Taiwan – Taiwanese Bubble Tea and Beyond – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Taiwan – Taiwanese Bubble Tea and Beyond – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

bubble_tea

[Photo of Taiwanese Bubble Tea, from : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bubble_Tea.png , see also, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_tea ]

If you have the chance to visit a trendy café or restaurant, you may happen to spot something on the menu called bubble tea, or boba tea, depending on the area. Exploding in popularity worldwide in the past decade, this tasty and unique beverage has an interesting history behind it and very noticeable effects on contemporary tea culture in the world. bubble tea is a recent phenomenon, originating in Taiwan in the 1980s. Originally found in Taichung (western Taiwan) this drink was a creative risk taken by a man named Lin Hsiu Hui, inspired by Japanese cold tea serving methods, and immediately became a smash hit spawning a very popular beverage that would spread in popularity throughout East and Southeast Asia.

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[Yours truly enjoying a traditional black tea bubble tea in Tainan (and jumbo mango ice)]

Originally made with Taiwanese black tea and tapioca balls, other flavors and combinations were tested out to immense success. The next immediate flavor added was green tea, but now any flavor imaginable is available in shops, restaurants, and street venders. Still, the majority of flavors make use of fruit teas or milk teas (or both) but classic black and green remain popular as well.

meganbbubble2

[Sample vacuum seal on a bubble tea-individual stores often used different prints on these covers]

Given that bubble tea originated in Taiwan, it goes without saying how ubiquitous this drink is when venturing through any Taiwanese city, but my experience is limited mostly to Taipei. I can say in all honesty I consumed a lot of bubble tea during my time in Taipei, in addition to many other local favorites.

From my experience, trying bubble tea in Taipei (or anywhere in Taiwan really) is an absolute must. Tea is cheap in Taipei, often being priced around $1USD for a fairly large cup, and it is conveniently portable. Many shops vacuum seal a plastic lid over your drink to minimize spillage, and provide a small plastic bag to carry the drink around in, while giving you use of your hands to do other things (like eat dumplings or hold an umbrella-or both). Bubble tea can also be very gourmand, with some stores offering very fancy and unique flavors (tomato lemon is a surprisingly refreshing combination).

On menus, bubble tea is often called zhenzhu naicha (pearl milk tea) and can also be prefaced with the specific flavor of tea, such as hong (red) or lǜ (green) but many other flavors exist.

While bubble tea is probably the most prolific and culturally important, similar drinks are popular in Taiwan (and East Asia). I’ve had the pleasure of trying a lot of these, so I want to briefly talk about them as well. “Foam tea” paomo hongcha (foam red tea) is very popular in Taiwan as well, and was something I first learned about in a reading passage for my Mandarin class. “Red” is often used to refer to black tea, and this drink is hot black tea with sugar and ice that would be foamy in taste and appearance. This particular tea is not served with the tapioca bubbles. Another popular style of drink would be the plethora “jelly” beverages available. I visited Starbucks in Taipei and Hong Kong and in both I saw “iced coffee with earl grey jelly” and “iced tea with lemon jelly” and many more varieties (perhaps sadly, I chose to try a dark chocolate matcha confection instead). I tried a variety of jelly teas and coffees from other shops and venders with flavors ranging from coffee jelly to plain jelly (just sugar) to even grass jelly! Not all of these beverages need to be specially ordered in tea shops though, jelly drinks can be bought in cans in vending machines (one of my favorite drinks in Japan was Minute Maid’s white grape with aloe jelly I bought from a vending machine on campus almost every day) and some convenience stores.

meganbbubble3

[Dark chocolate matcha confection. Sadly not a bubble tea]

Tea is not just limited to traditional green or black tea, and discovering the plethora of flavors and varieties available in Taipei (and anywhere in the world) is a rewarding and delicious experience.

Megan is a student at Northern Kentucky University.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

 

41 Comments

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41 responses to “Taiwan – Taiwanese Bubble Tea and Beyond – by Megan Beckerich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Paige Perreira

      Bubble tea has always fascinated me! I have started hearing about a lot of places in the U.S. that make bubble tea. I had no idea that it originated from Taiwan. I’ve always wanted to try it, but it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of good places in Minnesota. It would be cool to have that tea in its country of origin. I feel like this would make it feel and taste even more authentic! It’s too bad that going to Taiwan is expensive.

