“So chewy! I wanna have one every day!” Tasty bubble milk tea, also known as pearl milk tea, is a product of incidental innovation. It has not only raised a sweet wave around Taiwan but also gone viral worldwide. Thousands of Japanese and Korean girls upload photos of bubble milk tea on Instagram, receiving large numbers of “likes.” The tapioca balls, or pearls, look crystal clean, tasting chewy and sweet; when pearls are paired with milk, the variation they present—the color gradient and the pattern of brown sugar—can be both delicious and dazzling. This special issue will reveal our pocket list and stories about this addictive beverage.
( Photo Credit: 春水堂、翰林茶館 )
The Birth of Bubble Milk Tea: Pearls and Bobas, The Delicious Diversity of Tapioca Balls
The origin of bubble milk tea—this delicious miracle—may be traced to two major tea shops: Chun Shui Tang in Taichung and Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan. In the mid-1980s, when boba shops flourished on every street corner in Taiwan, these two shops coincidentally chose to add tapioca balls to milk tea, inventing the first Pearl Milk Tea.” Chun Shui Tang’s Pearl Milk Tea contained tapioca balls made with brown sugar and was named after the image borrowed from the lines in an ancient Chinese poem—“pearls in various sizes gliding down to a jade plate.” Meanwhile, Hanlin Tea Room at first used white tapioca balls, and the pearl-like appearance contributed to the name of this drink. Later, Hanlin Tea Room used both brown and white pearls, adding a colorful face to pearl milk tea. After this first offering from two beverage pioneers, pearl milk tea has become not only a necessary part of existence for many tea shops but also one of the favorite boba in Taiwan.
Besides these classic beverages invented by Chun Shui Tang and Hanlin Tea Room, pearls have also taken on a variety of forms in different phases, from the classic small tapioca balls to the big, plump and chewy “boba.” The renowned “boba milk tea” was thus born from this wave of beverage innovation. Gradually, a consensus has been reached that the smaller ones are called “pearls,” and the larger ones “bobas.” Recently, the bobas have become more mainstream in most boba shops, while different variations of pearls continue to hit the market. For example, the white pearls with elegant names such as “crystal” and “white jade,” and colorful pearls which are popular among young girls, have led to an interesting phenomenon where in different boba shops each offers their own version of bubble milk tea.
( Photo Credit: 鹿角巷、珍煮丹、apple_met.n、kellyhe、dylan._.vape、ryou2013 )
The Brand-New Wave Captivating Japanese and Korean Girls: Milk, Color Gradients, and Brown Sugar Patterns
The rising awareness of a healthy diet and the emergence of innovative flavors has changed the bubble milk tea world once again. The texture of pearls is no longer the focus; instead, ingredient combinations and its presentation are the concern. The change initially happened to the recipe of milk tea. Milk tea can be made from other kinds of tea than black, such as green tea, light oolong tea, and Tieguanyin. Principal representatives are the Tie Guan Yin Tea Latte of TP TEA whose milk tea beverages are widely enjoyed, and Honey Puer Pearl Milk Tea in the secret list for regular customers in Ching Shin Fu Chuan Tea Station. Besides, the other main ingredient—milk—has also undergone a revolution: from tea whiteners to milk. Gong Cha used milk to devise a drink with thick, salty-sweet milk foam on top of tea. Other boba shops use the terms “fresh milk tea” or “latte” to distinguish two kinds of milk tea and offer customers the choice of tea whitener or milk. Moreover, some shops featuring milk drinks, such as Milkshop, make the flavors of bubble milk tea even more diverse and refined.
One of the current favorites on Instagram, which first began in Taiwan and then spread to Japan and Korea, is bubble milk tea with gradient colors. Then “brown sugar bubble milk” with a tiger-striped pattern began to gain the attention because the ripples of brown sugar in a transparent cup contributed to lovely and attractive aesthetics. Chen San Ding in Taipei is the early representative of this extremely sweet brown sugar bubble milk. Younger shops such as Truedan, Tigersugar and Xiao Cha Zhai, are also making waves in Taiwan. Afterwards, Tigersugar opened branches in major cities in South Korea, bringing the trend of brown sugar bubble milk to the attention of young Korean girls. This year, The Alley Teashop went viral in Japan, being a big hit among people of all ages. Some boba shops started to imitate The Alley’s deer logo, featuring the name of Taiwanese bubble milk tea; well-known chain stores such as Mos Burger and McDonald’s also began to sell bubble milk tea. Even popular dishes such as pancakes, donburi, and ramen, were combined creatively with pearls, the creation of an entirely new cuisine which demonstrates just how strong this craze of bubble milk tea in Japan is.
( Photo Credit: 木衛二、beefisheat、Dear b&b )
Our Favorite Bubble Milk Tea Recommendations
In Taiwan, bubble milk tea has become established as an irreplaceable classic. At first, most well-known tea shops were in Taichung and Tainan. Afterwards, some other outstanding choices from different areas in Taiwan popped up. For example, Spade Tea is a shop where customers can choose the texture of their milk (creamy or smooth) to make their favorite tasty bubble milk tea. World Tea House at first was a boba shop near Tamkang University where people could have drinks in-store or take them to-go, and later opened branches in Taipei, Taichung and Chiayi. Extremely Generous Black Sugar Lady Grey Milk Tea with crushed ice, also the signature drink of World Tea House’s owner who likes milk tea, is uniquely surprising and is liked by all Dear b&b staff. Tredecimber in the East District of Taipei has a beautiful name, and the shop is full of the luxurious scent of tea. Cloudy Pearls, their signature drink, will be the first choice for those who enjoy sweet brown sugar bubble milk. “Tea, Floating Cloud” is also highly recommended: the combination of white osmanthus pearls with light sugar and milk tea can definitely satisfy those who favor strong tea. In Cha in Taitung not only receives positive reviews on the Internet but was also unexpectedly discovered by Dear b&b staff when visiting Taitung. They apply local Taitung Red Oolong to make their Red Oolong Pearl Latte, which is worth trying if you ever visit Taitung. A cup of tasty bubble milk tea can not only cure your tiring heart, but also provide a sweet everyday secret craving which makes trips even better!