Many people don’t know that I’m somewhat of a bubble tea addict. I love the feeling of swallowing cold milk tea and chewing tapioca ‘pearls’ without a care in the world. The act of going out to purchase such a drink is a social event in and of itself. No matter the time of day, nothing will ever stop me (or any other Asian person, for that matter) from getting our greedy hands on a cup of bubble tea.
At this point, it would probably be useful to provide some background about this drink. Originating in Taiwan during the 1980s, people would often flock to tea stands after a long day at work. One owner began adding different fruit flavours to her tea, and this became a big hit with customers.
In 1983, Liu Han-Chieh introduced black, marble-sized tapioca ‘pearls’ to the fruit-infused teas, thus creating the bubble tea drink. These ‘pearls’ contain ingredients such as sweet potato, cassava root and brown sugar, and have the consistency of gummy bears when chewed.
In my search to understand the popularity of bubble tea, I came across several theories explaining its importance in Asian culture, which is not unlike the coffee shop/Starbucks phenomenon in North America:
- Bubble tea is a sweet, filling beverage and provides a unique alternative to traditional desserts such as cakes and cookies. Put simply, it’s a comfort drink for many individuals.
- It’s also relatively easy to make. Simply mix tea with flavoured powder in a blender, seal off the cup, and you’re good to go. It’s a process that doesn’t take more than several minutes.
- In Asian countries, many people drink condensed milk combined with tea on a daily basis. Bubble tea can be seen as a modern variation of these “milk-tea” drinks. In fact, many shops now have the option of adding tapioca pearls to milk tea.
- Being part of a community and feeling a sense of belonging are important values in Asian culture. Bubble tea shops encourage these practices by providing indoor/outdoor seating for individuals to sit together and chat over drinks. It’s a form of socialization and is actually quite effective.
Chatime is a prime, local example of this cultural phenomenon. It’s a small bubble tea franchise located on the corner of Wonderland and Oxford Rd. here in London. Conveniently situated along several bus routes, you’ll often see Asian students carrying Chatime-branded plastic cups and sipping their drinks from thick, purple straws.
After learning more about bubble tea, I’m beginning to understand why students will flock to Chatime after class or on weekends. This unique drink has had an enormous impact in Asian culture, and will continue to do so for a long time.