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Bubble tea, or boba tea, is a drink originating in Taiwan in the 1980s, characterized by the addition of tapioca or yam starch pearls, or boba. Bubble tea is now available around the world, though it remains most popular in areas with significant Asian populations. The original bubble tea contained hot black tea, condensed milk, honey, and cooked tapioca pearls, but today, there are nearly limitless possibilities.
Two Taiwanese tea houses claim to have invented bubble tea: Chun Shui Tang in Taichung City and Hanlin Teahouse in Tainan City. Hanlin Teahouse originally used white tapioca pearls instead of the dark brown variety common today. In any case, bubble tea was wildly popular throughout East and Southeast Asia by the late 1990s, and it soon after spread to the United States, Europe, and Australia.
The tapioca pearls in bubble tea must be boiled for 25 minutes and cooled for another 25, after which they last for about seven hours. Ideally, they are round, soft and translucent on the outside, and a bit chewy in the center. They do not have much flavor on their own, but are usually soaked in a sweet solution. The tapioca pearls in boba are usually at least six millimeters in diameter.
The typical bubble tea house today offers a huge menu of drinks. Bubble tea may be hot or cold, green or black, with condensed milk or flavored powder or syrup. Other boba drinks may not use tea at all, but rather coffee or fruit juice. One recent variant, snow bubble tea, combines shaved ice with boba. The tapioca pearls in bubble tea may be replaced with a variety of ingredients, such as smaller mini-boba, fruit-flavored rainbow boba, green boba flavored with green tea, or sweet cubes of flavored jelly.
Bubble tea, particularly the cold variety, is served with a large, brightly-colored straw to allow the drinker to reach the tapioca pearls. The cup may be covered with a plastic dome lid or sealed with cellophane that the drinker must pierce with the straw. Hot bubble tea is sometimes sipped out of a mug, while the tapioca pearls are accessed with a spoon.
Bubble tea is a pleasure for the eye, the tongue, and the palate, and bubble tea houses are often a pleasant place to take a break from your schedule and relax with friends. With the variety of options on the bubble tea menu today, virtually anybody can find something that appeals to them. While the idea of sweet, chewy spheres in one's drink may seem strange to the uninitiated, most newcomers to boba are pleasantly surprised.