How does bubble tea work?
A tea-based beverage known as bubble tea or boba tea was developed in Taiwan in the 1980s. It is typically served in a sealed plastic cup with an extra-large straw, along with sweetened milk and chewy tapioca balls. I always found it funny that I had to drink and chew at the same time as I grew up drinking boba tea.
Who actually invented boba tea is up for debate. According to one account, the proprietor of the Chun Shui Tang tea room, a tea house in Taichung, the center of Taiwan, claimed that while visiting Japan, he observed coffee being served cold. The first boba tea was created when his product development manager poured some prepared tapioca balls into her drink during a staff meeting. The second story comes from a different tea room in Tainan, southern Taiwan. The owner of the Hanlin Tea Room said that he was inspired by white tapiocas that were for sale in a local market. He decided to combine it with tea, making “pearl tea.”
Tapioca balls come in various sizes. Boba refers to the larger, dark-colored ones, while pearls refer to the smaller, white or amber-colored ones. These days, depending on who you ask and where they come from, the names can be used interchangeably. Taiwan is divided into north and south. It could be a west-versus-east-coast issue in the United States. The north and south each have their own preferences, even in California alone. There is even a rumor that the word “bubble” in bubble tea does not at all refer to the toppings but rather to the foam that forms when the milk is shaken.