A brief history of boba tea

A brief history of boba tea

Mar 10, 2020Linh Nguyen

Ever wonder when, where and how was boba tea a.ka. bubble tea invented?

Let’s travel back to Taiwan in the late ‘80s – where the boba culture begin.

Milk tea back then was already an everyday drink for Taiwanese, especially because drinking tea has always been a part of Asian culture. If you were ever curious about who invented this unique drink, you will find the competing story between two tea shops that started serving bubble tea around the same time.

The first one is the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taizhong, a city in the middle of Taiwan. Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui is known as the one that came up with the idea of adding the sweet tapioca balls (bubbles) to the usual milk tea. According to an interview with Asian Boss, the idea came to her on a hot summer day. Tapioca pearls itself were already a common snack. The idea of adding them into milk tea was a spontaneous action, merely because she missed her childhood memories of eating the pearls. She then shared the new “invention” with her colleagues, they loved the drink and shortly after, they began selling it in their tea shop.

The second one is the Hanlin Tea House in Tainan, a city in Southern Taiwan. There was a man named Tu Tsong-He who added white tapioca balls to his milk tea. The color white made the tapioca balls look like “pearls”, which eventually gave it the name “pearl milk tea”.  Later, they switched to the black tapioca balls by adding brown sugar into the recipe.

There is no clear conclusion about who officially invented the drink. However, even without knowing this, the love for this drink is undeniable and it has been proven by how boba tea gained its popularity on a global scale.

Boba tea became popular in most parts of East and Southeast Asia during the ‘90s. At the same time, boba also started entering North American culture and soon won the hearts of many people. Today you will find this lovely drink in six out of seven continents.

Like other things, boba tea evolved through time, mainly via the competition among tea stands. This fierce competition boosted the creativity of the owners, resulting in a wide variety of bubble tea we know nowadays. Check out below our (incomplete) time-line of remarkable milestones in the history of boba tea!

boba tea, time line of boba tea from 1980s to present, mint background


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