  1. Kalahan Larson

    This article was interesting to me- not really what I was expecting it to be about. To look for the message, we have to think more deeply than just tea. Yes, bubble tea has become a huge hit around the world, but like the author of this article said, it started in the 80’s in Taiwan. This article just shows how quickly things spread throughout the world and how things change to adapt to what people like and what they are looking for. Bubble tea has quickly grown into a trend and has moved its way to the States, I don’t think it will be long until Jelly’s make their way to the States as well.

  2. Grace Young

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I have heard about bubble tea but I have never had one yet. I think it would be really cool to experience authentic bubble tea in Taiwan like you did. I think it would be cool for you to compare the Americanized bubble tea with the authentic ones that you got to have in Taiwan. Often times things change a lot when they become Americanized so I would like to hear if this is the case with the bubble teas. It was interesting to hear about the different drinks that are on the Starbucks menu in Taiwan. I am somewhat of a coffee addict and I go to Starbucks often so I think that would definitely be one of my many stops in Taiwan to test out the differences.

  3. Francesca Do

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I had tried many types of bubble tea in the States, but I never tried bubble tea from any other country. I would like to one day travel to Taiwan or any part of Asia to try out bubble to taste the differences. Coming from a Vietnamese background, the flavors of green and black tea are typically popular in Asia. Usually, younger people would like the flavor green tea, like myself, while older folks would favor more of the black tea taste, like my grandparents. I go to Starbucks just for the green tea frappuccino, and it would be an amazing experience to try different green tea drinks from Starbucks in Taiwan.

  4. Matthew Breeze

    Bubble tea and tea in general sounds like it has been a large and wonderful part of your experience abroad! I particularly enjoyed all the different names for the same or a similar kind of tea. I always think it is interesting when different peoples or different regions even in the same city will call something by a slightly different name. I would bet that there has been an argument or two between street vendors over the ‘proper’ name for the tea as well. The portability of bubble tea also struck me as especially interesting as it always seems that when a person gets a coffee here in the states that it is difficult to do other things, like hold an umbrella, while drinking it. Thanks for the article!

  5. Dylan Brovick

    I am not much of a tea drinker but really enjoyed reading and learning about the bubble tea. It is interesting how many different types of teas there are and the different names they have for them. Also the jumbo mango ice looks very fascinating. Other cultures have a lot of unique and delicious foods and drinks. Starbucks having different menu items then here in the United States reminds me a lot of when my friends would study abroad and talk about how Mcdonalds had a few different menu items throughout Europe. I wonder how well some of the popular menu items in Taiwan and other countries would do selling in the United States.

  6. Sheila Iteghete

    Thank you, Megan, for sharing your wonderful experience and your fun times can be experienced in your writing. I would also like to say I do appreciate bubble tea, but I do not like the tapioca balls, which my friends make fun of me to say that I can’t claim to like them if I do not have the balls in the drink. I have had them all over the US because every time I encounter them I like to try them to see if they are made any different from the ones I had before. My favorite would be the Pina colada of the tea because I have a bias for coconut. I would hope one day to travel to its origin to also taste if there is any difference in the taste or texture, but I am hopeful that it is not different. I know some people also refer it to be Boba and not bubble tea, but I prefer the milk to having to just have ice.

  7. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Megan. I start all my mornings off with a cup of hot tea. I love trying new flavors of tea, but my go to flavor is chamomile. I would greatly enjoy traveling around to different places and trying different teas. I especially would like to try the bubble tea! Traveling is such a great way to encounter different cultures, and trying different foods and drinks definitely adds to the experience. It’s so interesting that a simple drink has had so many new spin-offs in different times and places!

  8. Der Yang

    Hello Megan! I immediately felt the urge to respond to your essay after reading the title. First off, I love boba tea drinks and plan to try every different flavor out there whether I like it or not. Right now, my progress is going very bad as I am still nervous to use my money on something I may not like. On another note, I envy you being able to live in another region not originally one you claim. I think that it is a hard decision but also a decision that allows your perspective to open and develop. Thank you for sharing!

    • Ashley Kittelson

      I have a similar apprehension about spending money on something I may not like. However, I find it is easier if I go somewhere new with a friend and order different things. That way we can share if one of us does not like what we get. This happened when I was at a bubble tea shop in Minneapolis. I really enjoyed the bubble tea I ordered with fruit jelly instead of pearls. However, neither my boyfriend nor I liked the plain green tea he ordered. I would definitely go back there for some bubble tea again.

