Bubble, or ‘boba’ tea has become a phenomenon, but how did it grow from its humble origins in one tea shop in Taiwan to the global craze it is today?
Bubble tea was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s and quickly became hugely popular. The craze spread across south Asia and later in North America through immigrant communities. Social media has played a large part in the popularity of the drink.
The bubble tea market is predicted to grow by up to $1 billion over the next four years.
What is bubble tea?
There is some debate over how bubble tea got its name; some say it comes from the bubbly foam on top of bubble tea, produced by the vigorous blending involved.
Others say the drink is so named because of the distinctive tapioca pearls which sit at the bottom of the beverage, making it look as if it is full of large bubbles.
Bubble tea is created by blending a tea with milk and fruit juices, then adding the tapioca pearls. Some varieties are made with condensed milk and are very sugary.
It can be served either hot or cold, and it is always drunk through a straw so that the pearls can be sucked up and chewed as you drink.
It’s also usually served in a transparent cup so that the visual bubble effect of the pearls can be enjoyed through the glass.
Where does bubble tea come from?
Nobody knows for certain the origin of bubble tea, but there is a traditional story around it. Two tea houses in Taiwan claim to have invented bubble tea, but one story is more popular.
Supposedly, in a moment of boredom, one tea shop owner put her Taiwanese tapioca pudding into her iced tea.
It was so delicious that they added it to the menu, and it soon became their top-selling product.
The competition quickly grew, with other tea stands and shops starting to sell the new beverage immediately, creating ever more inventive variations on the recipe.
Its popularity spread across Asia and when immigration restrictions were relaxed in the 1990s, to the United States as well.
Where is bubble tea most popular?
Bubble tea has become a global craze, but it is most popular in South Asia.
Orders for the beverage increased by 3000% in the region during 2018 alone, and the number of vendors increased by 200%.
South Asians as a group drink on average four cups of bubble tea per person per month, and
Thailand wins the top spot, with six cups of bubble tea consumed there per person per month.
Although this region holds the biggest share of the market, growth is biggest in the Americas where people are still discovering the drink.
Bubble tea came to the west coast of the USA in the 1990s.
It took root within the Asian-American culture, and its popularity remained within that community for many years.
Mainstream interest in bubble tea in North America only really exploded in the early 2010s, when more outlets started to open up.
How did bubble tea become so popular?
Social media played a large part in the increasing popularity of bubble tea.
Bubble tea shops started a trend of creating pretty drinks and encouraging customers to post aesthetic pictures of their quirky beverage online, starting a craze.
Bubble tea is an unusual phenomenon because its popularity has continued rather than fading away as most trends do.
Why is Bubble Tea So Popular?
The consistent popularity of bubble tea can be partly explained by the demographic that drinks and sells the beverage.
Bubble tea appeals to and is sold by a younger age group with a strong understanding of social media marketing, enabling the trend to go from strength to aesthetic strength.
New flavors and colors of the drink go viral and reinvigorate the popularity of the drink at every turn.
Bubble tea has stayed popular because of its versatility; rather than losing its appeal as a novelty drink, it keeps up with people’s tastes by changing itself.
Instead of just sticking to tea, new fruit flavors were invented, along with new toppings and different kinds of milk.
Once it became popular in mainstream America, it was also more widely marketed.
Marketing became aimed at discerning coffee drinkers and young professionals, and innovations were constantly made – new flavors were invented, and even bubble ice cream.
The more targeted marketing and constant innovation has kept the trend popular and exciting much longer than fads usually last, and the market is predicted to keep growing.