Taiwan Bubble Tea || What is Boba? Your Complete Guide

Taiwan Bubble Tea ||
From Origins to Ordering, this is
THE Complete Guide (2022 Update)

Bubble tea, Boba, bubble milk tea, bubble pearl tea, tapioca ball tea, boba nai cha, tapioca pearl drink, Taiwan bubble tea…

Call it what you like, it’s still the same yummy drink that’s taking over the Western world.

But do you know where it came from…?!
Find out more below as we go through a complete guide to bubble tea.

Bubble Tea in Mandarin is…

波霸奶茶; bōbà nǎichá

珍珠奶茶; zhēnzhū nǎichá (with tapioca balls in it)

The meaning is literally ‘boba’ or ‘pearl’ milk tea.

Bubble tea was originally invented in Taiwan in the 1980s. It has exploded in popularity in the West since the beginning of the century, and particularly so in the last few years.

It has developed many names over the years, largely depending on where you buy it.

The most common names are Bubble tea and Boba. The name ‘Boba’ originates from Hong Kong, where it literally means ‘Big Pearls’.

So, what exactly is it…?

Taiwan Bubble Tea || A History

Taiwan Bubble Tea || What is it?

Taiwan Bubble Tea || How to order

Taiwan Bubble Tea || Is it healthy?

Taiwan Bubble Tea || Where to find it

Taiwan Bubble Tea || FAQs

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A Taiwan Bubble Tea History

Although tea has been a staple for a long time on the island, the Dutch were the ones to introduce milk and sugar into the Taiwanese diet during the colonisation period of 1624–1662.

It wasn’t long before tea, milk, and sugar were all combined; First drunk hot, and then the introduction of cold tea came into the Taiwanese culture later on.

There are two main competing stories of the origin of Taiwan bubble tea. It’s up to you which one you want to believe… If you’re in Taiwan and have time, why not try the bubble tea from both of these places claiming to be the origin of Taiwan bubble tea and see which one is best!

ORIGIN OF BUBBLE TEA: THEORY 1

Hanlin, Tainan (翰林茶館)

The first story of the origin of bubble tea goes as follows…

In 1986, in southern Taiwan in Tainan (台南) Hanlin teahouse owner Tu Tsong-he saw white tapioca balls (which have the appearance of pearls) at the local market, and decided to try them out in some tea.

The teahouse then mixed these white balls with black sugar or syrup to create the black tapioca balls we have today!

What inspired this bizarre and genius combination is unclear. But it was a crucial point in Taiwanese culinary history and would change the drinking habits of many all over the world for years to come.

ORIGIN OF BUBBLE TEA: THEORY 2

Chun Shui Tang, Taichung (春水堂人文茶館)

The second potential origin of bubble tea in Taiwan lies in Taiwan’s central district, Taichung (台中).

The story goes that the product manager of the teahouse first tried out tapioca balls in tea in a meeting with colleagues, encouraging everyone else to try it out. Everyone at the meeting enjoyed it so much that it lead to its inclusion on the menu – and quickly became the chain shop’s best-selling item.

Again, the inspiration behind combining sticky sugary balls and tea is unclear…

But we’re not complaining!

There are many versions of the origin of Taiwan bubble tea, however, so you can decide which one you believe!

Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung.
The true origin of Taiwan bubble tea?!

What is Bubble Tea/Boba?

Taiwan bubble tea/boba fall under 3 different categories.

  1. Tea (with milk)
  2. Tea (without milk)
  3. Fruit drink
taiwan bubble tea

All, however, can be condensed into one general category; a sweet drink with chewy things in it.

All of these varieties come with a vast choice of different teas to try and combinations you can create. In fact, there is so many choices that it can sometimes make it a bit stressful heading to your local bubble tea place and grabbing a boba drink – especially if you don’t speak Mandarin.

Ordering bubble tea in China or Taiwan can be intimidating.
Don’t worry – we’ve got all your bubble tea needs covered below!

How to Order a Taiwan Bubble Tea

Menus in Chinese can be extremely intimidating at first glance. But once you know a few basics, you can decode them with relative comfort.

(Click that link above for a complete guide on decoding Chinese menus.)

Follow our simple instructions below on how to order your Taiwan bubble tea!

taiwan bubble tea

1. Choose your type

(as above)

  1. Tea (with milk)
  2. Tea (without milk)
  3. Fruit drink

2. Choose your bubble tea flavour

Bubble tea flavours:

Depending on which type of drink you went for, you’ll have a different choice of bubble tea flavours.

Teas include; Green tea, matcha, oolong tea, black tea, white tea various fruit teas…

This is honestly the hardest part when choosing your bubble tea because honestly, there are just so many different flavours and combinations you can have.

Some places may give you the option of different milks; Condensed milk, powdered milk, fresh milk, creamers…

You will have about 2 pages of a menu to choose from, depending on where you are. If you’re overwhelmed with choice, why not try the oldest known bubble tea flavour.

This consists of a mixture of Taiwanese black tea, milk, black tapioca pearls, and syrup or honey.

It’s called 黑糖珍珠奶茶 and translated as black sugar bubble tea.
It’s the most standard and most popular for a reason – delicious.

