Is Bubble Tea a Tea?

Looking at this picture either sends you into a state of craving or a sensation of disgust crawling down your spine. Yup, it is the bubble tea (also known as boba) that is now fast becoming a global phenomenon.

This is not a new trend though, it originated from Taiwan and it must have been available in Singapore about 2 decades ago, if my memory serves me correctly. Then it flamed out a bit and shops that mushroomed overnight quickly closed.

Then about 3 years ago it made a comeback. What was an outdated fad now became hip again. Large lines formed once again in front the bubble tea kiosks that sprouted over the island.

Social media and blogs put journalism in the hands of the vast public and hence I was to discover that apparently the bubble tea is a global phenomenon. China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore are places that I’ve personally seen but apparently it is also big stateside and in Europe.

Naturally with fame come hoards of detractors. Many pan bubble tea as junk’. There is even the discussion that bubble tea is not tea.

My argument is not on the merit or failings of bubble tea as a beverage. Personally I enjoy an occasional cup, the way I would a soda- a rare indulgence when I feel like ‘slumming’- but I would not have the same expectations of it as I would a pot of ‘proper tea’.

‘A tea or not a tea, that is the question.’

Let’s look at its ingredients:

i)                    Tea

ii)                   Milk

iii)                 Sugar or equivalent

iv)                 Some form of flavors- sometimes in lieu of item iii)

v)                  Ice

vi)                 Pearls

Apart from v) and vi), the composition is the same as many variants that never had their lineage called into question. In fact, few (if any) people question whether ice tea is tea so we are down to item vi).

Either the pearls- which are largely tasteless- have the innate ability to alter the nature of substances or there bubble tea would or would not be a tea depending on where you classify flavored tea, wouldn’t it.

Here’s a disclaimer, I’m not a fan of flavored tea but I am merely challenging the line of argument as opposed to the category in general. My stand is, even if I don’t enjoy it, so long as it is made from a tea leaf, it is a tea. A tea’s ‘tea-ness’ is not diminished by my personal preferences.

I can’t speak for bubble tea all over the world but of the bubble tea that I have tried here, I can taste tea in it. Sometimes I order nil sugar and before stirring the milk, I sip the untainted tea. For the chain that I usually buy from it does taste like Taiwanese style oolong- which means it could be from Taiwan, New Zealand, Vietnam or Thailand. Not the finest, but drinkable on its own which is more than what I can say for the base of some other teas that never had their lineage questioned.

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