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Bubble Tea: Sippable, Chewable, Variable
Join Groupon in exploring bubble tea’s sweet properties.
Although bubble tea’s name seems be straightforward¬—a tea containing bubbles— the term has come to serve as an umbrella for a broad category of beverages. They vary widely by flavor, the constitution of their “bubbles,” and whether they contain, well, tea. Typically, the liquid part of the drink is a cool blend of black or green tea, flavoring, and condensed milk, but the tea is sometimes replaced with fruit juices or other liquids made using ingredients such as red bean, taro, or sesame. Whatever the base of the drink, it’s laden with dark, chewy, marble-size balls, which are made from either tapioca starch or a blend of sweet-potato powder and sugar. The balls are mildly sweet, but their main contribution is texture. They travel up oversize straws, and when they reach the top they’re meant to be chewed like gumdrops rather than sucked down whole like hot dogs. They also lend the drink some of its other nicknames, such as tapioca tea and pearl milk tea.
Although bubble tea only took off in the late ’90s globally, its origins are somewhat cloudy. A primary contender for the title of inventor is Lin Hsiu Hui, a product developer for a Taiwanese teahouse. During a staff meeting one day in 1988, she idly poured the tapioca from a packet of tapioca pudding into her iced tea, as she told CNN Travel. The unexpectedly tasty concoction took off at the teahouse, and whether or not it can be verified as the ancestor of all bubble teas, its essential formula has become familiar to the tea mixologists who’ve shaken each drink to order ever since.