Originating in Taichung, Taiwan, in the early 1980s, Bubble tea is positively swoon-worthy with its eye-catching appearance and overall iconic look. Bubble tea, a tea-based drink, is often served in a tall clear glass, along with a wide-drinking boba straw. Chewy black-jeweled tapioca pearls, aka boba, can be seen nestled at the bottom of the glass.

Who Invented Bubble Tea?

tea and boba

This welcoming pop of Taiwanese culture would not be possible without Liu Han-Chieh's eagerness to serve cold tea after witnessing Japan's cold coffee boom in the 1980s. If cold coffee could be widely popular, Liu Han-Chieh, believed cold tea could be as well. Luckily his pursuit of a cold tea business successfully paid-off.

Liu Han Chieh started a teahouse, Chun Shui Tang, in the city of Taichung. It was there that bubble tea was officially born when Liu Han Chieh's product development manager, Lin Hsiu Hu, casually decided to pour the tapioca balls from her dessert into her iced tea.

Why Is It Called Bubble Tea?

bubble tea

It's a common misconception that bubble tea is called bubble tea due to the boba, or the bubble-like tapioca pearls that fill the bottom of the glass. But, the real reason lies in the fact that this delicious tea beverage is shaken, not stirred.

The notable "bubble" part of the name bubble tea refers to the frothy bubbles that appear at the top of the drink after being shaken. The iconic froth or bubbles will be more recognizable when milk or flavor has been added to the tea.

What Is Boba?

boba close up

So what is boba? Quite simply, they're cassava starch balls. Nothing too fancy. Yet, once added to tea, plus other delicious toppings, it quickly elevates boba to another level. Lin Hsiu Hu seriously had the right idea when she added those marble-sized tapioca pearls to her tea!

So let's get this straight, the drink as a whole is called bubble tea, with boba or tapioca pearls at the bottom. But, sometimes bubble tea is also referred to as boba. Boba is also the most commonly ordered topping for this beloved Instagramable drink. Got it? Good.

How To Make Bubble Tea At Home

bubble tea

Certainly, bubble tea has grown in popularity over the years since it first debuted in Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1980s. As Taiwan continues to lead the way in bubble tea culinary innovation, this incredibly unique beverage has surged in fame, becoming quite the global sensation, with bubble tea shops popping up all over for the bubble tea enthusiasts of the world.

Not to anyone's surprise, bubble tea's popularity soared, and so did the interest in creating new and exciting bubble tea bases and toppings. Wild and inventive flavors such as ube boba, boba topped with cheese, and sweet brown sugar boba took Instagram by storm. There is certainly no shortage of fun and creative bubble tea options.

But for bubble tea purists, bubble tea can be prepared with no milk at all, or it can be prepared with milk at its most basic level, transforming into classic milk tea.

Even with the plethora of bubble tea options, classic milk tea remains the most popular and requested flavor with bubble tea lovers. Classic milk tea is a simple mixture of strong black tea, milk, and tapioca pearls that have been soaked in a simple syrup.

Homemade Bubble Tea Recipe (Classic Milk Tea)

  • 8 bags of your favorite black tea (Assam, Earl Grey, or English Breakfast)
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 3/4 cup tapioca pearls
  • whole milk or half-and-half to serve (or your choice of milk)
  • simple syrup to serve (see simple syrup recipe below)

Simple Syrup Recipe

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  1. As the tea cools, prepare your simple syrup. In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, and cook until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat, and allow the syrup to cool before pouring into a bowl or jar.
  2. As your simple syrup cools, prepare the tapioca pearls. It is best to follow the instructions stated on your package of tapioca pearls for the best results. However, if you find yourself without directions, we recommend the following; In a large pot, bring 15 cups of water to a boil, and then add the tapioca pearls. Once all tapioca pearls float back to the top, about 30 seconds, follow the 30 & 30 cooking method. Reduce the heat to low-medium heat, continuing to cook uncovered for 30 minutes.
  3. After 30 minutes, remove the pot from the stove. Cover the pot with a lid, and allow the tapioca pearls to rest in hot water for an additional 30 minutes, completing the 30 & 30 cooking method.
  4. Next, pour the boba into a colander and rinse with cold water to remove excess starch. In a large bowl, mix the pearls with three tablespoons of simple syrup. Allow the boba to soak in the simple syrup for about 10 minutes.
  5. Once your boba is done soaking, you can finally assemble your bubble tea. Divide the boba into 4 tall glasses, followed by ice. Pour your tea, about 1 cup into each glass, along with 2 tablespoons of milk and simple syrup, to taste. Stir your tea, and serve with a wide boba drinking straw or a spoon. Enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Begin by boiling the four cups of water in a kettle. Once boiling, transfer the water to a large teapot. Steep the tea bags in the teapot, no longer than five minutes. Set aside to cool.

woman drinking boba tea

Do I Have To Make Simple Syrup?

Although optional, simple syrup not only adds a sweet flavor to your boba, but it also reduces sticking and prevents the boba from drying out when you choose to soak them beforehand.

What's Up With All Of The Water For The Tapioca Pearls?

Although it may seem somewhat excessive, the amount of water used to prepare the tapioca pearls is essential in preventing melting and boba from sticking to the pot. You can use less water, but you risk burning, overcrowding, and excess starch.

Where Do I Buy Boba (Tapioca Pearls?)

Tapioca pearls are easily accessible online through Amazon. We recommend WuFuYuan's quick-cooking pearls or E-Fa. If you're looking to make your bubble tea experience ultra-authentic, don't forget to pick up some jumbo boba straws with angle tips!

Can I Use Different Types Of Milk In My Bubble Tea?

Absolutely! Although milk and half and half are the most popular options for bubble tea, feel free to use other types of milk and dairy-free alternatives such as almond milk and oat milk. For a richer, more decadent bubble tea treat, try using heavy cream.

Preparing bubble tea at home is a unique way to mix up your beverage routine. It's also an affordable way to get a signature drink experience in the comfort of your own home.

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