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What is Bubble Tea?

The other day at a fall apple festival near my hometown in PA I saw a huge sign that read “Bubble Tea $6.99”. I have never heard of such a thing so I came home and researched exactly what it was because I love trying new things. I soon found out that bubble tea, also known as tapioca tea or milk tea, originates in Taiwan where you can find bubble tea stands on every corner. The “bubbles” come from the froth that the milk makes when the drink is shaken prior to drinking. The pearls in the bottom of the glass are tapioca pearls that are typically black in color but can also be white or clear. They are soaked in a simple syrup before using so that they add sweetness to the drink. After the pearls are placed in the glass, it is then filled with a chilled drink then shaken.

Now for a recipe! If you like Chai Tea, you have to try this awesome bubble tea recipe. It is delicious! However, if you prefer other flavors of tea, feel free to sub them in!



What You’ll Need:

5 Chai Tea Bags (we recommend Tazo Organic Chai Tea)

Coconut Milk (or whole milk if you prefer)


Tapioca Pearls (you can find these on Amazon)

Simple Syrup (optional)


Put it together!

  1. Boil the tapioca pearls for 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let them cool in the water for 6 minutes.
  2. Rinse the pearls, place in a container with simple syrup or water and chill. (If you like a sweeter drink use the simple syrup so the pearls absorb the sweetness)
  3. Brew your chai tea by steeping 5 chai tea bags in 3 cups of water.
  4. Grab a tall glass, put 1/2 cup of coconut milk in the glass, add honey to taste.
  5. Add a few spoonfuls of tapioca pearls.
  6. Put 3/4 cup of your tea in the glass and mix it up!
  7. Grab a straw and enjoy!





One of my favorite ways of enjoying tea may not be familiar among the British but it is beginning to sweep the United States by storm. Bubble Tea, or Pearl Tea and Boba Tea (boba is what bubble tea is called in the area I live in), is a Taiwanese variant of milk and tea but with an added twist of little black bubbles. The term bubble comes from the little black “bubbles” or “pearls”* on the bottom of the cup. But what are they?

The little bubbles are actually a form of tapioca. The tapioca comes from the cassava root. Americans make tapioca pudding from this but the Taiwanese use this to make their little pearls. They make them small or large. In addition to the tapioca pearls, they add other things like pudding (not the British pudding!), aloe, and flavored jellies like lychee or mango. This can be added to the milk teas, clear teas, and even the slushies they make!


(c) Crystal Derma for use by The English Tea Store

The tea used to make the bubble tea are simple black, green, oolong, and ceylon teas. They are mixed with milk or made iced. Another type of drink that is made by bubble tea shops is called a snow, which is LITERALLY like snow! Just be warned, they’re very hard to drink. The fun part of bubble tea is that the milk tea can be made in many flavors, like coffee, chocolate, taro, red bean, or fruity flavors. The plain teas like black, green, oolong, and ceylon can also be flavored as such. Of course, the MOST fun part is drinking the pearls through a straw. Usually a large, wide straw is given so the pearls can travel up and be chewed (yes, I eat the pearls).

Unfortunately, there is a debate among my fiance and I. Where I come from in California, there is a competition for bubble tea. I like to get the “Tapioca Milk Tea” which is made with black tea and milk and I consider it to be the basic flavor but when I visit my fiance out in Virginia, there isn’t such a flavor. I tried to order it out there and everyone gave me funny looks, including the fiance. The closest thing I had to get was coffee/mocha and it just wasn’t the same.

I have been a fan of bubble tea since about 2001 or 2002 as a teenager and it’s an undying love for me. The local specialty stores are finally stocking the pearls to make my own bubble tea. You need to take the pearls and cook them. Once I obtain these next time I go, I hope to tell you all how to make them! I have also been told it is just black tea that is used to make the original milk tea. However it is made, bubble tea is delicious!

*When consuming these pearls, they CAN be a choking hazard. Do be careful and supervise a young child if they are enjoying one!


Warmer weather in the U.S. usually means iced tea, sweet tea, and a tea drink that is growing in popularity here (as well as in Europe). It is sometimes called “bubble tea” and sometimes “pearl milk tea” (or “boba milk tea”). Having spent many years as a technical writer where the difference between “hit Enter” and “press the Enter key” were important (especially since some people take things rather literally), I’m going, just for the fun of it, to pick apart both names. Sit back, relax, sip your tea, and take a linguistic journey.