If you’re vegan, lactose intolerant, or just don’t like to drink milk, you may want to look out for bubble tea stores that sell soy milk or oat milk. Oat milk is becoming more and more popular in Taiwan, especially in fancier places. There could be the opportunity for you to swap to oat milk, or there could be some that automatically come with soy or oat milk.

3. Choose your bubbles!

Tapioca balls are the traditional balls you will find in Taiwan bubble tea.

The bubbles are what make bubble tea, bubble tea! They’re the chewy bits inside of your drink, and what makes it so yummy and fun!

Aside from tapioca balls, there is a range of different types of things you can put in your drink.

These are of all different shapes and flavours, so you can customize your drink!

Popping boba balls are also very popular. These are balls that contain liquid on the inside when you bite into them.

Aside from the traditional ‘balls’, you will also find a range of jellies and also beans.

Jelly comes in many different shapes – sometimes in cubes, stars, or rectangular strips. Flavours include Lychee, mango, coffee, coconut, and green tea.

The ‘bean’ choice usually involves soybean, azuki bean or mung bean paste.

4. Choose your topping

You don’t have to add toppings, but there are lots to choose from if you want to!

It will range from shop to shop, however popular toppings include many different fruits such as mango, strawberry, passionfruit, orange, coffee, blueberry etc… (the list is sometimes almost literally endless!).

5. Sugar?

After you’ve battled through the menu choosing your drink, bubbles, and toppings, you still have two important choices to make. The shop assistant will ask you how much sugar you want.

From super sweet (100%) to not sweet at all, choose exactly how you’d like your bubble tea to taste!

This is usually shown on a menu with percentages so you can point and say which one you want by looking at the percentage if the menu is in Chinese and you’re having trouble reading!

You can opt for zero sugar if you like, too!

6. Ice?

You’re almost there! Just one step away from having a tasty Taiwan bubble tea in your hands! But… there’s one last thing.

Out on a hot day and need something to cool you down? Or don’t fancy getting brain freeze?

Choose the amount of ice that suits you!

If you want extra ice, in some places you also have the option to have crushed ice blended, turning it almost into a smoothie.

As with the sugar, this is usually offered on the menu in pretty simple terms so you can point if needed!

7. Wait…

Because of the growing popularity of bubble tea in Taiwan, despite the abundance of places that offer it, you probably will have to wait a while.

Many of the teas are prepared freshly, so you’ll most likely get a receipt with a number on it and have to wait a couple of minutes before your number is called.

It’s worth it!

taiwan bubble tea

Is Bubble Tea Healthy?

The image of tea conjures up images of health and well-being.

Especially with popular Asian teas such as green tea and different kinds of flower tea.

Perhaps this is why we like to believe that this unique, refreshing, and highly addictive drink is good for you…

Well, it has the potential to be healthy. Indeed, it is made from tea after all.

Plus, you can customize your drink to make it your own. Decide how much ice and sugar you want in it, which kind of balls…

However, all of the things that make this drink the tasty treat that it is, are, unfortunately, those that pile on the calories and sugar in it.

Most of the standard drinks are loaded with sugar and syrup. And those tapioca balls everyone knows and loves? Filled with sugar and starch.

But, don’t fret!

There are plenty of things in life that make us pile on the calories, and Taiwan bubble tea definitely isn’t the main culprit. Just maybe try and cut it down to once a week, instead of once a day!

Alternatively, just opt for zero sugar – and you can consume as much bubble tea as you want, (almost) guilt-free..!

Bubble Tea Near Me

Where to find bubble tea? Well, depending on where you are… Just about anywhere!

Give it a Google… “Bubble Tea Near Me”

In the West, previously a trip to your local China town was necessary to try this refreshing delight – but no longer is this the case. Bubble tea stores are popping up everywhere!

Bubble Tea in Taiwan

If you’re already in Taiwan or mainland China, finding a place to enjoy bubble tea won’t be a problem!

There are many chainstores located all around town in nearly all big cities.

Try a few different stores and find your favourite!

If you haven’t tried bubble tea yet, it’s a must. Have a break from your Mandarin studies, grab a couple of friends and go to your nearest bubble tea cafe. It comes with a warning though.

One of the most famous branches, and our personal favourite, is TIGER SUGAR. There are loads of them around Asia and they are even available in New York, check them out.

Bubble tea and it’s delicious tapioca balls can be highly addictive – please enjoy responsibly..!

In Taiwan and want to find out some things to do alongside finding the best Bubble tea? Check out Tobias and Mikkel’s top 10…


Taiwan Bubble Tea || FAQs

How do you say Bubble Tea in Chinese?

波霸奶茶; bōbà nǎichá

Where did Bubble Tea originate?

Bubble tea was originally invented in Taiwan in the 1980s. It has exploded in popularity in the West since the beginning of the century, and particularly so in the last few years.

When did Bubble Tea first come to prominence?

In the 1980’s.

What flavours of Bubble Tea can I order?

Green tea, matcha, oolong tea, black tea, white tea various fruit teas… there are so many to choose from.

Is Bubble Tea healthy?

It depends on how you customise your drink but generally most of the standard drinks are loaded with sugar and syrup. And those tapioca balls everyone knows and loves? They are filled with sugar and starch.

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  • LTL Avatar Alexander Krasnov
    Alexander Krasnov , Student Advisor

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