Boba tea is increasingly becoming popular in different parts of the world, especially America, Europe, and Asia, with many coffee shops and restaurants offering it as one of the most popular drinks. But when was boba invented? What is the drink made of and what makes it so popular?
This article seeks to answer these and other related queries by providing you with a brief history of boba tea.
What Is Boba Tea?
Also referred to as bubble tea, boba tea is a type of beverage that contains tapioca or fruit-flavored pearls. In most cases, boba tea refers to the traditionally cold-served drink that contains a tea base, edible pearls, and milk or fruit flavor. This drink goes by many names, depending on where you live.
Some of its common aliases include boba fruit tea, tapioca tea, pearl tea, bubble milk tea, and boba. So, if you hear any of these terms used at a restaurant, they basically mean the same thing. The new and special experience of having edible pearls in a drink has made this beverage very popular, especially among college students.
When Was Boba Invented?
Boba tea is believed to have originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s, and it was brought to the United States in the early 1990s by Taiwanese migrants, who came into the country through states like Los Angeles. It has since spread to other parts of the world, including Europe and Africa.
In terms of history, there are two conflicting stories about how boba tea was invented. The first one talks about the Chun Shui Tang tea room in Taichung. It’s believed that the tea room’s founder, Liu Han-Chieh, started offering her customers cold Chinese tea, following her trip to Japan in the 1980s where she saw people drinking cold coffee.
The idea of serving cold coffee compelled her to try it in her restaurants, but with tea. According to her company’s product development manager, Lin Hsiu Hui, Han-Chieh prepared her first cup of boba tea in 1988. She just put tapioca balls into a cup of tea during a staff meeting and requested them to taste it and give their honest opinions about their experiences. To her surprise, most of the workers at the meeting loved it, forcing her to include it in the menu. Soon after, the drink became the company’s best-selling product.
Another story claims that boa tea was invented by the Hanlin Tea Room, a Chinese restaurant in Taiwan. It’s reported that the restaurant prepared its first cup of boba in 1986 when the owner, Tu Tsong-he discovered white tapioca balls in the local grocery store. So, he bought several of them and prepared traditional Taiwanese tea. This gave birth to what is currently referred to as pearl tea.
When Did Boba Tea Become So Popular?
Reports indicate that boba’s popularity began taking shape in the 1990s when it spread across East and Southeast Asia. At this time, the drink had become extremely popular among young people in areas like Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Mainland China, and other cities across the region. In some areas, people would line up in front of tea rooms for hours just to get a cup of boba tea.
Today, the craze for bob tea extends beyond the drink itself. Boba lovers are continuously inventing new versions of the drink, including boba tea foods like boba tea ice cream, boba tea toast, boba tea sushi, boba tea ramen, boba tea pizza, and many more. This tea has become more than just a beverage. Many people now consider it a lasting image of culture and part of Taiwan’s culinary history.
In 2020, the Taiwanese government declared April 30 the official National Bubble Tea Day. It also proposed boba tea’s image be made the alternative cover design for the country’s passport. The tea is now synonymous with Taiwan and an indispensable symbol of the citizen’s identity both locally and internationally.
Today, boba tea represents the country in terms of the Milk Tea Alliance. In other countries like China, Japan, Singapore, and the USA, boba tea is slowly replacing traditional milk tea and coffee. For instance, in China, the consumption of boba tea is five times more than that of coffee. In 2018, its value in the tea market was about 53.7 billion yuan (approximately $7.63 billion).
The first American restaurant to serve boba tea is believed to be a small food court in Arcadia, Southern California. It was later served at Fantasia Coffee and Tea restaurant in Cupertino, Northern California. Today, countless hotel chains across America are now serving boba tea.
When Was Boba Tea Brought to America?
As noted above, boba tea was brought to the U.S. by Taiwanese immigrants in the early 1990s. These immigrants owned the first standalone restaurants that served boba tea, especially in California. Soon, it became the favorite beverage for college students.
The increasing acceptance of the café culture in America because of popular coffee shops like Starbucks has also contributed immensely to the popularity of boba tea in the country. When Starbucks started serving new drinks like Frappuccino, it opened the door for all kinds of beverages, including boba. This led to the emergence of popular hotel chains that serve boba tea as their main product, including Boba Guys.
Food and hospitality experts have expressed their surprise at how boba tea has achieved to win the hearts of so many people in America within such a relatively short duration. They even compare it to sushi, which began as a foreign tradition but suddenly became part of the American food culture. If what we’ve witnessed in the last decade is anything to go by, it’s obvious that the boba tea mania will continue to grow across the U.S. and other parts of the globe.
Is Boba Tea Good for You?
With the ongoing boba tea mania, many people want to know if the drink offers any health benefits. Numerous studies have been carried out as researchers try to identify the benefits of drinking boba tea. Unfortunately, nothing significant has been reported.
But as more varieties of boba continue to emerge, its nutritional value is expected to increase. Currently, many restaurants are serving different varieties of boba tea, including boba mixed with fruits, fruit jellies, ice, and pudding. All these varieties are part of the process of improving the value and quality of the drink.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 8 ounces of boba tea comprises:
• Zero grams of protein
• 1.5 grams of fat
• Zero grams of fiber
• 28 grams of sugar, 28 grams of carbohydrates
• 120 calories
This proves the fact that the average boba tea doesn’t offer too much of nutritional value. But the latest types of boba tea may have a higher nutritional value because they contain additional elements that are highly nutritious. For instance, any boba tea that’s made with fruits, jellies, pudding, and yogurts is likely to offer you vitamins, proteins, and other essential minerals.