They say looks can be deceiving

But in bubble tea’s case, the deception is in the name AND the looks, as there are no bubbles in bubble tea. And in some instances, there is no tea either!

Mind you, bubble tea was not always known as such and is sometimes called Boba Tea, Tapioca Tea, Momi Milk Tea, Foam Milk Tea, Pearl Tea or Boba Nai Cha.

Where does the bubble name come from?

The name Bubble Tea refers to the foam that forms at the top of the drink when it is shaken. Contrary to popular belief, it does not refer to the tapioca pearls at the bottom that can look a little like bubbles.

Bubble tea is trending, but will it be around for the long term in the West?

Well that depends how you look at it. A quick look at the history shows a growing demand for a refreshing post-work beverage in Taiwan in the 1980’s. Inspired by the idea of serving iced coffee that he observed on his trip to Japan, Taiwanese teahouse owner Liu Han-Chieh, introduced cold Chinese teas in his teahouse. This delicious new drink became popular quickly and his business grew enough to establish multiple outlets.

Bubble Tea

A couple of years later, his product development manager, Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui was sitting through a long staff meeting, so to pass the time she tried a little experiment. She put the tapioca pearls from her pudding into the glass of Assam iced tea in front of her and drank it. The beverage was so delicious that the teahouse added it to the menu. Soon, it became their most popular product. Tea stalls all over Taiwan started to add tapioca pearls and fruit flavours to their iced teas. It didn’t take long for the tea to become popular in East and Southeast Asia and then in USA, and Canada.

It became so popular that McDonald's served Bubble Tea in 2012.

Will it stick around? Probably only in the height of summer as a refreshing drink.

Is it healthy?

Not really! But it depends how sugary you have it. Bubble tea is a sweetened iced tea at heart with a layer of chewy tapioca pearls (also known as Boba, these are mostly black but can also be white, brown or transparent) that sit at the bottom. Consisting of either milk and tea or only tea, it’s available in a variety of flavours - fruity, milky, and flavoured. Often, syrups and condiments such as tiny pieces of jelly are added to it. Most stores that sell bubble tea, allow customers to choose the level of sweetness in their bubble teas. This kind of customisation is one of the reasons why it’s such a popular drink today.

Bubble Tea in the East

How is it made?

The tapioca pearls are marble-sized balls of tapioca, naturally gluten-free and made into flour and edible pearls. When raw, they are cooked in boiling water until they are soft. After that, the pearls are preserved in sweet syrup until they turn sweet and chewy. Then, tapioca pearls are put in bottom of a cup and filled with bubble tea. The beverage is shaken to make sure the ingredients are mixed well and served iced.  

Although it’s usually served with blended ice, bubble tea can be served hot or even as a smoothie.

And the taste?

The taste of bubble tea majorly comes from the tea itself, not the pearls. The pearls themselves are chewy but they are mostly flavourless. They get their sweetness from the syrup they are soaked in. Those pearls are not there to add to the taste. They are there to add to texture, not flavour.

If you’re looking for a classic bubble tea drink experience, you should have it with tapioca pearls and not jelly.

Can I make one at home?

Sure, and we're got a recipe for you. But with the Northern hemisphere in the middle of a bleak winter, we have taken the liberty of putting together a recipe for hot bubble tea.

And yes we’ve included Matcha in the recipe...what did you expect!


Hot Matcha Bubble Tea

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Brewing time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2



  • In a large bowl, bring water to boil and cook the tapioca pearls in it. Some tapioca pearls are quick to cook, whilst others take longer  - it depends on the brand.

  • When the pearls are cooked, drain the water and keep the pearls in a bowl.

  • Now, in a separate bowl, bring the milk to boil and add Matcha and sugar.

  • Stir until everything is dissolved.

  • Taste to know sweetness level. If you aren’t happy, add more sugar and stir some more until you like the sweetness.

  • Keep the mixture in the fridge to cool.

  • In a glass, add the tapioca pearls and some crushed ice.

  • Pour the milk mixture in it and serve.

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