Taiwan's Culture & Identity
Things You Need To Know About Bubble Tea
- What is bubble tea?
Bubble tea is a tea-based frothy and refreshing concoction invented in Taichung and Tainan in 1980s. It’s also considered the national drink of Taiwan. It’s more like a drink snack, a mixture between a food and a drink.
Toppings are at the bottom of the drink and you drink it with a huge straw. The original and most common “topping” is tapioca pearls, the black balls you see at the bottom of the drink. It’s slightly sweet and slightly chewy, and has a very addictive texture. It’s something that people call “kue kue” texture. There are a lot of foods with this kind of chewy texture, like mochi.
- What is “Bubble”?
“Bubble” refers to the bubble froth on top of the drink when the milk tea mixture is shaken.
- What Is “Boba”?
In Taiwan, Boba "波霸" literally means “big boobs” or “women with big boobs”, a slang for the larger tapioca pearls.
- Bubble Tea, Pearl Milk Tea, Bubble Milk Tea, Boba Tea, or simply Boba? I am so confused. What’s the correct term for it?
They are all common and perfectly acceptable. However, the way you call it may reveal where you are from.
“Pearl Milk Tea” (zhēn zhū nǎi chá, or zhēn nǎi for short) is commonly used by Taiwanese and overseas Chinese speakers.
“Bubble Tea” is seemingly used by English speakers in locations with less Chinese influence.
“Boba Tea” is used by English speakers in areas with a relatively large Asian population, like California. The drink is often referred to simply as “boba” for short.
- You can judge how good a bubble tea shop is not only by the flavor, but by the tapioca pearls.
The quality of the pearl is a very good gauge of whether the bubble tea shop is making things fresh and whether they care about the quality of their drink. The tapioca pearls should be quite chewy but still soft. I like to be able to chew each pearl five or six times. If you have to chew the pearl 20 times then it’s too hard, and too chewy. If it breaks down in your mouth after two bites, then it’s a bit stale, or has been overcooked.
- Plastic seal or plain cup lid?
Today, one can find shops entirely devoted to bubble tea. Some cafés use plastic lids, but more authentic bubble tea shops serve drinks using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane. The latter method allows the tea to be shaken in the serving cup and makes it spill-free until one is ready to drink it. The cellophane is then pierced with an oversized straw large enough to allow the toppings to pass through. There isn’t any difference to the taste of bubble tea between using the plastic seal or plain cup lid.
- The right way to put your straw through the plastic.
If you just bang your straw through the plastic, it will make the tea leak out of the hole. Instead, put your thumb on the top of the straw to make an airtight seal, then with confidence stab straight down. That’s the right way to put your straw in. When someone does that you can tell they’re a pro.
- The toppings can be a choking hazard, so don't give bubble tea to young children, and be careful!
Choking is something first-timers might be in danger of, as they’re just not used to bubble tea. Just drinking it slowly and trying to only have three to four pieces of topping in your mouth at one time helps. Don’t go too quickly. Also, don’t give bubble tea to children below the age of 4 years old, as the tapioca pearl could be a choking hazard for them. We do get people who come in and order their bubble tea with no toppings for their children. We are OK with that and just make the drink a bit cheaper.
- Classic bubble milk tea is the original bubble tea flavor, and it's still the most popular.
The classic and traditional type is what you get at Destination Taiwan. Bubble tea reflects Taiwan's culture and identity, so you don’t see any newly invented fruity flavor types here at Destination Taiwan.
- Who makes bubble tea at Destination Taiwan?
In most cases, your bubble tea is prepared by Shiuan herself, our bubble tea girl from Taiwan. I believe that on an individual level, we grow up eating the food of our cultures. It becomes a part of who each of us is. Many of us associate food from our childhood with warm feelings and good memories and it ties us to our families, holding a special and personal value for us. On a larger scale, food is an important part of culture. Traditional cuisine is passed down from one generation to the next. It also operates as an expression of cultural identity. Food is a portal into culture, and it should be treated as such. So, we insist that the one who makes bubble tea at Destination Taiwan must be of Taiwanese descent and should have at least one year of work experience at a tea shop in Taiwan.