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History of Bubble Tea
It is said that success has many fathers, and it seems that this saying perfectly illustrates the history of the creation of bubble tea. To this day, it is not known who was the originator of this most popular Taiwanese drink - however, it is known that it took place in Taiwan in the early 1980s.
Some pioneering performance of bubble tea ascribe to Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan, founded by a young entrepreneur and artist - Tu Tsong He. The story of the ingenious Taiwanese man is like an American dream and proves that the "zero to millionaire" success model still holds true. Before becoming a tea tycoon, the man ran a restaurant. However, the boom did not last long - the premises went bankrupt, and Tu Tsong He began to sink in debts and unpaid loans.
Life, however, does not like emptiness, and - as they say - the world belongs to the brave, so the young Taiwanese once again decided to try his luck in business and this time open a small tea room. It was 1986. While visiting a local market, a man noticed tapioca balls - a traditional Taiwanese snack remembered from his childhood. As an experiment, he added them to the green tea he used to drink in the evenings. And so, according to this version of events, bubble tea was created. Currently, the Hanlin teahouse chain has 80 establishments in Taiwan, and as part of the franchise agreement, its doors are also opened in the United States, Canada and mainland China.
A second, competing bubble tea story relates to the Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichung. Its founder - Liu Han-Chieh, during one of his trips to Japan noticed that the Japanese have a habit of drinking iced coffee. As this solution was still foreign in Taiwan at that time, the man, after returning home, introduced it to his business. His pioneering iced teas became extremely popular, and the family business began to grow at an unprecedented pace.
Bubble tea in its classic form was created only a few years later, in 1988, thanks to Lin Hsiu Hui - one of the managers of a thriving tea house chain. The woman allegedly completely accidentally added tapioca balls to the company's iced tea during one of the boring board meetings. The innovative drink won the hearts of the meeting participants and very quickly landed on the regular menu as the best-selling product. The fame of bubble tea spread rapidly throughout the city, and then around the island, and in the 1990s it reigned throughout Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam.
There is also a Hollywood twist in this story. Between the two teahouses mentioned, there was a dispute for 10 years over who was the originator of bubble tea and who was entitled to it. The dispute ended in 2019 with a court ruling that bubble tea is a drink that everyone has the right to sell, and thus there is no need to further debate who invented it.
Tapioca tea as a symbol of Taiwan
The Taiwanese love for bubble tea is definitely more than a fascination with good taste and pleasant texture. It is a kind of national symbol, an icon of Taiwanese cultural heritage. Bubble tea reflects the special mood of Taiwan in the 1980s, when society was changing the so-called modernity. It combines the old cultural experiences of the island with a hint of nostalgia in modern society. By combining tapioca with tea, the Taiwanese have revived forgotten national delicacies that have acquired a modern dimension in the modern world. In this way, progress has been linked with history and tradition. Bubble tea is a perfect example of bringing back to grace in a new version of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
In 2004, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, hoping to convince citizens to finance a rather expensive gun purchase, issued a brochure stating that if Taiwanese forgo one bubble tea a week for the next 15 years, they would save a sum of money to cover military costs. Surprisingly, the campaign had the opposite effect than expected - it sparked strong public opposition and aroused even greater interest in the drink. Taiwanese did not understand why they were not asked to stop drinking Coca-Cola, for example. Some believe that this local incident contributed to the promotion of Taiwanese bubble tea beyond the borders of Southeast Asia.
Bubble tea appeared on the international scene, however, mainly thanks to Assad Khan - a British banker and founder of the popular worldwide chain of gastronomic points selling bubble tea. The British got acquainted with the drink in 2009 during a trip to New York. Back then, nobody heard about bubble tea overseas, except for Asian immigrants living in the local Chinatown. Khan recognized a market niche, quit his job at a bank and in 2011 founded Bubbleology, which is popular today.
How much is iced tea with tapioca appreciated? To this day, it is the official drink served at Taiwanese government banquets, and April 30 is celebrated as the national bubble tea day in the United States . The popularity of this drink is also evidenced by the fact that since 2012, German McDonald's has added it to its regular menu. In contrast, in Singapore, on the eve of the closure of all stores during the coronavirus pandemic, queues of people wanting to stock up were lined up at bubble tea points of sale.