  9. Elaina Wald

    I really enjoyed this article as a tea drinker and a trendy beverage enthusiast in general. It’s interesting that an ages-old tradition becomes something of novelty to consumers, especially in the U.S. There are a number of trendy tea shops in Minneapolis alone that serve boba teas. It’s a great way to keep the tradition fresh and roll with contemporary times. Thanks for sharing some history and firsthand experience with us.

  10. Sarah Plankers

    I myself have tried and enjoyed boba tea here in Duluth, MN which is what drew me to read your article. I really appreciate how much you tie in the culture importance and details about boba and other teas in Taiwan. I think that here in the United States we are given a multitude of options of food, drink, and many other things to consume and we don’t question where it comes from. The value of a story and significance behind something as simple as boba tea is such a wonderful phenomenon to me, and I’m happy that you took the time to share it with us. Personally, I enjoy learning about other cultures, and I hope to experience many of them as I travel to different parts of the globe.

  11. Michaela Campbell

    Reading this article came at a perfect time for me, as I was just contemplating a local cafe in Duluth that serves ‘bubble tea’, and I began to wonder its’ origins, and how it would compare to ‘bubble tea’ from which it originates. I think one of the main things I find most fascinating about what you have mentioned in this article is how recently ‘bubble tea’ was created. Before getting too deep into the article, I would have assumed that this was something developed some century or so ago. It is refreshing to see that in cultures here in the US, or in cultures thousands of miles away in Taiwan, there are always new creations to be had. Did you find that as you went and explored these various tea places, that some were chains of cafe’s or were did most have the appearance as being independently or privately owned? I think is it awesome that there were items you could buy right out of the vending machines! Thanks for the post, hope to hear more!

  12. Nouqouja Yang

    So lucky of you to be able to try such delicious drinks from where it all started. I have had bubble tea before but it probably tastes different from the tea in Taiwan. Bubble tea is one of many drinks that I enjoy but never really knew where it came from. I’ve always thought it came from Vietnam for some reason. I also thought it was interesting how you were able to try such creative flavors. I’m now really curious on how they make their bubble tea compared to the ones in the United States. Overall, the main thing that I loved about your article was you being able to immerse yourself into another culture and being open about trying new things. Thank you so much for sharing!

  13. Mariah Koenig

    A friend of mine goes to school at the University of Minnesota and always told me there was a great boba tea place she would go not far from campus. I was king of cautious about trying it, but after all of her bugging, I finally decided to go for it. I was actually surprised by how good it was! The tea and the pearls are so good together and it is actually fun to drink! Until now, I had no idea that boba tea originated in Taiwan. I think it would be really cool to go there and try it. I wonder if it tastes different there or if it is basically the same wherever you go in the world. Thanks for sharing your story!

  14. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing, Megan! I too enjoy different kinds of tea. Also, it is fascinating to me that there are Starbucks located around the world. We tend to stick to what we like best and what we know, and not go outside our comfort zone to try new things. When you find something you like so much, such as tea, you become interested in new flavors. It is great that you got to experience trying new flavors while traveling across the world. Different places can hold different standards for making food. This can sometimes be a bad thing and the food tastes terrible to you, or in your case, they can taste fantastic. It is times like that where you can open your mind, and taste buds, to the wonderful world around you that you have to go explore and try new things to understand differences and similarities in our growing world.

  15. Thank you for sharing! What interesting observations you made about the many different types of tea drinks in Taiwan. I am a fan of bubble (boba) tea myself, and frequent the bubble tea stations when I happen to stumble upon them while traveling around different malls or shopping areas. Why do you suppose bubble tea has become so globalized or popular in the United States in particular? In fact, bobas, or the “bubbles” aren’t simply used in tea here in the U.S. anymore, I often see them offered as ice cream or frozen yogurt toppings. Are they used to top other foods in Taiwan as well? Or are they mostly used in tea? I had never head of the foam tea or jelly tea, however. How would you describe the textures of these teas? Do they actually have a foam or jelly consistency?

  16. Yum! When I was younger I was VERY into bubble tea, now not so much. However, if I were traveling somewhere known for bubble tea I would absolutely have some. I am sure that it would be better just knowing that it is authentic came from tradition. Cheers to you!

