make ‘bubble tea’ shops more accessible to the average guy." Boba makes its first appearance seven years later in a Jan. 5, 2000 article in the Los Angeles Times: “Boba is delicious, sweet and refreshing with a striking appearance. For this reason it is always served in a clear glass.”
The two terms have unexpected origins
While you might think the “bubble” in bubble tea comes from the appearance of the tapioca balls, it actually supposedly refers to the bubbly, foamy consistency that comes from shaking it up. As for boba, that has a naughtier origin: it’s a Chinese slang term for breasts.
It’s not just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle
Comedy duo team the Fung Brothers wrote a whole song about it, the video of which has garnered over two million views.
A Japanese YouTuber holds the world record for the largest cup of bubble tea
On Nov. 3, 2018, Japanese YouTuber Mihara Keigo served almost 180 gallons of bubble tea at a free concert he gave in Taipei. The larger-than-life libation clocked in at 170 liters of tapioca balls, 30.6 liters of liquid sugar, 40.8 liters of milk powder, and we’re guessing a whole lot of tea bags. It took more than four hours to cook it up.
You can get boba on your pizza in Taiwan
Yes, you can get your savory, sweet, and QQ in one slice. While Domino’s made a big splash last fall by launching their boba pizza (complete with cheese, honey, and tapioca balls) and Pizza Hut has also since gotten in on the action, a restaurant in western Taiwan called Foodie Star has been featuring the unusual pie since at least 2015.
Craving bubble tea now? You can make your own with Tea and Milk’s DIY kits! You can also get in on that boba life with this baller T-shirt and this adorable onesie for the future bubble tea fan in your life.
[Image by Tzuhsun Hsu (CC BY-SA 2.0)]