2012 / 8月
外國人口中的「QQ milk tea」、「pearl milk tea」、「Bubble Tea」、「Boba Tea」，指的都是有「台灣國飲」之稱的珍珠奶茶。珍珠奶茶主要由紅茶、奶精與粉圓所組成，看似不搭軋的數種食物，卻在雪克杯的搖晃中，激盪出香濃Q滑、讓人一喝難忘的特殊口感。珍珠奶茶的發跡歷程，更見證了台灣茶飲市場的創新與創意。
Lin Hsin-ching/photos by Chuang Kung-ju/tr. by Scott Williams
Known variously as QQ milk tea, pearl milk tea, bubble tea, and boba, Taiwan’s “national drink” is a sweet, cold tea (usually black) with milk and tapioca “pearls.” It may seem like an odd mix of ingredients, but it works, and the firm, chewy “pearls” give the beverage a unique and unforgettable mouthfeel.
The development of this tasty treat is a testament to the creativity of Taiwan’s tea-beverage industry. Pearl milk tea began life as “bubble tea,” an iced, shaken black tea beverage. It is thought to have been created in 1949 in a Tainan teashop called “Tian Ma Tea.” Tian Ma passed on its shaken tea to “Shuang Quan Tea,” a venerable Tainan institution, and bubble tea spread from there.
Milk tea with “pearls” made its official debut in the 1980s, but there are two versions of the story. Liu Hanjie, owner of Taichung’s renowned Chun Shui Tang teahouse, insists that his shop was experimenting with a bubble tea with milk and “pearls” as early as 1983, and developed the drink. He credits R&D manager Li Xiuhui, who has loved tapioca pearls since she was a little girl, with inventing the drink, and human resources manager Shen Tong’e with naming it.
Tu Zonghe, owner of Tainan’s Hanlin Tea, argues no less vehemently that he came up with the idea of adding “pearls” to milk tea after seeing white tapioca pearls in Yamuliao Market in 1987. He says that’s why the pearls used in the pearl milk tea of those days were white. It was only later that people began making the pearls dark by adding a little liquid caramel to the mix.Firing up the production line
Chun Shui Tang and Hanlin even took their battle over who was first to court. When the court was unable to resolve the issue, neither Liu nor Tu was allowed to register a patent or trademark, freeing the beverage to spread far and wide.
At the end of the 1980s, Tainan’s Cao Meng Bubble Tea rechristened its large pearls “boba” (“big boobs”) in honor of Hong Kong star Amy Yip’s ample cleavage. Pearl milk tea has been known as “boba” ever since.
Boba’s popularity has been growing steadily since the 1990s, making it a staple of bubble-tea shop menus. Seeking to cut the amount of time spent making drinks and better meet the growing demand for carry-out orders, the industry automated many of the steps in the drink-making process by developing devices that measure out fructose, shake drinks, and seal cups. As this production chain took shape, franchise boba shops such as Easy Way, Lollicup, and Quickly began to emerge.A focus on mouthfeel
The flavor and mouthfeel of freshly made tea beverages can vary widely, and over the last decade increasingly picky Taiwanese consumers have come to expect a lot of their handmade drinks. Nowadays, most people prefer brand names to cheap drinks, and tend to opt for the higher priced offerings from specialty beverage shop chains (NT$30 for a medium-sized milk-tea boba).
Ching Shin, which has more than 1,000 outlets and is currently Taiwan’s largest tea chain by market share, is highly regarded for its “pure” tea beverages. Its “oolong green tea” is its most popular drink. Taiwan’s second-largest chain, 50 Lan, is better known for its milk teas. And if you’re looking for something with a twist, say a “gold diamond pineapple tea,” consider giving Taiwan’s number-three chain, Coco Fresh Tea & Juice, a shot.
These days, “boba” is synonymous with “teashop chain,” and vendors are continuing to innovate, introducing new garnishes ranging from grass jelly, aiyu jelly, konnyaku, and nata de coco to flavored gelatins and silver needle noodles. With annual domestic revenues already in the neighborhood of NT$30 billion, the industry is still growing and is now spreading “boba” around the globe.