Course:HIST104/Bubble Black Tea

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Since the 1983 introduction of bubble black tea in Taiwan, bubble tea has built for itself a rapt fan base. [1] The predecessor of this in demand beverage was hot black tea - discovered in China when dried leaves blew into a cup of hot water. Following this sensational discovery of tea, tea has transformed over the ages into the cool bubble black tea of today. Tea first started its migration within the Orient, where it morphed depending on the unique tastes of a particular region and ethnic group. For example, the Manchurians and Mongolians added their greatly prized equine milk to tea in order to drink both simultaneously. [2] Later, the British Empire’s heavy consumption of sugar established the sugar and tea combination.[3] More recently, the addition of ice to tea in the United States was a creative idea that cooled the previously hot beverage down.[4] All of this historical evolution and advancement assembled together to become the foundation for modern bubble black tea. Today, the beverage contains tapioca pearls, and the term “bubble” in “bubble tea” has come to be linked to these pearls.[5] Originally, however, the "bubble" was an indication of the froth that tended to build up in the drink, as it was shaken during preparation.[6]

diagram of bubble tea
The culture of diverse ethnic and regional groups is embodied in a cup of bubble black tea.

There are many different names for the this drink, including many regional and local name variations. A couple of them are: Pearl Tea, Pearl Ice Tea, Black Pearl Ice Tea, QQ drinks, Nai Cha, Zhen Zhou Nai Cha, Boba Nai Cha. However "Bubble Tea" remains the most popular name.[7] Cultural exchange and world globalization in the modern era has allowed for the spread and popularization of bubble black tea across the globe, giving raise to such naming diversity.

Early History of Black Tea

Black Tea has long history dating back well over 4, 500 years ago, when it has been credited to legend that in 2737 B.C., Chinese ruler Emperor Shen Nung was boiling hot water to drink and some leaves from the camellia plant accidentally dropped into his pot and incidentally tea brewing was born.[8] At first, tea was favoured as a medicinal beverage only enjoyed in China and Japan for thousands of years. It wasn’t until after the Ming Dynasty in 1644 A.D. that tea was more accessible in and outside of China.[9] Around the year 1690 is when documented sales and distribution began to take place of tea in other regions, such as Taiwan and in the New World Colonies.[10] In the 1700’s, tea skyrocketed in sales and consumption in Britain and the American Colonies, which was the beginning of tea importing and exporting as a major business, an exmaple of that being the 1773 Boston Tea Party due to the higher taxation on tea products.[11] In 1838, the first tea plant was transported from China to India, and in Assam, India the first tea products were grown and cultivated by the East India Company and sold to the English.[12]

Black Tea into the 20th Century

More recently in history dating back to the early 1900’s tea had made its way nearly all over the globe. Tea is now served in over 1500 different variations, and Black Tea being one of the more popular brands within the last 50 years.[13] Black Tea has grown in popularity not only for its darker colour, more potent taste, but also due to the higher caffeine content, as well as the health benefits provided by Black Tea. Black Tea has been studied and believed for my years to help with the human digestive system[14], which was one of the early medicinal reasons to why the Chinese drank tea after meals, and also why the Dutch believed tea added length to many Chinese lives.[15]

Black Tea has unique qualities that set it apart from other flavours of tea. It is made from Camellia sinensis leaves, a leaf that is able to pass through a special fermentation process, which alters the colour of the leaf, making it darker and more potent in flavour.[16] The black tea fermentation process is an enzymatic oxidation process, which dries out the leaves over a period of time which helps oxidizes the leaves.[17] Black Tea shares a similarity with that of wine and whiskey, as with age the leaves become stronger, in turn, increases the amount of caffeine in the leaves, which makes black tea a unique energy source.[18] As Black Tea has evolved in styles of service, the evolution of this Black Bubble Tea has become more popular worldwide since the 1980’s and 90’s.

Black Bubble Tea has made a long quick journey across the globe, as the addition of fruit, syrup flavours and tapioca pearls into black tea and other brands of tea has created a new popular refreshing drink.

Sweet, Creamy and Cold

Traditional Chinese tea is a pure brew of leaves and water, lacking both milk and sugar. The only additives had been scents, which had been added since the Tang Dynasty. In fact Song Dynasty (960-1279) Chinese disliked milk products, which they associated with barbarism. [19] Sugar was very rarely, if ever added to tea, as one European traveler, Aenas Anderson, noted with surprise in 1793. [20] A third important ingredient of bubble black tea, ice, was not known to be added in either Europe or China until the drink had traveled to America. [21] The creamy, sweet and ice-cold nature of modern bubble black tea then, had developed from contact with various peoples starting as early as the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368).

