The Bubble Tea Phenomenon in Canada

You see it in food kiosks at malls in major Canadian cities, and if you have never tried it before, it is worth the experience.

Bubble tea, also called boba tea, is a tea beverage containing gelatinous tapioca pearls. It originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, spread to nearby East Asian countries, and migrated to Canada before spreading to Chinatown in New York City, then to various spots throughout the West Coast of the United States. The literal translation from Chinese is pearl milk tea.  Today, bubble tea can be found in major Canadian cities including Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto.

The word “bubble” refers to “bubbling”, the process by which certain types of bubble tea are made, and not the actual tapioca balls. The balls are often called “pearls.” Drinks with large pearls are consumed along with the beverage through wide straws; while drinks with small pearls are consumed through normal straws. The distinctive characteristic of bubble tea is the presence of chewy translucent balls of pearl tapioca (that sit at the bottom of the glass). Usually the pearls are “large pearl,” larger than the “small pearl” that is customary in tapioca pudding. Cooked, large pearls have a diameter of at least 6 millimeters. Occasionally, “small pearl” tapioca is used. Both sizes of pearls are available in a variety of colors. The pearls boiled in water for 25 minutes, until they are cooked thoroughly but have not lost pliancy, then cooled for 25 minutes. After cooking they last about 7 hours. The pearls have little taste, and are usually soaked in sugar or honey solutions.

Bubble teas are generally of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas, and milk teas. However, some shops offer a hybrid “fruit milk tea.” Milk teas may use dairy or non-dairy creamers.

Different flavoring can be added to bubble tea. Some widely available fruit flavors include strawberry, green apple, passion fruit, mango, lemon, grape, lychee, peach, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, banana, and kiwi. Other popular non-fruit flavors include taro, coconut, chocolate, coffee, mocha, barley, sesame, almond, ginger, lavender, rose, violet. Some of the sour fruit flavors are usually only available in bubble tea without milk as the acidity will curdle the milk.


One comment on “The Bubble Tea Phenomenon in Canada

  1. I just want to say something about bubble tea. One day on a trip to Metrotown for a movie, my friend offered to buy me a bubble tea. At $3.75 each, I thought it was really pricey for a weird drink of some greyish balls, and icy milky tea. Graciously, I agreed to give it a try. And what a surprise! The glassy pearl on the tongue is a great feeling, I love its chewiness. From then on, I became hooked, and would have bubble tea at any time. I have since tried the Taro, Red Bean, Almond, Strawberry, Lychee flavours. I just love it!

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