It was the night before the Chinese New Year’s Festival when I cooked Boba Tea for the first time–in preparation for 200 guests. My apartment quickly filled with the fragrance of black tea as I dunked the handful of thirty-some tea bags into the bowl of hot water. Boxes of Lipton tea and empty tapioca ball wrappers were stacked on the ground.  In the kitchen were two giant pots of dark brown tapioca balls boiling. I poured some sugar into the pot and mixed the tapioca balls with the metal ladle. Their soft and slimy texture caused them to swirl inside the pot. I was excited to share with others a cup of delight.

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Hot boba milk tea
cold boba milk tea

Influenced by the Taiwanese’ historical tea culture, Boba milk tea, also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea, was invented by a tea house owner in Taichung, Taiwan in the 1980s. It is typically served with a sweetened milk tea base of your choice (Oolong tea, green tea, etc.), and chewy and silky black tapioca balls. Hot bobas are usually served in a teapot of milk, tea, and a mug of tapioca balls. Cold bobas are served in a plastic cup with a thick straw big enough for the tapioca balls to come through. The drink can vary in size and consistency, and can be customized however you want. If you’re a fruit person, you can include a fruit of your choice (honeydew, lychee, mango, passion fruit, strawberry, etc. you name it!) ice-blended into a smoothie as your base of your drink. If you’re a coffee or a tea person, you can choose from Vietnamese coffee, Thai tea, and various other tea and coffee types.

The Boba milk tea sensation has been growing and trending all over the world. In the last decade or so, Boba tea shops have spread in Asian cities including Hong Kong, Beijing, and Seoul. The Asian American communities in various locations in America including California and New York have also been enjoying boba in Chinatown restaurants. This sensation resembles how fro-yo (frozen yogurt ice-cream) spread from Seoul, Korea, to the U. S. population. However, Boba’s popularity is growing above and beyond that of fro-yo’s–its popularity has grown in Europe to the point where McDonald’s in Germany has started selling boba since last year (click here for the related article).

“Bubble Tea” Facebook Page Fan Statistics

The trend is growing and attracting the U. S. Millennials in particular. The boba tea lounges are opening up in various places over U. S., providing another option for the Millennials to choose a place to hang out with friends other than coffee shops. The trend is also growing bigger as celebrities including Lindsey Lohan and Alyson Hannigan were caught in photographs while holding boba tea in their hands (click here for images). People are starting to search and hash-tag “bubble tea” on their social media websites as well. According to Socialbaker.com, the statistics show that fans for the keyword “bubble tea” have been gradually increasing over the last six months.

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Boba was a hit during my Chinese New Year’s festival. Many people were initially hesitant to taste the bubbles (tapioca balls)–I saw people pull out their straws a little higher so they could taste the tea before the bubbles. When they found tea to be delicious, eventually they stuck their straws down, and slowly picked out a bubble and tasted it. Some people didn’t like their chewiness, but many others came to like it.

“Hmm, interesting…I think I like it!” one friend told me.

I saw an exchange of culture happen in this act of giving and receiving. So here’s to more boba.