True bubbles in tea (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

True bubbles in tea (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

A bubble is a filmy substance or one that is fairly elastic but with good atomic bonds that forms a sphere around some air. Soap bubbles, chewing gum bubbles, and carbonation bubbles are some examples. So are those little bubbles on the top of your tea (hot or cold) when you pour it fast. Here’s the definition on (I simplified things for this article.)

A pearl, in contrast, is solid. It is also spherical (sometimes). True pearls are those iridescent beauties created by clams when some irritant gets inside their shell. We call various things “pearls” since (a) they are spherical and usually about the size of a salt-water pearl (fresh-water pearls are more irregularly shaped), or (b) because it’s more poetic and/or colorful than saying “sphere” or “ball.” Would you like to drink a tea named “Dragon spheres” or named “Dragon pearls”? As is often the case with marketing, words matter.

Based on the above, I’m thinking that “pearl milk tea” is a more accurate term. But wait, there’s more to this.

My guess (and one supported by various online sources) is that the term “bubble tea” is a mispronunciation of “boba.” Of course, it could just be that someone thought it seemed more fun and whimsical to say “bubble” than “pearl.” Or it could possibly be another of those translation mix-ups. The English language has around 100,000 words, or so it is claimed by many linguists, and many of these words are subtly different to us but translate as meaning the same thing in other languages. When going from those languages to English, therefore, they are presented with a host of options and do their best to pick the right one. Not always successfully. Based on the mispronunciation theory, “bubble tea” is just as accurate as “pearl milk tea.” No easy answers, darn it!

What Those “Bubble Tea” Bubbles Really Are

Pretty simple here. They are chewy tapioca balls. The Chinese slang term for them is bōbà (波霸) meaning “large breasts.” Seriously! I couldn’t make up something like that if I tried. Tapioca is a starch from a plant that originated in Northern Brazil called Manioc (Manihot esculenta). It proved so popular, that the plant was soon being cultivated throughout South America. Traders and explorers brought some of these plants with them to other ports of call in the West Indies, Africa, Asia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The Taiwanese were the ones to start using it in this tea-based drink (usually Taiwanese black tea). Milk, fruit, and ice are other common ingredients, with a wide variety of flavors available. Green tea versions have become popular, too, as people started touted green tea as healthier than black tea (the jury is still out on that, with some recent studies supporting the claim and others contradicting it).

Bobas in tea – the real source of the name “bubble tea”? (From Yahoo! Images)

Bobas in tea – the real source of the name “bubble tea”? (From Yahoo! Images)

No matter what you call it, give some a try as warm weather approaches. It’s sort of a drinkable tapioca pudding that has tea in it. Wow!

For more information about bubble/pearl tea, see these articles on our blog:

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

by Guest Blogger Sarah Rosalind Roberts

London loves tea and with the growing variety of cultures in the population, it’s no surprise that there have been international influences on its tea consumption. It’s always good to try new things and what is life without variety? Don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional cup of tea, enjoyed over a relaxing afternoon usually with a scone or two. But if you, like London, are looking for something to liven up your tea drinking habits, bubble tea might be exactly what you’re after.

Never heard of bubble tea? You’d be forgiven if you haven’t as it’s a relatively new tea trend in
comparison to the humble origins of tea as a drink several thousand years ago (depending upon which legend you believe about the discovery of tea). It was mentioned here on this blog as a “drinkable dessert.”

Anatomy of Bubble Tea (image of tea used with permission with our enhancements - the text)

Anatomy of Bubble Tea (image of tea used with permission with our enhancements – the text)

This cold drink is said to have started in Taiwan in the early 1980s and was a twist on the already popular iced tea with syrup flavourings. A particular vendor took it a step further and added tapioca pearls, creating an unusual look and texture to the drink.

These tapioca balls, which can be black, white, transparent and even rainbow coloured, coupled with the vast amount of flavours you can find added to your cup, make for a unique tea drinking experience. Served in a clear plastic cup, you even drink it with an extra large straw to slurp up the chewy tapioca pearls. Very different from the general idea of a cup of tea!

The popularity of bubble tea in London, England, has certainly taken off with many independent establishments being setting-up across the city offering Londoners a taste of Taiwan.