The Addition of Milk

Milk and tea
Pouring milk into tea. Photo courtesy of here

Although the Chinese themselves never added milk to tea, two of their neighbours outside the Great Wall, the Mongols and the Manchus, did. [22] Both groups had invaded and established dynasties in China. The Mongols under Genghis Khan (1162-1227) and later his grandson Kublai Khan (1260-1294) invaded China and founded the Yuan dynasty. [23] The Mongols were a semi-nomadic people that not only depended on their horses but greatly prized them - so much so that they exclusively drank equine milk [24] They drank a great variety of equine milk derivatives, including milk wine, fermented milk, condensed milk and dehydrated milk. [25] Having had traded horses for tea and goods with the Chinese for centuries before the Yuan dynasty founding, the Mongols logically mixed their beloved milk with tea. [26] Meanwhile, the Manchus were cousins of the Mongols to the North, and were also a horse-prizing, equine milk drinking society. [27] Instead of adding milk to green tea as the Mongols did, however, the Manchus added milk to black tea. [28] Thus black tea with milk is most appropriately called Manchu-styled tea. [29]. Then Manchus conquered China in 1644 to establish the Qing Dynasty (1644-1800), and their Emperor reputably took tea with milk and water in equal parts. [30] This style of tea drinking was still viewed with distaste by the ethnic Han Chinese and yet this style of tea was the one that will dominate in the wider world - and the first step in the transformation of tea into bubble black tea as known today.

Even though the Silk Road had been a trade link between China and Europe since the Yuan Dynasty, tea had never made it past Persia during that dynasty. [31] Even in writing, tea did not reach Europe - European travel writers like Giovanni Carpini and Macro Polo strangely did not mention tea in their accounts of China. [32] The first tea probably arrived in Europe during the final years of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). [33] It was not until the Qing Dynasty of the Manchus however, that tea started to become known in Europe [34] One of the first European literary mentions of tea was in the 1660 diary of the British Samuel Pepes, who wrote of a new drink, "tee...a China drinke." [35] Since the Manchu rulers of China introduced Europeans to tea with milk, Europeans likely assumed that tea and milk went hand in hand. [36] The Manchus desired to build up trade in their empire, and started shipping large amounts of goods to Europe so that by mid 1700s tea had become an European phenomenon, especially in England with tea sales raising dramatically, in parallel with raising sugar sales. [37]

The Addition of Sugar

Tea and lots of sugar
Tea with sugar. Photo courtesy of here

By the mid 18th century, tea had become as much Britain’s national drink as China's. [38] Milk in tea did not have an European origin, but sugar-in-tea was a distinctly European custom. [39] The consumption of sugar in tea became so widespread in Britain that the commercial value of both commodities became chief driving forces behind British imperialism: sugar plantations in their West Indies (Caribbean) colony, tea plantations in their India colony and even opium trafficking in China. [40]

Sugar had been in use in Europe for centuries before the arrival of tea, however at the beginning sugar was an expensive status symbol for the upper-class. [41] Of when and why the British first added sugar to tea, there is only speculative evidence. Likely the negative health effects of vast amounts of sugar in the diet, like tooth decay started to be publicized. [42] In contrast, the health benefits of tea were being extolled, so adding sugar to tea may have been an effort to offset sugar's negative effects with tea's positive ones. [43] Whatever the case, by the 1720s-1730s tea with sugar and milk had become the mode in British upper and middle class homes alike. [44] This caused enormous increase in the demand for both tea and sugar. [45] Luckily for the British tea lover this astronomical increase in demand did not raise prices as a consequence, due to proportional increase in production in Britain's colonies, and the habit was able to take hold in the general populance. [46]

Britain had previously imported a million tea plants to its India colony, turning it into one of the world's leaders in tea production. [47] Meanwhile sugar was being produced cheaply in the British West Indies, at the cost of slave lives (until the abolition of slavery in 1833). [48] As both tea and sugar were products of the British Empire, drinking sugar-tea was seen as highly patriotic and supportive of the Empire's overseas ventures. [49] Queen Victoria herself was fond of tea, and had once remarked "We hope you get your tea from India as an encouragement to the Empire. We feel all should do so." [50] In this way the forces of trade, imperialism and patriotism were the forces that helped put the critical ingredients of milk and sugar into a cup of modern bubble black tea. At this point however, the beverage was still drunk piping hot, never cold.

