Why is Boba so popular in Asia

Trend drink bubble tea : Bursting pearls in the mouth

Summer vacation in Berlin, 3 p.m. The queue in front of "BoBoQ" near Ku'damm stretches along the pedestrian path. Around 50 Berliners have to wait half an hour to drink a bubble tea, while a security guard has to ensure that passers-by can pass the pending customers. Especially on hot summer days, the Asian trend drink offers more cooling than a Starbucks coffee and is an exciting alternative in the same price category.

Pearl milk tea or bubble tea. Almost everyone has heard of it, but what is actually behind it? It is probably not a tea with bubbles, as the name suggests. "Bubble" is derived from the Asian term "Boba", which stands for pearl or ball. But what exactly can you imagine by that? Bubble tea consists of a base and a topping. The base is green or black tea, which is mixed with milk or yoghurt and sweetened with honey or fruit syrup. The milkshake-like drink is available in all possible colors and flavors, such as strawberry, mango or green apple. Once you have decided on a variety, you choose a topping to go with it. These are balls of different types. There are so-called “popping boba”, pearl-sized balls that you pop open like caviar in your mouth to get your fruit or yoghurt filling. In Asia, however, bubble tea is appropriately drunk with tapioca balls. These are rubbery, tasteless balls that you have to chew on for a little longer. For production, the balls made from vegetable starch are boiled for 20 minutes and then immersed in sugar solution after quenching. This gives them their black color. Served in a transparent plastic cup, tea and balls are soaked up at the same time with an extra-thick straw.

Ming-Ching Lai is the founder of "BoBoQ", a bubble tea shop in Berlin, and head of the company "Possmei" in Germany. He said that bubble tea was invented in Taiwan and originated in a small tea shop in the 1980s. It quickly became a trend, especially among school children, first spreading to Asia and then to the USA. Bubble tea has now achieved cult status in Asia. Mr. Lai also drinks one almost every day. “Bubble tea tastes like my home country,” he says and smiles. He was born in Taiwan and came to Europe in 1984. 20 years later he planned to bring the cult drink from his homeland to Berlin. “Take-away was very popular back then. But why wasn't there an Asian drink of this kind, ”Ming-Ching Lai wondered when he came up with the origin of his idea. But the implementation still had to wait a few years before he was able to open “BoBoQ” in spring 2010 - Berlin's first bubble tea shop.

The audience was critical. Mostly Asians initially bought bubble tea, the first uncertainty among Berliners subsided two months later. Word quickly got around about the Asian trend drink. Today, around 900 bubble teas are sold daily at “BoBoQ” in Marburger Strasse alone.

During her first bubble tea, the student Asena N. from Berlin Wilmersdorf couldn't understand why one should drink tea with small balls. She now comes to BoBoQ regularly, "because it tastes so delicious and I'm almost addicted to it," she explains. For many other customers, too, the chewy, tasteless balls in milk tea took getting used to. "It feels like eating eyes," is how Mathilda K. describes her first bubble tea experience. Others liked the Asian novelty from the start. But what tastes so special about a bubble tea could not be answered exactly. For most of them it is simply the interplay of the chewing drink and the refreshing drink. It is mainly aimed at young people from the age of 12 who regularly drink their bubble tea every month, but adults are also positively surprised.

In addition to twelve “BoBoQ” branches, there are now other shops in Berlin that offer bubble tea. They all get their goods from "Possmei", a company that manufactures products for bubble tea in Taiwan and exports them worldwide. In Germany, Mr. Lai, as managing director, supplies all Bubble Tea branches with goods from his home country.

And not only that: The Berliners got to know and love Bubble Tea through him.

Mr. Lai is firmly convinced that bubble tea will have developed into a cult drink here in Germany in 15 to 20 years.

This text was created as part of the Tagesspiegel student academy.

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