Bubble tea is a popular beverage made using tea leaves, milk, and tapioca pearls. It's commonly called nai cha, boba tea, or pearl milk tea and can be found in bubble tea shops across Asia and the west. The tapioca pearls are also called fen yuan.
The chewy tapioca balls and a rich and fun element to tea drinking. The pearl tea is consumed using special fat straws that have an opening large enough to fit the tapioca pearls. Toppings including egg pudding, grass jelly, coconut jelly, and ice cream may also be added to the top of the cup. The tea drink is typically served as an iced tea with large ice cubes or shaved ice in spill-free cups.
The Asian tea is traditionally made using small tapioca balls and true tea varieties such as black tea, white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. In recent years, the beverage has exploded in popularity and now includes wild tea flavors from mocha and peppermint to chamomile and basil. There are also fruit flavors such as orange yuzu with aloe and spicy chamoy sauce with mango and other fresh fruits such as passion fruit.
The tea is also traditionally brewed using fresh milk just like Hong Kong milk tea. In American households, this portion of the recipe has been altered to include western preferences. The tea is frequently brewed using sweetened milk such as condensed milk as well as dairy alternatives such as non-dairy creamer and soy milk.
This milk tea is a Taiwanese invention that traces its roots back to famous tea shops including Chun Shui Tang in Taichung and the Hanlin tearoom in Tainan, Taiwan. Liu Han-Chieh — the founder of Chun Shui Tang — brewed the tea using white tapioca balls which he thought resembled the look of pearls. The tea leaves were mixed with tapioca starch, brown sugar, and milk.
The tea gained prominence in tea shops throughout Taiwan before becoming staple offerings at Chinese and Vietnamese establishments. As large Asian populations emerged in western countries, the tea became increasingly popular abroad. Today, the tea can be found in boba shops from the coasts of California to the mountains of Asia.
Boba milk tea can be made using hundreds of different flavors. Mix things up and don't be afraid to play with strange combinations. The creamy flavor of milk and the chewy texture of tapioca leaves room for experimentation.
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