The now-famous drink's humble beginnings
Boba tea originated from Taiwan, sometime during the late 1980s, but the exact time and place are difficult to determine. There are two main conflicting origin stories, with one claiming the drink started in 1986 when a teahouse owner named Tu Tsong-he was inspired by white tapioca balls he saw in the market of Ah-bó-liâu to create the drink. Another story claims the invention of bubble tea came from Liu Han-Chieh in the Chun Shui Tang tea room in Taichung, where she began serving Chinese tea cold with tapioca balls in 1988.
Either way, milk tea with added sugar was already a well-known and popular drink in Taiwan, ever since the colonization by the Dutch starting in 1624. Shaved ice and tapioca balls were also popular as separate desserts, but the three had yet to be combined. Whatever story is truthful, at some point, someone decided to do just that and combine the three ingredients into the now much-loved drink by many.
The oldest form of the drink included hot Taiwanese black tea, tapioca pearls, condensed milk, and syrup or honey, but now the drink is mostly served cold. Originally, these tapioca pearls were made from the starchy roots of a tropical shrub called the cassava, but larger pearls soon replaced these into the ones we are familiar with today. As the drink gained popularity in Taiwan, so did the different flavors it came in. Stall owners would put their own unique spin on the drink, by introducing fruit boba made with fruit powders or syrups, as real fruit was too expensive or would go bad quickly. The topping choices also expanded at this time, to include ingredients like grass/almond jelly, egg pudding, and red beans.
Bubble Tea's Popularity In The U.S.
Starting in the 1990s, the drink started to become popular in the US as well. This came following the large-scale immigration of Twaianese people into the country and their drink preferences with them. Specialty bubble tea cafes started to open, with the first being Fantasia Coffee & Tea in Cupertino, California, which helped pave the way for our own brand of bubble tea here at The Whale Tea!