Where was bubble tea invented?

Written by a few bubble tea addicts

Where was bubble tea invented?

TLDR: In Taiwan! Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1940s and expanded to North America in the 1990s.

It might be the chewy tapioca or it’s the satisfying pop of poking the straw through the plastic top. Whatever the reason may be, people love bubble tea.

People everywhere are drinking bubble tea. Some first-timers are questioning the unconditional love these die-hard fans hold for it. But a lot of people want to know where the heck it came from.

Thanks to Taiwan, bubble tea (also known as ‘boba’) has become a worldwide sensation. In the late 1980s, Taiwan was transitioning into a modern society, one with new beginnings and yes, bubble tea.

It’s hard to go anywhere now that doesn’t have a boba location nearby. Now, you might be wondering, “when did this happen?”. It’s a fair question. One minute people are drinking regular tea, and now there are little black tapioca balls bouncing around in their beverages!

Tapioaca in Boba Tea

Where did boba come from?

Legend has it that bubble tea has been around since the 1940s. This is when Chang Fan Shu opened a tea shop in post-WWII Taiwan. The roots of boba come from hand-shaken tea made with cocktail shakers called shou yao tea. Shou yao is a crucial element of the bubble tea we know and love today. The result of shou yao tea is a smooth and silky iced tea with small air bubbles floating on top.

Sound familiar?

This was a revolutionary invention in Taiwan at the time. In the 1940s, the idea of consuming food and beverages for fun wasn’t a popular occurrence quite yet. What a world that would be.

Not to worry though - in the following years, Taiwan’s passion for tasty, sweet, and chewy tea grew.

Taro Bubble Tea

So, who created bubble tea?

In the late 1980s, Taiwan experienced economic growth. During this period, people started to consumed food (and bubble tea) for leisure.

This gave Tu Tsong, a Taiwanese artist and entrepreneur, the idea to kickstart a new business journey: bubble tea.

As a child, Tu Tsong’s favourite snack was fen yuan (the chewy tapioca balls we see floating around in bubble tea). One day, Tu Tsong had a remarkable idea, “why don’t I add the fen yuan into my green tea?”. He then coined it “zhen shu lu cha”, which means pearl green tea. He called it this because the white fen yuan reminded him of his mother’s pearl necklace.

Tu Tsong decided to experiment by adding larger, black, tapioca pearls to milk tea, instead of green tea. This became the popular “Classic Milk Tea” everyone knows and loves.

Classic Milk Tea also became the standard appearance of bubble tea everywhere. If you think of boba, chances are you’ll think of this classic icon.

In 1986, Tu Tsong’s first bubble tea shop, Hanlin, opened its doors.  This means Tu Tsong is the obvious mastermind behind bubble tea!

Right?

Wrong. This is where things got a bit messy. 

It seems that Tu Tsong is not the only person claiming to have invented bubble tea. Lin Hsiu Hui, the product manager at a boba chain originating in Taiwan, says she created bubble tea first in 1988.

She said she was at a staff meeting where she thought it would be fun to pour tapioca balls into her tea (as anyone would). Although she did this for fun, everyone at the meeting loved the drink and it became a hit at her tea shop.

As time went on, the fight for bubble tea ownership became intense. This fight wasn’t settled until 2019, with an all around pleasant ending for everyone!

…except for Tu Tsong and Lin Hsiu Hui.

The court decided that bubble tea was only a drink, and that the ownership didn’t matter because anyone could make it. At the end of the day it comes down to the people to decide whose bubble tea is best.

Bubble Tea Kits

Where is bubble tea now?

What started in Taiwan as a fun experiment with a childhood snack, or at a staff meeting (depending on who you ask), is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

Boba shops sell the drink in major cities across the world, with new locations popping up every day. The drink has also inspired new products like bubble tea candles, ice cream, mochi and more! You can even make your own bubble tea at home with DIY Bubble Tea Kits!

Bubble tea has become a Taiwanese icon and brings joy to millions of people around the world every day 😍


Article Sources:
CNN - The rise of bubble tea
Tea Leaves - Bubble Tea Origin & Culture