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This article was originally published at http://whatscookingamerica.net/BubbleTea.htm
Bubble Tea, What's Cooking America
Finally there's a drink that's fun to eat! Move over trendy coffee drinks and make way for the new drink craze that is going on right now, especially in communities with large Asian populations.
Southerners have always known that nothing beats the heat quite like sweet tea with lemon mint, and sugar, but the concept is relatively new to the rest of America. Over the last year or so, Bubble Tea has moved beyond their roots in the predominately Asian suburbs and gained in popularity across the United States. Especially popular with young adults in larger U.S. west coast cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto. The Hawaiian Islands and New York City are also accepting this drink craze.
What is Bubble Tea?
Bubble Tea is the catch-all name for endless unusual names of this drink such as: tapioca pearl drink, tapioca ball drink, pearl shake, pearl tea, black pearl tea, big pearl, boba tea, boba ice tea, boba nai cha, milk tea, bubble drink, zhen zhu nai cha, momi, momi milk tea, QQ, BBT, PT, and possibly many other names.
This drink is far from the plain-looking tea that you are generally familiar with and it is hard to explain to the uninitiated. It is non-alcoholic and non-carbonated. The tea is sweet, though it has less sugar than a typical soft drink. There are a huge variety of flavors to try, depending on the tea house or stand you visit. The drink is usually a mix of tea, milk, sugar, and giant black tapioca balls. The "bubble" refers to the foam created by shaking the freshly brewed tea with ice (the drink must always be shaken and not stirred).
For the first-timers, ordering a Bubble Tea can be an event. The tea is likely to be in pastel colors of pink, green or yellow. The unique ingredient of Bubble Tea is the tapioca pearl. About the size of pearls or small marbles, they have a consistency like gummy candy (soft and chewy). Being heavier than the drink they tend to always stay near the bottom of the glass. These drinks are usually served in large see-through plastic containers with an extra-wide straw to sip these jumbo pearls. Just sucking on the translucent straw creates a show, with pearls floating up in succession. Children like to blow the balls out from the straw to shoot at targets or at each other.
Some people find the tapioca balls bizarre and repelling. If you try it and like it - you'll crave the drink and never look at coffee the same way again!
The Bubble Tea craze has been huge in Taiwan, and other parts of Southeast Asia for the last 15 years. In fact, Bubble Tea has taken Taiwan by storm over the past decade. The drink originally started as a childhood treat in Taiwan in the late 1980's at small tea stands in front of the schoolhouses. Teenagers and elementary school children looked forward to their after school tea. Tapioca pearls are made mostly from tapioca starch. Tapioca starch is starch made from tapioca or bitter-cassava plant, sometimes called manioca or yuca in some parts of the world. The bitter-cassava plant is native to South America and was introduced into Asia sometime during the 19th century. Someone came up with the idea of adding tapioca pearls as a bit of novelty, and the idea spread. This created a new fad of adding tapioca pearls into the children's favorite tea drinks.
Bubble tea can be made at home, but preparing tapioca pearls can be quite labor intensive as the tapioca pearls must be consumed immediately to maintain freshness and not lose their soft gummy texture. It's easier to skip making it yourself and head down to the various Bubble Tea shops which have sprung up.