Boba, also known as bubble tea, is a tea-based drink traditionally served with tapioca balls at the bottom, though most boba chains offer an assortment of toppings like lychee jelly, sago, red bean — anything that gives the drink a “QQ” texture, a sort of tactile onomatopoeia in Taiwan to describe a chewy bounciness.
The true origins of boba remain shrouded in a rivalry between two popular Taiwanese tea house chains: Taichung’s Chun Shui Tang and Tainan’s Hanlin Tea Room. Chun Shui Tang claims that in 1987, its employee, Lin Hsiu-hui, created the first pearl milk tea when she poured a mixture of lemon black tea and iced milk tea over her favorite childhood snack, tapioca balls. Hanlin’s version of the story has its founder mixing translucent tapioca balls and milk tea in 1986.
Regardless of who created the first pearl milk tea, the resulting litigation the two companies embroiled each other in prevented any kind of trademark on the drink, allowing tea houses across Taiwan to sell their own boba. Though boba has been in the United States since the 1990s, first serving a primarily Taiwanese-American population in California, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that the treat took off across the country. The Atlanta area is no exception, now home to several dozen boba shops. Here are the essentials to check out.
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