A Taxonomy of Taiwan’s Bubble Tea

Taiwan is the undisputed bubble tea capital of the world: Here, the midday caffeine hit is a bubble tera break, not a coffee run, and a shoulder-slung bubble tea cupholder is the must-have accessory. Over the last several decades, these bracing cups of sweet, creamy, chewy refreshment — which are also called “bubble tea” and “pearl milk tea” — have become a go-to beverage throughout not just Taiwan, but also all over Asia, North America, and Europe.

Bubble tea is a popular Taiwanese treat available in countless flavors and variations. Bubble tea cafés can offer a dizzying number of menu items with plenty of customization, leaving your head spinning. Whether you’re making bubble tea at home or ordering it at a tea shop, start with some basic knowledge about this tasty, chewy beverage and the many flavors and textures available.

Bubble tea, with its many permutations, can take on any flavor you like. Tea houses often offer hundreds of variations. Some classic types of bubble tea that can be found on every tea house menu include:

  • Classic Milk Tea: The one that started it all. Black tea is shaken with frothy milk, crushed ice, and a few generous handfuls of marble-sized, caramelized tapioca pearls.
  • Brown Sugar: Ultra-rich brown sugar bubble tea has been an explosive hit in Taiwan – a milk-heavy bubble drink doused with a generous shot of cloyingly sweet brown sugar syrup, all swirling in a beautiful gradient of cocoa-browns and pearly whites.
  • Block Tea: (known as red tea in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan): By far the most popular option for bubble tea (including Earl Grey).
  • Green Tea: Especially jasmine green tea and green tea powders such as matcha.

Bubble Tea Toppings

The most popular and well-known topping is tapioca pearls. These tiny black spheres are sometimes referred to as pearls or bubble. Tapioca balls are made from tapioca starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant. Furthermore, it has a chewy texture and is the reason behind the popularity of bubble tea.

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Top 7 Toppings

  • Tapioca Pearls: Small, round globules of boiled tapioca starch that provide a very chewy, almost gum-like texture and almost no flavor. They are typically purplish-black, though they can also be white or pastel in color. They are by far the most popular bubble (often simply called boba) and can vary in size
  • Jelly: Grass jelly is made from Chinese mesona, the chewy cubes have a lightly sweet, herbal flavor. Aloe jelly is similar but made from the aloe plant. Other jelly flavors like coconut are sometimes offered as well
  • Taro Balls: Cooked and often purple in color, these sweet balls are made from the taro plant.
  • Sweet Potato Balls: Chewy balls made using orange sweet potato
  • Tapioca noodles: Usually made from white tapioca and shaped into thin, noodle-like strands that can be slurped up through a wide bubble tea straw
  • Pudding: Thick, creamy custard puddings that can be added to your drink as a decadent treat. Pudding typically comes in different flavors, like taro or coffee
  • Popping Boba: A take on the standard tapioca pearls that “pop” in your mouth for a burst of flavor. These can come in a range of flavor options

Other popular topping and mix-ins include:

  • Fresh Fruit: Diced fresh fruit is popular in bubble tea, especially in fruit teas
  • Red Bean: Sweet, creamy red beans
  • Cookie Crumbs: Crumbled up Oreos or similar cookies
  • Ice Cream: Some shops offer ice cream as a mix-in or topper for bubble tea
  • Cheese Cream: A sweet, salty, and savory cream made with cheese powder

Bubble Tea Supplier in Taiwan

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