Where does the popularity of bubble tea come from? It is not known why this recipe has taken root so deeply in South Asian culture. Maybe because in this geographical region tea is drunk as often as in other countries water? Or maybe because it is a refreshing drink and snack in one, and in so many different flavors that will never become commonplace? Bubble tea can have so many views that sometimes the only common feature of the drinks served are tapioca balls embedded in them, although these can also be flavored and colored. Taiwan has always been famous for its love of innovation, so it's hardly surprising that something as simple as a cup of tea can have so many variations.
Tea, tapioca balls and other Bubble Tea ingredients
Bubble tea is based on a classic decoction made of good-quality tea leaves . Express tea which is only tea dust and the so-called "Powdered tea" contradicts the classic recipe of the drink. The most commonly used is Oolong tea, considered to be one of the best-quality varieties in the world. It has a fruity and woody aroma, and because the edges of the infused leaves are darker than the center of the leaves, it is often referred to as emerald tea.
The second popular type of tea used to prepare the drink is Assam - tart and intense in flavor. Thanks to the high concentration of theine, it has stimulating properties and supports concentration. Black tea can be replaced with green tea, which is less oxidized and thus has a lower caffeine content (approx. 30%), as well as white or jasmine tea.
Tapioca balls are added to the ready-made infusion of tea leaves prepared according to a specific procedure for a given variety. The mysterious-sounding tapioca is nothing but the starch obtained after cooking cassava flour in water or milk. Not only is it easy to digest and gluten-free, it also contains small amounts of protein and does not cause allergies. In its simplest form, it is used to thicken sauces and soups.
Tapioca balls can be black, white and even transparent - the color depends on their content. White and colorless are obtained from starch in its natural form. The black balls are sometimes mixed with cassava root, brown sugar and caramel. The consistency of such balls is defined as intermediate between the jelly and the chewing gum. Therefore, chewing them is definitely an unusual experience. Tapioca itself has no taste, so it is often soaked in various types of additives, e.g. coffee, juices, alcohol or water with sugar to give it the right flavor. It is thanks to the tapioca balls that bubble tea is often called "Pearl Milk Tea".
You can add almost anything to bubble tea as part of experimenting and diversifying - here we are limited only by our imagination and common sense. Most often they are fruit, ice cream, jelly beans, jellies, ginger, juices or yoghurt, but also cocoa, syrups, vanilla, chocolate and honey. The drink can be drunk chilled or warm - depending on individual taste preferences.
Taiwanese bubble tea is constantly evolving in both taste and texture. In recent months, Asia has seen a pro-health variety with brown sugar and fresh milk replacing white sugar and coffee creamer. The networks of points selling the drink outdo each other in new ideas and modifications of the classic variant. Bubbleology, in response to the needs of modern society, intends to introduce the so-called "Skinny tea", ie teas with reduced sugar and soy milk.
However, there is a simple rule: no matter how many fancy additions, good quality tea remains the soul of bubble tea. The founder of Hanlin still uses only tea leaves from Sri Lanka, after which the best variety, he says, is personally selected to the mountains every year.
Serving Bubble Tea
The accessories needed to serve bubble tea depend on whether it is a drink served on site or to go. For tea with tapioca, which we make at home or order in a restaurant, a classic tall glass with a fairly large volume, preferably extended upwards, will be perfect. The second necessary element is the straw , which should be specially dedicated to this type of drink, i.e. thick enough to fit appetizing balls . Otherwise, we will go back to the 1980s in Taiwan, when the drink was served with a tablespoon. There are more and more bubble tea straws on the market , mainly made of glass and metal, which not only look effective, but are also reusable.
When ordering Taiwanese take-away tea, we will receive it most likely in two different ways. In a plastic cup covered with a lid with a hole for the straw, or in a cup covered with a tight foil at the top, which is pierced by a special straw with a sharpened tip . For obvious reasons, however, it is worth reaching for more durable and economical solutions in the form of traditional glass or metal.