Contrary to popular belief, bubble tea is not Japanese. While the drink is exceptionally popular in Japan and is strongly associated with Japanese food in the Western World, it didn’t originate there. Bubble tea began in Taiwan and quickly spread around the world.
The History Of Bubble Tea
Bubble tea is also known as baba tea or pearl milk tea.
It originated in Taiwan in the early 80s, and by the 90s, it became popular in Japan and Hong Kong before spreading to the rest of the world.
It was initially made from hot Taiwanese black tea, tapioca pearls, condensed milk, and syrup or honey.
How bubble tea was discovered is not fully known. Two different stories are floating around, so it’s almost impossible to discern the “true” origin story of bubble tea. According to one story, in 1986, Hanlin Tea Room of Tainan owner Tu Tsong-he came up with the idea when he saw tapioca balls in a local market and made tea with the snacks.
Another story claims that Chun Shiu Tang tea room owner Liu Han-Chieh started serving cold Chinese tea after noticing people serving cold coffee in Japan in the 80s. The Chun Shui Tang tea room product development manager Lin Hsiu Hui claimed to have created bubble tea in 1988 when she experimented by adding tapioca balls in her tea.
The drink was then added to the menu and became the most popular product. This may contribute to why some people assume bubble tea is Chinese.
Regardless of the different claimants, we know for sure that bubble tea did not originate in Japan.
Is Bubble Tea Japanese?
Bubble tea is trendy in Japan, which is one reason why people think it’s Japanese.
Some people also tend to homogenize Asian cultures. So, they assume bubble tea is Japanese because it was first created in Asia.
Bubble tea is usually referred to as tapioca drink or just tapioca in Japan. Whereas fans in the Western world typically call it boba tea or bubble tea.
It first grew popular in Japan in the early 90s when it was made with coconut milk and white tapioca balls.
As Japanese people often travel to Taiwan, they were exposed to and fell in love with the drink. So, by extension, bubble tea made its way to Japan, and there are now hundreds of bubble tea chains.
Another reason why people may think bubble tea is Japanese is because the Chun Shui Tang teahouse opened a shop in Japan in 2013. So while bubble tea originally isn’t from Japan, fanatics can try the ‘original’ bubble tea there.
Is Japanese Bubble Tea Different?
While Japanese bubble tea was originally made with white tapioca balls and coconut milk, it has expanded well beyond this.
Some of the flavors are unique to what’s popular in Japan. Take Rock Salt Cheese Tea, for example. This tea, topped with salted cheese foam, is a hit due to cheese flavor being popular in Japan.
Bubble tea has also been incorporated into the kawaii culture in Japan, with lots of establishments making their drinks as cute as possible or basing drinks off of anime characters. There’s even official Pokemon bubble tea in Japan!
Japanese bubble tea isn’t much different from the rest of the world as bubble tea finds a way to adapt to local flavors. However, if you’re in Japan, you’re likely to spot some kinds of bubble tea you won’t find anywhere else.
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