In 2013, two Fung brothers namely David Fung and Andrew Fung released a song based on their bubble tea memories. They named the song “bobalife”. And they beautifully threaded some striking lines in the lyrics that can take back a man to his amusing past with the bubble tea aka boba tea. Everyone who enjoyed bubble tea during their high school or college life found a deep connection with this song and they became emotional and nostalgic. Some lines have hit hard the emotion of these young fellas, such as
“We’re livin’ that boba life,”
“The new drink of all the young Asians
Make it tasty, make it tasty
You can call us the boba generation”
But what is bubble tea? Is it really a tea? Bubble tea is mainly a tea-style beverage widely popular in East Asia and the immigrant community in America, primarily. The song bobalife is dedicated to the sweet memories of drinking bubble tea in their teens. That’s why the song primarily made an enormous appeal to the community who somehow have roots in East Asia.
If you ever get a chance to experience a Taiwanese market at midnight, you’ll be amazed to see how lively and animated they are at that moment. Under the sodium neon light, people are strolling in the streets, buying street foods, and enjoying themselves, that’s what it looks like in a Taiwanese market. How energetic they are! But where does this energy come from! Is it the special beverage boba tea? Maybe or maybe not. But it’s for sure you’ll find it crowded in boba tea or bubble tea stalls and outlets.
After a hectic shopping experience, people indulge themselves in sweet moments by taking sips of boba tea. In many countries, people try to avoid depression or tiredness by smoking or by taking alcohol. But Taiwanese people found boba tea to be a more energizing and invigorating refreshment drink. Whenever and wherever you go into the cities of Taiwan, boba tea stalls are always open. As there’s a skyrocketing demand, there are more boba tea stalls here and there at the corners.
Boba tea is prepared differently than our regular tea. In regular tea, we put the tea leaves in the water and boil them until the water takes after the color of the tea. When the liquor precipitates, the tea is finally prepared and we put down the kettle from the stove. Sometimes we add cloves, ginger, milk, or other spices to spice up the flavor. And that’s the traditional way of making tea. But the case is different for boba tea as the procedure varies on a large scale.
Boba Tea needs milk and tea leaves primarily. Tea leaves mixed with the milk are boiled for some time. When the tea is prepared, a sago-like food named ‘tapioca’ is added to the preparation. But before boiling milk and tea, the pearl-like tapioca is boiled and cooled down. Then they’re dipped in the sugar syrup for half an hour. Normally, there’s sugar added to the milk. However, some ice cubes are used in milk tea to refresh you to the utmost possibility. And it’s the regular and ordinary way of preparing bubble tea. If you want flavorful boba tea, you can add fruits to stir up the taste to the next level.
Compared to other popular beverages which have a long line of history, boba tea is contemporary with a wide fan base. And its invention is also interesting. There are a couple of stories about the invention of bubble tea. But the most circulated story is about an initially failed entrepreneur Tu Tsong. In the late 80s, Tu Tsong invested in the booming restaurant business to gain wealth and success. But he lost his capital which is worth 40,000 Taiwanese dollars. But he never broke down. Rather he started to do something unique and extraordinary that might get huge traction from the community.
School children and shop-going people get easily tired after some time. They need a refreshing drink that is common to their taste and at the same time, extraordinary. And Tu Tsong found the formula to attract people to his stall. He added tapioca to the milk tea with some ice cubes. Tapioca looks like a woman’s breast and hence the name boba which means breast in Chinese slang. The cold drinks are so delicious that they took no time to earn popularity among the school and college children as well as the average Taiwanese person.
At first, it was hard to drink tapioca and ice cubes due to their large sizes. The straws couldn’t handle them due to their large sizes. So people ate tapioca and ice with plastic spoons. That sounds weird! Doesn’t it? So the owner of the boba tea shop contacted straw companies to manufacture wider straws so that the tapioca can easily get into the mouth. In 1986, a restaurant named ‘Hanlin’ started its journey and introduced the unique boba tea to the Taiwanese. Their popularity soon spread across the country for the uniquely delicious taste of bubble tea. In the early days, lots of boba tea shops started selling these unique teas. Due to the skyrocketing demand, later aristocratic restaurants and even street shops started to sell boba tea. In the 90s when Taiwan started to flourish in the tech industry, many Taiwanese migrated to different countries. And they take the boba tea recipes with them. Those immigrant Taiwanese first introduced this new kind of milk tea to the first world country.
Handlin, the first bubble tea shop in the world, now has 80 branches across the country. They even run some branches in America, Canada, and China. But due to various reasons, bubble tea gets more attention than ever in recent years. Nowadays, bubble tea is the most growing food niche to start a business. A recent survey suggests that the popularity of bubble tea has increased 1800 times only in 2018. It’s estimated that the recent bubble tea industry is worth 3 billion dollars. Thousands of people across the globe are now directly or indirectly involved in this industry. Boba tea has now taken place on the menus of world-renowned restaurants due to increasing demands.
In 2012, German McDonald’s added boba tea to their menu due to skyrocketing demand there. In 2020, when people were to stay quarantined in Singapore, lots of people went to their nearest bubble tea shops to buy their favorite boba tea for the last time. Many people got emotional and nostalgic.
Bubble tea or boba tea isn’t now a beverage only, rather it’s an identity now. Just like Belgium is famous for chocolate, Italy for pizzas, and France for wine, Taiwan found their pride in bubble tea. They have been able to create a distinctive identity of Taiwan to the rest of the world through this bubble tea. In this world of globalization, food is also becoming a global sensation just like technology and culture. Bubble tea is undoubtedly one of the most refreshing drinks you’ll find in the healthy options. The striking taste and flavor of this unique tea are going to gather more applause in the upcoming days!