Bubble Tea: A Brief History

Posted By Victor Crew on Apr 29, 2020


Bubble tea, the popular Taiwanese drink—if you haven’t at least heard of it perhaps you’ve been vacationing under a rock as it has recently taken the world over. It was created in the 1980’s and is also known as “black pearl tea” and “boba tea” and is now beloved not only in Taiwan and around the world.

While there are no dozens of variations, it is basically a combination of tea, milk and of course the bubbles. These can be anything from large tapioca pearls to balls of fruit jelly.

Bubble tea has risen in the ranks of the food kingdom. It is a new official emoji in 2020. And recently has become a pizza topping and can even be found inside cheesecakes. But perhaps most telling is the fact that it is has been considered a star item of Taiwan state banquets for three years running.

But where did it come from? The story dates back to the 1940s.

In 1949 Chang Fan Shu, a mixologist and bartender who worked in Taiwan under the Japanese in WWII opened a tea shop. This was shou yao shop, the tea all made with cocktail shakers.

This resulted in a cold, clean tasting tea with a foamy top. They called foam tea in Taiwan. And not only was the foamy element new, but the idea of eating and drinking for pleasure was not yet quite part of the culture yet. And cold beverages were a rare treat.

It wasn’t until later on in the 1980’s in Taiwan during their economic boom when tea houses and tea and food restaurants became more popular that modern Bubble Tea was created.

Taiwanese artist and entrepreneur Tu Tsong He decided to open a tea house and ride the trend. While walking in a wet market one day he saw tapioca pearls, a favorite childhood treat of his. He decided to try some in his green tea and took off experimenting.

As these things do, it took off until we have the international phenomenon we have today.