Bubble tea: a favorite with American youth.

Honeydew bubble tea from a shop in New Orleans. Wikimedia Commons.

Bubble tea, or pearl tea, a Taiwanese invention (“jen ju nai cha” in Taiwan), has really taken off here in the U.S.!  What is it exactly?  Bubble tea is a non-alcoholic sweetened, cold beverage similar to a smoothie or milkshake.  It is available in many flavors and variations, with actual black or green tea as a base, or one of a number of syrups flavored with fruit, nuts, flowers or other foods.  You can find conventional flavors like strawberry or pineapple, or more unusual ones like rose, almond, or red bean.

The bubbles in bubble tea refer to the frothy foam on the top of the beverage after it is shaken and mixed together; pearl tea or boba tea is the same drink, served with tapioca “pearls”  or “boba” in the bottom of the cup.  Another variation is milk tea which is bubble tea made with a green or black tea base, with the addition of a dairy or non-dairy cream product blended in; pearl milk tea is the same thing with tapioca pearls added to the cup.

To make a bubble tea drink, the base mixture, flavored syrup, milk or dairy substitute, and sweetener are placed in the cup, ice is added and the mixture is shaken or put in a blender until thoroughly mixed and frothy.  Then, the sweetened tapioca “pearls”, or alternately, jelly cubes, are added to the cup, where they sink to the bottom, to be sucked up the extra-wide drinking straw and eaten as the customer sips the drink.

A sweet, creamy, flavorful drink, bubble tea is a fun and tasty soft-drink alternative, and can even be considered “healthy” – if you count the antioxidants in the tea!  Bubble tea shops are the most common kinds of tea shops in the San Jose area, and they often sell snacks and small plates of food to go with the tea.  They are popular hang-out spots in the evening, often packed full of local youth late into the night, especially in Asian neighborhoods.  While there are a few bubble tea franchises in the U.S., like Quickly Tea House, there are also many independent shops.  Why not try some bubble tea soon?  It is a tasty and fun treat to have on a warm day.

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach

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For more information:
“Pearls of tea wisdom” from the Go2Taiwan blog
“Bubble tea” from Wikipedia
“Bubble Tea” from Learn-about-tea.com
“Bubble tea history, bubble tea recipe” by Linda Stradley
“Tea 101: what is bubble tea” by Margaret Studer
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“Bottled tea may contain fewer antioxidants than freshly brewed tea”
“Tea can help you keep your New Year’s resolutions”
“San Jose students enjoy tea at grad parties”


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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Recipes, Tea

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