A modern Taiwanese tea innovation—the bubble tea—has conquered night markets, teahouses and taken the world by storm!

Taiwan’s warm and humid subtropical climate and its hilly, mountainous terrain in the highlands has always made it ideally suited for the production of quality teas.

The Taiwanese have long enjoyed some of the most prized varieties of Oolong tea and, in more recent years, new innovations have helped the drink achieved new levels of popularity, not just among traditionalists, but appealing to a whole new generation of consumers worldwide.

Not only has Taiwan’s tea experimentation proven successful in Taiwan; from the streets of LA to tea shops in downtown Toronto; all across communities in East, Southeast Asia and beyond, consumers have enthusiastically embraced the Taiwanese Bubble Tea!

Photo: Oolong tea packaged and displayed in a tea shop
Oolong tea packaged and displayed in a tea shop

The bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea or boba tea was first concocted in Taiwan in the 1980s. Its creation draws on a variety of different inspirations and broke with numerous traditional practices. The beverage has since received widespread popularity.

The first breakthrough may not appear like a major innovation these days. But in a culture where tea was traditionally enjoyed piping hot, one of the first hurdles Taiwanese tea had to overcome on its way to becoming the now-famous bubble tea, was to become cool—quite literally.

Taking inspiration from Japanese iced coffee, the creators of the bubble tea experimented with chilling sweetened Taiwanese tea. This turned the slow-brewing, slow-drinking beverage into an exciting and refreshing suitable for Taiwan’s summer heat, its bustling nightlife and greatly increased its appeal to younger consumers.

Photo: Tapioca pearls being prepared for making bubble tea
Tapioca pearls being prepared for making bubble tea

Tapioca, short for tapioca pearls, is a type of dessert created with the starchy extract of the cassava root. Originally a New World produce, the substance was introduced to the Far East and became popular ingredients in various forms of East Asian desserts and sweets, such as fenyuan.

After the Taiwanese got used to having chilled, sweetened milk tea, it was not long before the next step was taken. Taiwanese tea connoisseurs began combining the staple of East Asian desserts, tapioca, with the newly perfected milk tea to create the first bubble tea!

By the 1990s, the Taiwanese bubble tea had become ubiquitous in teahouses and night markets. The drink became international in the 2000s and began spreading to neighbouring regions. From Japan to Korea, Hong Kong and China, this refreshing beverage began conquering the hearts of consumers across Asia.

Photo: Refreshing, chilled bubble tea
Refreshing, chilled bubble tea

Today, the Taiwanese bubble tea is popular across North America. From LA, California, USA to Toronto, Canada, people form long queues outside popular Taiwanese tea houses and shops for a sip of the refreshing drink!

Posted by:Island Folklore

An online repository of Taiwan’s folktales, history, legends, myths and traditions.