The Origins of Boba Tea
There are two main stories of how boba tea came to be. In one narrative, bubble tea is traced back to the 1980s in Taichung, Taiwan, when Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui took the tapioca off of her Taiwanese dessert and added it to her iced tea. Her boss, tea-room owner Liu Han-Chieh had recently begun serving iced-tea after a visit to Japan where the cold drink was quite popular. Her co-workers noticed Lin Hsi Hui’s addition to the tea and it became an instantaneous hit. After recognizing its possible popularity, Han-Chieh added the drink to his shop’s menu. Soon, it became the tearoom’s most frequently ordered drink.
The other story claims that Tu Tsong-he, a teahouse owner in Tainan, Taiwan, was inspired to add white tapioca balls to his tea after seeing them in the market. He began calling it “pearl tea” as the boba looked like the precious gems floating in the black tea. He soon added honey and brown sugar to make the tea sweet and gave his customers the option of black tapioca as well.
Now, Taiwan has hundreds of bubble tea shops. The bubble industry has expanded, now including a wide variety of tea flavors and add-ons such as pudding, popping boba, and jelly. The boba industry is worth 2.4 billion and is expected to grow by another 2 billion in the next 7 years.
Of course, the popularity of bubble tea has caused other industries to make changes. For example, the typical straws used in every-day life are too thin to allow the boba to pass. So the rise of bubble tea created a demand for wider straws. The stainless steel and eco-friendly markets took over, producing wide reusable metal straws for avid boba drinkers. Who knows what big changes boba will cause next?