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What is Bubble Tea and Where Did it Come From?

June 08, 2024

Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink that has captured the hearts of many across the globe. A unique and tantalizing blend of tea, chewy tapioca pearls, and a medley of flavors, it’s no surprise that this has been a staple for a lot of people.

From its humble beginnings as a local favorite to its current status as a ubiquitous presence in cities across the globe, bubble tea's journey is as rich and diverse as its complexity of flavors.

Let’s discuss the origin of bubble tea and do a deep dive into what makes this drink irresistible to many.

What is Bubble Tea?

Bubble tea, also affectionately known as boba or pearl milk tea, is a delightful concoction that typically comprises a tea base, chewy tapioca pearls (boba), sweetener, and different flavorings.

It’s praised for its distinct texture, thanks to the playful addition of tapioca pearls, which linger at the bottom of the cup. The name "bubble tea" came from the frothy bubbles that form on the surface when the drink is vigorously shaken or mixed, adding to its delightful charm.

what is bubble tea

Where Did Bubble Tea Originate From?

Bubble tea has become so popular that you can find it in many corner stalls and restaurants, but do you know where this marvelous drink was actually born?

Located in the vibrant streets of Taiwan, in either Taichung or Tai’nan (both cities claim to have invented the drink), it birthed the phenomenon that is bubble tea. In the early 1980s, a tea vendor had a whiff of creativity and decided to add tapioca pearls to his traditional iced tea, leading to a sensation that would soon sweep across the nation.

As word of this innovative beverage spread, bubble tea quickly gained popularity, becoming a staple in Taiwanese culture before making its way to international markets in the years that followed.

Common Flavors of Bubble Tea

Bubble tea comes in many unique and exciting flavors, which is one of the reasons why it’s very popular. Its diverse range of flavors caters to every palate and preference. Some of the most beloved flavors include:

  • Classic Milk Tea: A comforting blend of black or green tea infused with creamy milk and sweetened to perfection.
  • Fruit Flavors: Refreshing options such as mango, lychee, passion fruit, and strawberry, offer a burst of fruity goodness with every sip.
  • Taro: A purple-hued root vegetable with a sweet, nutty flavor, lending a creamy and indulgent twist to traditional milk tea.
  • Matcha: A finely powdered green tea prized for its earthy flavor and vibrant green hue, offering a subtle bitterness that pairs beautifully with milk and sweetener.
  • Honeydew: A fragrant and sweet melon flavor that adds a refreshing touch to milk tea, evoking memories of summer days and tropical indulgence.

Key Ingredients of Bubble Tea

What makes bubble tea, bubble tea? It’s not regular tea, nor iced tea as well. Behind every tantalizing sip of bubble tea is a carefully curated selection of ingredients that make up its signature taste and texture:

Tea Base

It’s not bubble tea without a tea base! The bases vary from traditional black or green tea to herbal or fruit infusions. The choice of tea sets the foundation for the drink's flavor profile, giving you endless possibilities for experimentation and innovation.

Boba (or Tapioca Pearls)

Of course, who can forget about the “bubbles” in bubble tea? Also known as boba or tapioca pearls, these are small, chewy balls made from tapioca starch. They’re boiled until tender and sweetened with a caramel-like syrup, adding a delightful textural contrast to the smoothness of the tea. It adds personality to the drink, making it more fun to sip as your straw catches you with some wonderful spherical goodness.


In order to balance out the natural bitterness of the tea and enhance its flavor, sweeteners such as sugar, honey, or flavored syrups are added. The level of sweetness can be adjusted according to individual taste preferences, ranging from subtle hints of sweetness to a burst of flavor. That’s why whenever you order bubble tea, they will always ask you for your preferred level of sweetness!


Ice is an important ingredient in bubble tea. It gives a refreshing feeling that makes it the perfect thirst quencher on hot summer days. Whether served on top or blended into a frosty concoction, ice helps to amplify the drink's delicious flavor profile.