The novelty of this drink for me is that there is something for everyone, no matter your taste buds. But is it just that – a novelty? Die hard tea aficionados and purists might dismiss bubble tea as simply another tea fad and argue that it’s not actually tea because of the added flavourings and the Taiwanese tapioca paraphernalia. However, as more new tea houses are sprouting up around London every year, it proves that bubble tea is not just a fad, but here to stay in the English city.

As always, you can do-it-yourself with bubble tea and you can find most of the ingredients relatively easily. Tapioca pearls can be bought from Asian stores or online and syrup flavourings or fresh fruit are available at most good supermarkets. For the tea base, there are many types you can use, but two of the more common kinds are red tea and jasmine green tea.

If making this at home doesn’t appeal to you, but you’re interested in finding what all the fuss is about, I’m positive that you’ll find a bubble tea shop in any major city and by the sound of the growth in London, there’s probably one coming to a town near you.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the
original content.

What’s life without dessert, especially when it’s drinkable? No, we’re not talking about milkshakes, hot cocoa, chilled mocha drinks, or pie that’s been given the blender treatment (what, you’ve never puréed pie?). We’re talking tea!

Yes, some teas are so yummy and sort of sweet that they are dessert-like. Vanilla and fruit flavored teas are good options. Other teas are the basis of tea drinks that have a dessert quality. Chais and bubble teas are the best known.

Vanilla teas

Adding vanilla to tea is a quick and easy way to turn your tea into dessert. You can go cheap and easy by adding a few drops of vanilla extract to your teapot or a drop in your teacup. A better way is to purchase a tea with vanilla already in it. Usually, these “ready made” vanilla teas have other ingredients, too, making them even more dessert-like. Monk’s Blend is one I’ve tried. It also contains pomegranate, and has a fruity, caramelly, mild, milky smooth taste that needs little sweetener. Get back to basics with Vanilla Naturally Flavored Black Tea. Add some mint to your vanilla tea for a heavenly taste experience, like Golden Moon’s Vanilla Mint that uses both green and black teas. Don’t forget the coconut, like you find in Harney & Sons Green Tea with Coconut.

Fruit-flavored teas

Fruits have been a part of dessert for about as long as man has eaten fruit. (“Here, have a bite of this apple!”) So, fruit-flavored teas are a natural substitute for more calorie-laden fruity desserts such as pies, tarts, and ice creams. Black tea flavored with peach and apricot is one that comes to mind. Cranberry Orange Flavored Black Tea is another. Both of these can stand a bit of milk and sweetener added to give them a creamier, more dessert-like quality. Of course, you can also drink them straight and enjoy every fruity drop. Green teas with fruit flavors added can be just as dessert like. Granny Green Apple and Bohemian Raspberry are a couple of prime examples. Don’t forget white teas like Revolution Tea’s White Pear and Harrisons & Crosfield White Tea with Blackcurrant.


Night of the Iguana Chai

While “chai” is the Indian word for “tea,” in Western countries that word has come to mean “spiced tea.” Most are based on black teas, but some are based on green teas. The variety of spices that are used varies widely, depending on whether you want the tea to be more on the sweet side or more on the spicy side. Cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, and cloves push your chai toward that sweet side. Add milk and maybe some sugar and you have dessert in a teacup.

Bubble tea (pearl milk tea)

Also called boba tea, milk tea, pearl shake, tapioca iced tea, and zhen zhu nai cha (Chinese). Originating in the late 1980s in Taiwan as a children’s drink, bubble tea is now a phenomenon in many other parts of the world, especially where there is a large Chinese population.

So, what’s in it? Start with a darker Oolong or a green Jasmine tea served in a tall glass. Add enough milk and sugar so that they dominate the taste. Don’t forget a flavoring of your choice. There are lots of options, such as fruits, coffee, almond, and — of course! — chocolate.

The most important ingredient, and the one that sets this apart from other dessert teas, is the marble-sized tapioca balls (made of starch from the roots of manioc, also called yucca, and loaded with carbs). They are chewy and usually black. They lurk in the bottom of the glass, waiting for you to slurp up all the tea and get to them. Sort of like those cookie crumbs that break off when you dunk and then wait patiently for you at the bottom of the teacup or mug.

Milk Oolong

Actually, here I must distinguish between Oolongs that are good with milk versus a special type of Oolong that has a milky aroma and flavor. An example of the former is The Republic of Tea’s All Day Breakfast Black Tea, made from Keemun Oolong (oxidized toward the black end of the Oolong scale). The latter kind is available from a variety of vendors online. It’s an Oolong made from tea leaves harvested at the right moment (after a sudden shift in temperature, an uncommon occurrence) to produce that milkiness. There are several versions of milk Oolongs, and the tastes are described as creamy, caremelly, coconut milky, and milk toffee candies.

