The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

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The History of Bubble Tea

The+History+of+Bubble+Tea

Bubble tea, also known as boba, is a sweet, tea- or milk-based drink usually containing tapioca pearls, popping boba, or jelly. It comes in many different flavors and types: you can choose between a black or green tea base, milk tea or fruit tea, smoothie or tea with fruit chunks in it, matcha, brown sugar milk tea, taro milk tea, thai milk tea — the possibilities are endless. Another great feature of bubble tea is how customizable it is: most tea shops let their customers construct their own drink. Boba enjoyers can choose the ice level, amount of sugar, tea base, dairy option, flavor, and toppings for their drink from a huge variety of options.

This drink is a popular (read: addictive) treat for many Whitney Young students, especially with the numerous bubble tea shops available nearby on Taylor Street, but most people don’t know the history behind it. 

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. It spread through Asia and eventually started gaining popularity in the United States. In recent years, boba’s surges in popularity can likely be attributed to the high demands of our generation. Patrick Main, senior beverage innovator at Peet’s Coffee, tells Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, “Gen Z has brought boba to the forefront of beverage innovation and now it’s just a part of their lives.” (I can vouch – I spent about $300 on bubble tea in 2020 alone.) 

Like any culinary staple, boba has its own mythology and origin stories. One record states that in the early 1980s, Liu Han-Chieh, the owner of a Taiwanese tea shop called Chun Shui Tang, first came up with the idea to serve tea cold. Then, in 1988, product development manager Lin Hsiu Hui (who was supposedly bored at a staff meeting) decided to pour her fen yuan – sweetened tapioca pudding – into her tea. This was a huge innovation in the bubble tea industry. Another account describes how Tu Tsong He, a young entrepreneur, artist, and owner of the Hanlin Tea Room, was looking for a way to set his business apart to pay off a large debt. He recalls “visiting the Yamuliao wet market in Tainan when I saw fenyuan [tapioca balls], a traditional snack I loved from my childhood,” and decided to add it into his green tea. After a bit of experimentation, this drink became a high-selling item. Tu says that due to the size of the tapioca pearls, which did not fit through the typical straws available at the time, they “had to work with a plastic factory to customize straws just for our tea.”

Although bubble tea’s origins will likely remain disrupted, its future looks bright. Every day, more and more people try this refreshing beverage, and with drinks starting at $5 or $6 and shops all around Chicago, you can see what all the rage is for yourself.

 

Bubble tea shops nearby:

  • Gathers Tea Bar: 1214 W Taylor St
  • Living Water Tea House: 1453 W Taylor St
  • Tai Chi Bubble Tea: 1158 W Taylor St
  • Kurimu: 1159 W Taylor St
  • Vivi Bubble Tea: 333 S State St
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