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Bubble Tea: A History
March 1, 2022
Angela Cao, Grade 8

The jarring sound of the school bell may sound like a hazard signal, but to the ears of millions of students across the country, the school might as well be playing Für Elise as this pleasant noise represents freedom from class (at least, temporarily.) The sound of chairs slamming against desk legs and the frantic shuffling sound of students pushing through the doorway, and the chattering, gossiping, and gasping voices make up the everyday cacophony of chaos ensuing in the hallways. The north foyer is arguably the heart of the school; there’s the group crowding the vending machines, the gang of students smack center in the middle of the hallway (such a convenient place to stand) and the center of it all, the daily fundraisers. All types of sales that happen, from bubble tea to pizza to bubble tea (again) to popcorn to bubble t—you get the point. As a school, it seems like we have unanimously agreed that bubble tea is the superior type of food. You can always count on the daily bulletin to announce an upcoming bubble tea sale, so why exactly is bubble tea so appealing?

Like most food origins, there have been different claims on how this wonderful drink was invented; however, one seems to be more popular than the rest. In 1986, while visiting a wet market, a Taiwanese entrepreneur was reminded of his favourite childhood snack, tapioca balls. On a whim, he decided to put them into his green tea. Realizing he had created a new invention, he opened a bubble tea shop that October. The second version supposedly happened when Liu Han-Chieh of Chun Shui Tang Teahouse in Taichung observed Japanese people’s love for cold coffee and decided to experiment with tea. After adding it to his menu, his business boomed and spread across the city. It was only in 1988 that he added the tapioca balls into his drink.

Now, the bubble tea industry is flourishing. In 2019, the industry was worth 2.1 billion USD (2.69 CAD.) It is estimated to be doubled by 2027. In fact, throughout the last few years, people have even started to make reusable straws just for bubble tea.

As society comes up with new creative flavours, toppings, and drinks, the lines of what defines bubble tea get blurry. The familiar foam top with air bubbles, traditional tea flavours, and chewy tapioca balls have evolved into eccentric flavours like avocado with add-ons like coconut jelly and kiwi popping boba. Bubble tea is not only a drink that satisfies your sweet tooth but has started to show creativity. Shops have started to treat crafting this drink like a form of art, for example, creating a “plant” themed bubble tea by putting in oreo crumbs as dirt on top of a mocha flavoured drink. 

As the bubble tea industry continues to grow and new drinks get added to the never-ending list, it brings up the question of how long this drink can stay the reigning champion. To put it in Isaac Newton’s words, “what goes up must come down.