There is also Golden Moon’s Coconut Pouchong, made with a different type of milk — the kind from a coconut (great for those of you who are lactose intolerant). It’s a sweet flavor you’ll love in place of heavy desserts.

That should give you some good places to start. Pick a tea and imbibe it in place of that calorie-laden pie or cake. Not necessarily every day, but certainly once or twice a week. Your waistline will thank you. Mine does!

Don’t forget to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

Bubble tea comes from Taiwan and made its way to the United States in the 1980s. It contains tapioca balls (the fun part) called boba, which I think of as the bubbles.  Boba literally means big pearls.  Actually the real bubbles in bubble tea is the foam that appears when the ingredients are shaken together during mixing.

Tapioca pearls are made from the starch of the cassava root.  They are sweet and chewy and you eat them with the help of a special extra-large straw with an angled cut at one end. Use caution until you get the hang of drawing these large tapioca balls up the straw. If you enjoy tapioca pudding, then you are well on the way to becoming a fan of this drink.

There are many varieties of bubble tea, including delicious fruit flavors and milk teas. I prefer mine with a predominantly tea and milk flavor.  One of the popular bubble tea chains is Lollicup.  I enjoyed my first glass of bubble tea at the Lollicup outlet that is part of the Pho Mimi restaurant in Duluth, GA.  This is a Vietnamese restaurant with the most tasty noodle bowls or pho, as it is called.

Talk about playing with your food (or drink).  What fun to order a cup of fruit flavored tea that is colored pastel green, pink or yellow.  It certainly looks unusual with the large pearls sitting at the bottom of the cup.  Maybe you’d like to host a bubble tea party and include some friends in the fun.

In her recent book, Tea With A Twist, Lisa Boalt Richardson has included a chapter on how to have a Bubble Tea Party.  It has some wonderful recipes for foods to serve along with the tea such as crystallized ginger and green tea scones, Asian-O chicken pasta salad and more.

Since it can sometimes be difficult to find a local restaurant that serves this beverage, you can easily find an online supplier like Bubble Tea Supply or others.  You will also have no difficulty finding some great recipes to try at home.

Don’t forget to check out the parTEA Lady’s blog, Tea and Talk!

[Editor’s note: Our blog is chock full of great articles on this topic. Use our search feature to find them!]

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

by William I. Lengeman III

For those unfamiliar with an offbeat beverage called bubble tea, also known as boba, their first experience can be surprising, to say the least. Though it’s actually more like a tea-based drink than actual tea, bubble tea takes its name from the small pearls of tapioca that reside in the bottom of the cup and make the drink so unique.

Pearl Milk Bubble TeaThe exact origins of bubble tea are a matter of some disagreement, but it’s likely that it originated in Asia in the early 1980s. By 2006, the owners of Taiwan’s Hanlin Tea Room and Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House duked it out in a courtroom there. Each of these bubble tea vendors contended that they had originated the drink. Regardless of the truth of its origins, there’s no question that bubble tea soon became very popular, first in Asia and later in the West, including Canada and the United States.

Bubble tea is made with some combination of tea, fruit and other flavorings, sweeteners, ice, tapioca pearls (boba) and sometimes milk or non-dairy creamer. The beverage is served in a cup and includes an extra large straw through which the tapioca pearls can be sucked up. Caution is highly recommended.

There are numerous variations on the basic bubble tea motif. Even the boba, which used to be limited to a standard black or brown ball of tapioca, have given way to alternatives. Among these, green tapioca balls, egg pudding, aloe pieces and various types of jelly, often shaped into cubes or strips.

The increased popularity of bubble tea has resulted in numerous kiosks and cafes that feature it. Some of the better known bubble tea merchants include Lollicup Coffee & Tea, with outlets in more than 10 states; Quickly, whose U.S. outlets are found in northern California and Nevada; and Tapioca Express, with locations in three states and Canada.

If bubble tea hasn’t come to your area yet, there’s no need to despair. This video will brief you on the art of making cold bubble tea. For additional insight on how to make bubble tea, click on the link. As for the fine art of cooking those tapioca pearls, check out this article.

Check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!


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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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