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National Bubble Tea Day on April 30 has only been celebrated a short time, but we are bubbling over with enthusiasm just thinking about celebrating the quirky beverage. Bubble tea aficionados cannot get enough of the creamy sweet tea drink garnished with tapioca balls that look like pearly bubbles floating on top. The addition of National Bubble Tea Day to the calendar gives credence to both the drink that originated in Taiwan and its trendy pop culture following.
History of National Bubble Tea Day
Shaken tea and milk drinks were already popular fare in Taiwan’s night markets in the 1980s when teahouses began selling the beverages topped with doughy black and white tapioca ball garnishments resembling bubbles. “Bubble tea,” also known as “boba” or “pearl tea” attracted a cult-like fascination that quickly became part of the Taiwanese youth pop culture and spread rapidly from Taiwan throughout Asia.
Which tea room was first to add tapioca balls, called “pearls” to the foamy tea and milk drinks popular with night market crowds is up for debate, although two tearooms in Taiwan stake claim to bubble tea.
The founder of the Chun Shui Tang tea room in Taichung, Taiwan first began serving cold Chinese tea after seeing the popularity of coffee served cold while traveling Japan in the 1980s. Owner Liu Han-Chieh gives credit to his teahouse product development manager, Lin Hsiu Hui, for inventing bubble tea. While playing with her glass of iced tea during a meeting in 1988, on a whim she dropped some pudding with tapioca balls into her glass of cold tea. The resulting drink was such a hit with other attendees that the drink recipe was added to the tearoom’s menu, much to the delight of customers.
The other claim-to-bubble-tea-fame is made by Tu Tsong, owner of the Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan, Taiwan who says he invented “pearl tea” in 1986. His inspiration came from white tapioca balls that looked like pearls in the Ya Mu Liao day market. He added some of the “pearls” to cold tea, resulting in the first “pearl tea.” When he mixed brown sugar into his tapioca ball recipe the pearl color darkened to black. He began serving his pearl tea with both black and white pearls, which delighted his customers.
Regardless of who created that first delicious sweet milk tea drink with tapioca “pearls” floating playfully atop the foam, some say bubble tea has become Taiwan’s most iconic export of the 21st century. Bubble tea eventually appeared in west coast American university and college campus cafes in the 1990s, arriving with Taiwanese students. The drink was first only available as a menu item in local Asian restaurants. But Asian American youth in those areas quickly identified with “boba” as they preferred to call it, and it became an iconic meme for Asian students seeking cultural familiarity away from home. Boba shops opened in response to the drink’s growing popularity, becoming the Asian American equivalent of American coffee shops as community gathering places.
National Bubble Tea Day timeline
National Bubble Tea Day was added to the calendar as a marketing strategy by Kung Fu Tea in New York City.
America’s first Kung Fu Tea retail store opens on April 30 in Queens, New York.
Taiwanese students bring their insatiable thirst for “boba” to America’s west coast university towns.
Tapioca “pearls” are added to Taiwan’s popular shaken milk and tea drink and become part of Taiwan’s youth pop culture.
National Bubble Tea Day FAQs
Who started National Bubble Tea Day?
The Kung Fu Tea company applied for a National Bubble Tea Day to be added to the calendar in 2018. The date of April 30 was selected because that was the day in 2010 that Kung Fu Tea opened its first American bubble tea shop in New York City.
Does bubble tea have tea in it?
The original traditional Taiwan bubble tea recipe is made with freshly brewed strong tea, milk, and sugar, shaken together with ice until foamy, then topped with tapioca balls called pearls. Bubble tea can be ordered without tea at many shops, and fruit juices can be used as an alternative. It is also possible to order your boba with milk substitutes like coconut or almond milk or even request it be made without any milk at all.
National Bubble Tea Day Activities
…while drinking bubble tea, of course. If you are not a bubble tea fan, this is for you because you can drink whatever you like and still blow bubbles. Coffee, tea, bubbles! And who isn’t fascinated by bubbles?
Brew your own Bubble Tea
If you think bubble tea sold in tea houses or shops is too sweet or you are picky about ingredients, this is a good day to experiment with homebrew. The good thing about making bubble tea at home is that it is super-easy to make. The basic bubble tea recipe is freshly brewed tea, milk, a sweetener, usually sugar or honey, ice, and of course those pearly tapioca balls. Recipes online are plentiful. Be sure to choose a strong tea that retains its flavor because the tea will be diluted with milk and ice cubes.
Watch “Boba Life 2: Pearls Gone Wild”
Now that you’ve brewed a batch of delicious bubble tea to celebrate this trendy sensational beverage, hopefully enough for friends to enjoy, too, you may be asking,” What now?" We say go all-in on the bubble tea culture and watch “Boba Life 2: Pearls Gone Wild,” a snappy little video promoting the Taiwanese bubble tea culture you can find online. We feel certain there is more where this one came from if you search social media sites.
5 Facts About Those Pearly Boba “Bubbles”
Are they bubbles, pearls…or pastry?
The chewy dough balls called “pearls” that look like bubbles floating in your boba are a type of fen yuan, a pastry dough made with tapioca commonly used in desserts in Taiwan since the 1950s. Fen yuan was originally made with sweet potatoes.
At the root it all: cassava
Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root that is used as a thickening agent in foods instead of flour and cornstarch which are more commonly used in the United States.
Playdough for grownups
To make “pearls,” tapioca is first milled into flour that has a fine texture similar to cornstarch, which is then mixed with boiling water, kneaded, cut, and rolled into spherical shapes of different sizes.
Black and white
Tapioca balls are called “pearls” because they traditionally appear almost clear with a sheen when wet. When vendors started using brown sugar to make their fen yuan “pearls,” the pearls took on a dark black color.
The name game
There tends to be a geographical divide over the name used for Taiwan’s iconic beverage in the United States. People on the west coast refer to the drink as “boba” while people living on the east coast prefer to call the drink “bubble tea.” Meanwhile back In Taiwan, most people now refer to the popular drink as “pearl milk tea.”
Why We Love National Bubble Tea Day
It gives us a taste of Asian pop culture
Sometimes we forget that our country is a melting pot of many amazing cultures whose flavors are blended together while retaining the unique characteristics of each one. The energy that surrounds the bubble tea industry is a way for Americans to experience and taste another country’s youthful culture.
It reminds us to be creative
It is easy to be so focused on problems that we forget to look at the world around us and see possibilities. Bubble tea reminds us that inspiration is everywhere if we make time to take a close look.
It makes us feel like kids again
We’re all kids at heart when it comes to bubbles. Sipping icy sweet boba with “bubbles” floating on top that sink down to the bottom of the glass only to be retrieved and eaten is child’s play for adults. No one can resist the temptation to play with this drink.
National Bubble Tea Day dates