How The Bubbles In Boba Tea Are Really Made

Bubble tea (or boba tea) is an institution in Taiwan, where one shop claims to have invented what is now what is probably the island's most popular beverage export. While many tea shops claim to have invented bubble tea, one shop on the island is popularly credited with the discovery that tea could be served with milk; and a delicious bubble that could add what locals call a "QQ" or chewy texture to a revered beverage (via Food and Wine). 

Angela Liu, whose tea shop Chun Shui Tang is credited as the inventor of the bubble tea, tells Taiwan Scene that her father got the idea by watching Japanese baristas make iced coffee by adding hot coffee into a cocktail shaker and then adding ice and sugar to that. "When he came back to Taiwan, he'd experienced how to turn hot tea into iced tea using a shaker, which would quickly turn it into iced tea. It was the first iced black tea to be invented. He'd use hot black tea and add sugar and ice and shake them together. There'd be a layer of foam on the top. So, originally, bubble tea referred to iced black tea. There would be a layer of thick 'bubbles' on the top." Before this, who knew tea could be fun?

Boba is made with tapioca flour

After they discovered that iced black tea could be made in a shaker, Liu says they decided to – literally – shake things up a bit more. "One of our employees... put tapioca balls into milk tea. Back then, we didn't call it bubble tea. Bubble tea is the new name. We called it tapioca tea." 

Bubbles, or boba, begin their journey into your drink as solid, dry tapioca balls. Tapioca is made from crushed cassava root, which hail from South America and the Caribbean, per Bob's Red Mill. Food and Wine says the dry balls need to undergo 30 minutes of boiling, followed by 30 minutes of cooling. If they're too squishy, they will become one big clump at the bottom of your tea. If they're too hard, they can't be chewed. 

Once they are boiled, they are flavored with brown sugar or honey, and they become the perfect addition to a refreshing cup of tea. Boba isn't the only extra you can add to your tea, nor do you have to drink your boba tea black and with milk. Today's boba tea can be customized from the type of tea (black or green) you want to have as a base, the type of bubbles you want to use, ice levels, sugar levels, and toppings, making it a portable treat that acts as a dessert, drink, and snack all at the same time (via Thrillist).