  17. Andrew Bailey

    Megan, I find it fascinating how we as humans are so diverse in both our drink and food choices. We enjoy a variety of cuisines and drinks, and we are willing to pay for them. I have never tried bubble tea, but it sounds like a very tasty and fun drink. Something my friends have gotten into lately is La Croix, which is basically just sparkling water. I do not really understand the hype surrounding it, as it just tastes like extremely watered down sprite to me. There of course is nothing wrong with this drink, but it is so interesting that different regions and cultures enjoy different types of foods/drinks, and they just put their own spin on the basic product.

  18. Caroline Grube

    This was a very fun article to read! I love hearing about other people’s travel experiences and their opinions of the local food. I live in a very small town with one Chinese restaurant and it is the only place in my area that you can get bubble tea. I myself have never tried this drink (mostly because I am not a fan of tea), however, my sister loves it! She would get one every time we ate there (which was a lot!). I have always wondered how people come up with things like bubble tea. And why things like it get so popular so fast. There is something amazing about how fast trends spread in the world we live in today.

  19. Hanna McLevish

    I have tried bubble tea at the snooty fox tea shop here. I was unaware that it originated from Taiwan. I personally was not a fan, but I’m sure it’s better where it’s from. It’s really interesting to learn about the culture behind it and where it came from, and to learn that there is something similar to it is cool too. I’d like to try that as well. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  20. Kalley Friederichs

    Megan, thank you for sharing your experience with us! It sounds like you had an awesome time! I really enjoy drinking bubble tea so found this post especially interesting. It does not seem to be as popular up in here in Duluth, but down in the Twin Cities from where I am from there are lots of different chains and individual places to get bubble tea. I am a big tea drinker, however I do believe that, at least the American version of bubble tea is very fake -although I still do love it. I know the chain I go to in the Cities, Sencha, uses lots of syrups to get flavor and sweater the tea. I hope someday I get the opportunity to experience bubble tea from it’s original place of origin like you did!

  21. McKenna Holman

    I’ve heard of bubble tea and I know my cousin loves it, but I’ve never had it! I also never knew of its origins, so this was an interesting read! What was your favorite flavor of bubble tea? What was the texture like, more smooth or chunky? I’m not curious and want to find somewhere near here that serves it!

  22. Joel Scheuerlein

    This article is wonderful, because it reminds me of the last year of my life. I recently lived in Virginia Beach, VA right down the road from a café. Every morning my friends and I would make a trip down to this café, and with out fail, one of us would order bubble tea, or as we called it boba tea. It was a great tradition we had before work everyday, and its great to see the origin of our favorite drink. I can’t wait to return to Virginia Beach and have another glass of delicious boba tea.

  23. Skyler Long

    I have tried many different kinds of tea but not bubble tea at the snooty fox tea shop. My experience with tea has been alright I have got attached to one in particular, it’s called peach ice tea, it seems to be very popular around here. I am hoping to try the bubble tea soon and I will hopefully have positive feedback, it’s unique to know the different backgrounds of all sorts of drinks and foods, often times it’s better from the origin which it was founded. Thank you for sharing your experience it was cool and interesting to read about.

  24. Emily Bugni

    I am a tea addict. Bubble tea has always intrigued me. The first time I saw it, I thought that it was an alcoholic drink as they are always so pretty and look so delicious. I always see it offered at restaurants and wonder if I should get it, even the school had it one time. The only thing I worry about is the flavor of tapioca. I do not like tapioca pudding and if bubble tea tastes anything like tapioca pudding I would not even attempt to try it. I think it is very cool that in Taiwan they serve it in bags instead of cups to allow eating and drinking at the same time.

  25. Kendra Brunn

    Thank you for sharing this fun article! My first time trying bubble tea was this past summer in New York and I fell in love! I have searched all over Minnesota for a place with good bubble tea but none could compare to the one I had in New York. I was not aware that it originated in Taiwan, but not I want to go there just to have some tea! I love that you shared the information about the different Starbucks drinks you saw. It is so cool to think that so many countries have Starbucks’ but they all have their own twists on the drinks.

  26. Siji Gonzalez

    I am a really big fan of bubble tea. I would like to say thank you because I didn’t know much about it other than I liked it. I didn’t know it was originated in Taiwan. It was really cool to learn about a tea that I really enjoy a lot. Its always good to know where something came from and know where it originated. thank you for teaching me more about bubble tea.