A glass of iced tea
Iced tea. Photo courtesy of here

The Addition of Ice

Ice was not added to tea until the 1900's in the United States of America. [51] Previously, no matter in China or in Europe tea had been sipped hot. America had begun as a British colony, and English settlers there had brought tea along with them. The Americans showed their innovative natures when they added ice to sweet tea, producing a reliving drink for the heat of the summer. [52] The first known mention of iced, sweetened black tea was in the 1884 in a cookbook from the Boston Cooking School, and later popularized by Richard Bloechynden who vended it at the 1904 St. Louise World's Fair. [53]

Each group that came into contact with a brew of tea added a new ingredient. Milk-loving peoples living just outside of, and later ruling, China added milk; Imperial Britain added sugar in support of their overseas colonies; and lastly, the Americans broke tradition and added ice. Now a creamy, sweet and cold beverage resembling modern bubble black tea had emerged. However one ingredient - some might say the most important ingredient - was still missing.

Contact with Taiwan

Origin of Packaged Tea Beverages

Before 1983, Taiwan’s beverage market had been dominated by packaged carbonated drinks, as well as fruit and vegetable juices, since they arrived in Taiwan in the 1920s and 1960s respectively.[54] However, the emergence of packaged tea beverages in the early 1980s changed the market greatly. Taiwan’s first packaged tea drink was a barley-flavoured black tea called Mine Shine, which was launched by Uni-President in 1983.[55] Although this beverage was the first of its kind to be launched into the market, the public’s interest in packaged tea drinks is largely credited to Kaisi Oolong Tea by Sinn Si Industrial Co., which made its debut in 1985.[56] While sales were initially poor, television commercials that aired around 1990 secured a strong image for the brand, which resulted in great success. Kaisi Oolong Tea has become one of the most popular packaged tea beverages of all time.[57]

Evolution of Packaged Tea Beverages

In response to the sudden enthusiasm that the public had for tea drinks, businesses began to create new varieties of tea products. Aside from the basic black tea, new varieties such as milk tea, green tea, fruit tea, and unsweetened tea emerged in the market.[58] Green tea in particular has become extremely popular due to its health properties; it accounts for 35% of total revenue from packaged tea drinks.[59]

Invention of Bubble Tea

There are variations as to who originally created “bubble tea”, which has now become one of the signature beverages of Taiwan. However, it is widely believed that a teahouse in Taichung, known as Chun Shui Tang, was the first to begin serving “bubble tea” in 1983, which was the result of experimentation with cold milk tea and an assortment of fruit, syrup, candied yams, and other sweets.[60] While this beverage was not immediately popular, it soon became the favourite after school snack of elementary school children that preferred the cool and sweet refreshing taste of the bubble tea over other regular types of tea.[61] This generated competition between other tea shops, as they all now wanted to created a similar kind of drink to gain more customers; thus, the idea of adding and mixing flavours to tea became a widespread practice.[62] The bubbles that form in the drink from being shaken in order to mix the syrups well is where the name “bubble tea” comes from.[63]

The addition of tapioca pearls occurred in the mid 1980s when the manager of a Chun Shui Tang teahouse, Lin Hsui-hui, added her favourite dessert, small black “pearls” of tapioca, into some of the tea drinks with milk.[64] The positive response to these new beverages was so strong that Chun Shui Tang launched “pearl bubble milk tea” in 1987.[65]

Other Names

The beverage that is most commonly known as bubble tea actually has an extensive variety of other names. These include black pearl tea, boba drink, boba milk tea, milk pearl tea, pearl ice tea, pearl tea, tapioca drink, and many others.[66] In North America, the most common names have been bubble tea, pearl milk tea, and boba.[67]

Contact with World at Large

So Many Choices

Photo Courtesy of [[1]].

As mentioned many times already bubble tea has become an extremely popular drink since around the late 80's and early 90's. Some say it might die out,however some say it's here to stay. Reason being, bubble tea gives a person the choice and freedom to almost make up their own drink. An individual has so many choices when picking their drink.[68] It starts off with what kind of tea : Green or Black. Then there are flavors to choose such as green apple, passion fruit, mango, grape,lychee to name a few. These flavors come in either powders or syrups.You can even mix these flavors.Then you can choose if you want to add milk and ice.The last part is what some say is the best and most unique part, the pearls. Pearls(or tapioca balls) are made from tapioca starch,brown sugar and caramel.Tapioca balls can be a bit chewy and elasticy, causing a bit time to get use to. Some prefer to substitute Pearls for jelly squares which match the bubble tea flavor and are firmer than the pearls.[69] So there you have it, one of these reasons this drink might not be another fad,you'll never get bored of it.

North American Hit

As mentioned earlier, around the mid 1980's bubble tea in Taiwan became widely popular. Nearby countries like Japan and Hong Kong received their doses of bubble tea around the early 1990's. A couple years after that, North America wanted in.Bubble Tea shops began popping up in Chinatowns across North America. In the late 90's, they were everywhere. [70] North America had made a good deicision. What they had done was to consider globalization. Globalization is referred to as economic interaction and integration between two countries.[71] When North America realized bubble tea had potential to be hugely popular, they brought it to the continent.


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