Boba tea is all the craze right now. It’s also known as bubble tea, pearl tea, tapioca tea, BBT, PT, pearl shake, momi milk tea, QQ, and more. How did it get so popular? And what exactly are boba tapioca pearls?

Hand holding up a cup of refreshing boba tea on busy street.

What is Boba Tea?

Originally from Taiwan (Otherwise known as Taichung or Taipei), boba tea is tea with boba tapioca pearls at the bottom of the drink. However, no one really knows exactly who created the drink, but rumors say that the creator of boba tea was a night market drink seller.

What are the boba tapioca pearls that makes these drinks so iconic? They are the round, chewy, marble-sized balls soaked in sugar or syrup. The dark color of the pearls come from the black or brown sugar that the tapioca starch was soaked in. Experts also agree that learning how to cook tapioca pearls would be the hardest part of making boba tea. If the pearls are too soft, then they would stick together, making it harder to drink. If the pearl is too tough, then it would not have the fun texture it is famous for. Once the boba tea maker can nail the pearls, they have no issues making the rest of the drink.

Traditionally, these boba pearls are paired with milk tea (with black or green tea as the base). Milk tea had been popular before the creation of boba tea, so innovating on such a famous drink was the obvious next step.

Today, a lot of people also pair their boba pearls with a fruitier base drink. Instead of milk, the drinks instead use fruity syrup to sweeten the drink. Some of the most popular flavors include strawberry, passion fruit, citrus flavors (orange, mango, pineapple), and jasmine.


How did it get so popular?

Not only is it convenient to drink, the texture makes it fun too! Now, a lot of boba tea places allow you to personalize your drink even further. Today, you can choose your own topping (or variation of the boba pearls) so you can get your favorite jellies, fruits and more to chew on as you drink your tea.

Some boba chains even have automated dispensers, allowing you to alter the sugar and ice level to your liking. It’s immensely popular because there are so many variations of the drink meaning there is something for everyone.

Plus, the cup and seal combination makes it hard to spill, making it the most convenient drink to sip as you go about your day. In fact, a Taiwanese boba tea stand owner once said that everyone is drinking a boba tea as they shop every night at the night market.

Strawberry pink boba tea in Mason jar glass.

Boba Tea’s Journey to America

Everyone credits the high emigration from Taiwan during the 1980s for spreading boba tea to all corners of the world (including the United States, England, and Australia). In the United States, boba tea was often served at first generation Asian-American cafés and restaurants. Therefore, though they were popular within the Asian-American community, they were not as popular to people outside of the community for their novelty!

However, all of this changed over the last decade. Many trendy cafés that specialize in boba tea have appeared. Not only is their interior decor contemporary, they make their drinks sharable across cultures as well.

One of the most popular ways of serving boba tea is by using various vessels outside the traditional plastic ribbed cups that are commonly used, including lightbulb cups and mason jars. These cafés have become the hot spot for many college students’ hangouts. Additionally, with the help of social media, boba tea has risen in popularity as the drink has become more accessible to everyone.

These aren’t your mother’s pearls, and safe to say, boba tea is here to stay! Not only did it transcend countries, it transcend time as well! Where are your favorite boba tea spots? Let us know in the comments below!

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