  27. Ellen Hansen

    The entire Bubble tea fad is entertaining, especially given the different twists various cultures bring to the beverage. From one place to the next, the idea of ‘bubble tea’ is ever so slightly tweaked, making it almost a surprise as to what you’re getting when you choose to order the beverage. What I find especially interesting about the drink is the fact that our global world has caused it to evolve in several directions at once, catering to every community it lands in. One particular example that comes to mind is that of a tea shop near my childhood home- owned by a Chinese woman with a deep love for the drink and her husband, a quiet man from northern Iowa- and their experimentation with the beverage throughout various holiday seasons, going so far as to attempt to mix in a little eggnog near Christmas.

  28. Thomas Landgren

    Recently I have been seeing bubble tea almost everywhere. Like you said it just started to become popular and from its creation it took off. I have never tried it though and looking at the pictures you provided and the many different flavors are making me want to go out and buy one right now just to try it. I feel though that bubble tea in the U.S. will not be the same as it was in Taiwan. What was one of the best/ weirdest flavors of bubble tea that you have had? After reading a lot of stories of people traveling abroad they always say that you aren’t fully immersed into the culture until you try their most popular food and drinks. Thank you for sharing!

  29. amanda greene

    I had bubble tea as a child and I really enjoyed it! I drink just regular tea mostly but after reading this, I will be looking for a bubble tea shop soon. The taste always stuck with me because I thought the tea was so unique. I am surprised it originates from Taiwan. It fascinates me that this tea is universal and liked by so many. I will keep this in mind when I am travelling and observe the different flavors offered around the world. I wonder where the idea came from to put the jelly beans at the bottom of the tea

  30. Hattie Meyer

    When I was in Chicago in China Town I tried a drink that had some type of jelly beads at the bottom of the cup. Im sad to say that I was not a fan. I had no idea that the drink was not just a random thing but orientated from the other side of the world. I really enjoyed this article and how it went deeper into the different types and kinds of the boba beads. It also reminds me that when I travel abroad myself, I need to try as many different things as I can to embrace the culture. I feel this is one of the post important things to do when you travel. If you don’t try anything whats the difference from looking at a picture?

  31. Thank you so much! I never knew bubble tea originated in Taiwan. I love tea and though I never eat the tapioca, bubble tea is a refreshing way to enjoy it. I would love to go somewhere that is the birth place of a drink or dish and try that particular item. I’m glad you got to try a lot of the local eats and drinks during your time abroad!

  32. As an avid (black) tea drinker (with milk!) it was interesting to learn about bubble tea. I have never tried it but I have heard of the The Snooty Fox Tea Shop that serves bubble tea, so maybe I should try that out! I didn’t know that bubble tea originated in Taiwan. I can understand how it might taste different in Taiwan than here in the U.S. It is interesting though how the tea-drinking culture of Taiwan has made its way over to the U.S. and how it has become popular.

  33. Avnish Miyangar

    As a tea lover this is fairly new to me. I did not know anything about this till I read the article. I will have to find somewhere here and try it. Can it be served warm? Can you make it yourself? I really like how detailed you were about the tea and where it originated from.

  34. Sarah Grace

    I’m not really a big fan of bubble teas, but the way you described them, makes me want to drink one right now!
    Have you ever had a bubble tea in America? (and if you have how does it differ from those in Taipei?)
    Is there a specific way you should drink these teas or things that would be seen as a taboo to eat with the tea?
    This sounds like such an amazing experience!! very jealous! 🙂

  35. Amanda Sullivan

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I am a major fan of bubble tea and love trying all the different flavors. However, I’m sure the bubble tea I have hear in Minnesota is much different than what you have been able to enjoy. It is such a fun experience to be able to try new foods in different places. I’m glad you were able to try the local foods and drinks in Taiwan, and enjoyed it.

  36. William Brennhofer

    I have never heard of Bubble tea so it is interesting t idea to me. I am not one that drinks any tea of coffee so i have very little experience in what it takes for tea to be amazing. But from what you have said i feel like i have to go out and try some now. I also wonder if it differs from the tea over in Asia then the tea i can get here in Duluth? I might just have to start drinking more new things so that when the day comes that i trivial i can share in the different cultures and their drinks.

  37. Thanks for sharing, because I certainly love finding new tasty foods to try. It is also very interesting to see how a tasty drink from Taiwan can appear in other countries. Our world is so connected today, which makes merging of cultures even easier. Someone could see the bubble tea online and then recreate it in their own culture. Certain traditions and ideas are able to travel and influence many cultures.

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