Espresso or coffee beans. Flat white or pour over. Dark or light roast. One of the wonderful things about coffee is its versatility to come in so many different forms.
Yet, one of the last places you might think to get your coffee fix is at a bubble tea shop.
At Bubble T Break in Newcastle, UK though, you’ll find exactly that. Co-partner, Shiyu Liu (), expressed that as bubble tea’s popularity has been growing in the UK, so has the desire for coffee bubble tea.
Liu as she begins the process of making a coffee bubble tea
As the first bubble tea business in Newcastle, Liu commented that it’s been encouraging to see a steady growth of customers over time. Since 2012 when Bubble T Break opened their doors, eight other bubble tea shops have begun in Newcastle. Newcastle resembles the trend of growth for bubble tea shops that many other cities have seen in the UK and the United States.
A Short History On Bubble Tea
Bubble tea was first introduced to the west coast of the US in the 1990’s after it was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s at a Chun Shui Tang teahouse. The drink started as a fad in the US, but it quickly began to grow in popularity.
According to Grace Xu, a journalist at Business Today, part of the reason that the tea trend has continued to grow is due to the drink’s uniqueness along with its ability to be appealing to people with radically different palette preferences.
“The versatility of bubble tea as a product lends itself to innovation. As boba became more popular, new flavors were introduced,” Xu said. “As the first wave of the bubble tea craze was starting to die down, new boba trends started to emerge; it was Americanized. New bubble tea sellers opened that marketed their teas to customers who frequented coffee shops.”
So, What Is Bubble Tea?
Bubble tea can go by several names, including milk tea, boba tea, pearl milk tea, or tapioca tea. While bubble tea tends to be one of the most popular names for the drink, it’s a misconception that the word “bubble” refers to the tapioca balls resting at the bottom of the drink.
Instead, the phrase “bubble tea” refers to the milk froth that is created when the drink is being shaken, while the word “boba” is a Taiwanese slang term for pearls and references the chewy balls at the bottom of the drink, according to Khushbu Shah from Mic.
A machine adds the sealed top to the bubble tea. Customers poke their straw through the plastic when they’re ready to drink it.
Bubble tea can be created from black, green, oolong, or white tea, depending on the consumer’s preference. Usually milk is then mixed into the tea, and a customer can select if they want their drink to be anywhere between 25-100% sweetness. Then, the character defining element of bubble tea is added: the tapioca pearls.
While the pearls offer virtually no flavor, they offer a unique flavor unlike other drinks on the market.
“One challenge we find with new customers is them getting used to the
pearls,” Lui said. “They usually don’t know what to expect.”
Liu as she served my bubble tea. She told me what to expect from the texture of the tapioca pearls before trying them.
Despite this, bubble tea is converting many new customers into regulars. On a global scale, the bubble tea market is expected to grow its worth from $2.4 billion in 2019 to $4.3 billion by 2027. In the US alone, the market value is expected to grow by $963 million during 2019-2023.
With its versatility, bubble tea isn’t a “fad” that will be fading away anytime soon. So, the next time you’re looking to mix up your coffee routine, check out a bubble tea shop that offers a coffee/tea combo. Just be sure to not slurp down the tapioca pearls too quickly.