Probably the most iconic export of Taiwan in the 21st century, bubble tea or boba is traditionally black tea with milk along with tapioca balls. While milk tea itself has been around for a long time, the bubble tea claim to fame is the addition of tapioca balls. Now called bubbles, or pearls in Taiwan, these chewy balls are not new but actually fen yuan (粉圓) which has been around since 1950s.

Origin

Like many street foods, the creation of bubble tea is disputed. The two main stories places the creation of bubble tea either in Tainan or in Taichung.

Tainan’s Hanlin Tea Room (翰林茶館)

vs

Taichung’s Chun Shui Tang (春水堂)

In the 1980s, shaken milk tea was very popular and stands all over Taiwan had some form of this shaken tea. The shaken tea has a similar affect to Teh Tarik, or pulled tea, in which it allows air to mix into the tea having a more frothy taste.

The other player to bubble tea is the tapioca, and it’s origins as fen yuan (粉圓)goes further back in history.

Fen Yuan

Fen yuan is traditionally made with sweet potato powder. The reason it gets the name of pearl is because it was traditionally clear. It isn’t until vendors started to use brown sugar in making the fen yuan that they are the dark black color people are used to today.

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It is sid that fen yuan was originally used as a gift to Dowager Cixi due to its beauty resembling pearls.

Bubble Tea Today

Evolving from black tea with milk, bubble tea has evolved to multiple flavoring, tea and sometimes even sizes. Bubble tea has now spread internationally and is carried by many Asian restuarants. But one thing is to be remembered is that it all started in Taiwan 🙂

How to Make Tapioca

References:

Destination Taiwan – Bubble tea: How did it start? (CNN)

歷史人文考察 奇麗灣珍珠文化館一

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