If you like something to chew on with your beverage, bubble tea's for you. Now popular around the world, bubble tea originated in Taiwan during the early 1980s. This unique concoction began as flavor-infused tea shaken with ice (which causes bubbles) and poured into a glass at the bottom of which were more "bubbles" in the form of tapioca pearls. Today the term bubble tea has evolved to mean almost any drink with tapioca pearls, always served with fat straws big enough to suck up the pearls along with the liquid. This isn't ordinary tapioca but rather big, black orbs twice the size of regular pearl tapioca. They have a soft, chewing gum/Jell-o consistency. And whereas regular tapioca is made from cassava root, most of the tapioca used for bubble tea is sweet-potato based and colored with caramel. During cooking, the light-brown pearls turn almost black, making for a showy presentation in drinks. Although some Asian markets carry jars of cooked tapioca pearls in syrup, they're hard to find. The large uncooked pearls (about 516 inch in diameter and half again as large cooked) can be purchased online at bubbleteasupply.com, which sells everything necessary for bubble tea including the fat straws and myriad flavorings from honeydew to coconut to taro. Bubble tea goes by numerous names including boba tea, bobo nai cha, momi, momi milk tea, pearl tea, tapioca ball drink, tapioca milk tea and zhen shou nai cha.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.