Additional Flavoring

Lots of bubble tea shops are constantly finding ways to level up the taste of bubble tea even more. This means incorporating additional flavorings like fruit purees, syrups, or powders. These flavorings add depth and complexity to the drink, opening up a fun experience customization, and creativity for the customer.


In addition to tapioca pearls, your bubble tea can be adorned with an array of toppings to add more texture and flavor. Some of the popular toppings are fruit jellies, pudding, grass jelly, and aloe vera. Each topping adds a unique dimension to the overall drinking experience.

Is Boba Tea the Same as Bubble Tea?

While the terms "boba tea" and "bubble tea" are often used interchangeably, they refer to the same beloved beverage. However, some areas may prefer one term over the other, leading to slight variations in terminology.

If you prefer calling it “bubble tea” and come across a shop that sells “boba tea”, or vice versa, they mean the same thing.

Milk Tea vs. Bubble Tea

Bubble tea is classified as a type of milk tea, but there are slight differences between the two. Milk tea refers to any tea-based drink that incorporates milk or a milk alternative, whereas bubble tea specifically refers to tea with added tapioca pearls.

What is Popping Boba?

Have you seen popping boba in your boba tea shop before? Also known as fruit pearls, popping boba are small, translucent spheres filled with flavored juice that burst in the mouth when bitten into. Compared to the traditional tapioca pearls, popping boba adds a burst of fruity flavor and a playful pop of texture to bubble tea.

Is Bubble Tea Healthy?

If you are a bubble tea lover, then this drink is healthy for your soul. Healthwise, it’s something you should avoid having excessive amounts of. Drink in moderation because of its high sugar content.

Choosing unsweetened or lightly sweetened varieties with healthier toppings such as fruit jellies or aloe vera can help reduce its calorie and sugar intake.

Drinking bubble tea won’t necessarily make you unhealthy, but as long as you match it with proper diet and exercise, then this sweet drink isn’t something you should be concerned about.

Bubble Tea Alternatives

If you’re trying to limit your intake of bubble tea due to health reasons, keep in mind that there’s no “healthy” version of this drink. However, there are alternatives you can turn to.

Fruit Teas

Choose fruit teas that are made with real fruit and no added sugars. This makes a healthier alternative to traditional bubble tea, giving a burst of natural flavor and hydration.

Matcha Drinks

Matcha is also a well-loved drink. This powdered green tea is rich in antioxidants and amino acids and can be used to create flavorful and nutritious beverages without the added sugar.

Iced Coffee

For the coffee lovers out there, iced coffee or coffee-based drinks offer a caffeinated alternative to bubble tea, providing a refreshing pick-me-up with a rich and robust flavor profile.

Tea Lattes

Tea lattes made with steamed milk and flavored syrups offer a creamy and indulgent alternative to traditional bubble tea, perfect for those craving a comforting and satisfying beverage.

Chia Seed-Infused Drinks

If you can get by with the texture, chia seed-infused drinks are also another healthy and hydrating option. It’s packed with fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, offering more nutrients thant the traditional bubble tea.

Sparkling Beverages

Sparkling teas or fruit-infused sparkling waters offer a bubbly and refreshing alternative to traditional bubble tea, providing a fizzy sensation with every sip without the added sugar.


Bubble tea is proof of the ingenuity and creativity of Taiwanese food culture. It has continued to capture taste buds and spark joy wherever it goes.

What started out as sheer curiosity exploded into its global dominance as a beloved beverage. Bubble tea has become more than just a drink—it's a phenomenon that connects people and cultures together.

With its endless array of flavors, textures, and toppings you can customize, bubble tea invites us into a room of creativity, discovery, and indulgence, one sip at a time.

So, the next time you find yourself craving a refreshing treat, why not treat yourself to a delightful cup of bubble tea and experience the magic for yourself? After all, life is too short not to savor the sweet moments it has to offer.

Craving for some good ol’ fashioned tea? Check out Seven Teas and their extensive range of high-quality, organic brewed teas! Buy your next go-to drink online or find a store near you!


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