You might know it as bubble tea, pearl milk tea, or simply boba. These milky, sweet, tapioca-filled teas have been becoming increasingly popular, and the US in particular is seeing a Boba boom. But where did Boba start, and how did it become one of the most popular drinks outside its country of origin?


(photo: wikipedia - Chun Shui Tang)


That’s right — Boba is not an American creation, although you probably knew that. The drink comes from Taiwan, specifically from one of two tea houses. Both Chun Shui Tang and the Hanlin Tea Room both lay claim to inventing the drink, and no one is 100% sure which one is the real creator. Either way, the story goes that one person or another was inspired to add tapioca balls to milk-sweetened tea. It was this addition that started the craze in the 1980s, and it’s been taking off ever since.

In the 1990s, when immigration restrictions in the US loosened, Taiwanese immigrants brought boba with them to America. Although boba is still most popular in South Asia, its growth has been the most exponential in the US. And with the rise of social media in the 2010s, the drink was able to really cement itself in the zeitgeist of popular “American” drinks.


wikipedia - immigration infographic
infographic: wikipedia)


In order to stay popular for so long, boba has had to change with the times. Some boba is a far cry from the original drink created in the 1980s. New flavors are rolled out constantly — and there’s even boba ice cream. Marketing is mostly directed at coffee drinkers, and the consistent marketing and innovation has kept boba at the forefront of minds for decades, much longer than fad foods and drinks usually last.


Boba Ice Cream
(photo credit: wikipedia)


Do you drink boba? What’s your favorite flavor? Let us know in the comments — we always love hearing from you! And if you really love boba, definitely check out all our original Boba Bot designs! You can also read up on some more random history facts here — for example, did you know how bike sharing got started?


Slam to Win Boba at Presotea Torrance


Cleo Egnal
Tagged: Perspective