Lin Hsiu Hui created the first bubble tea in Chun Shui Tang, a tea shop in Taichung, Taiwan. She experimentally combined two of her favorite ingredients – milk tea and tapioca pearls (made from cassava root). She was not the only one who enjoyed this combination of flavor. In fact, it revolutionized the milk tea industry. Only a couple of months later, Hui shared her creation with her coworkers and customers, and every shop on the block offered their own bubble tea (footnote 1).
By 1990 and 1991, bubble tea was spreading all over Taiwan. Today, the tea is so popular it makes up at least 80 percent to 90 percent of sales on the menu at Chun Shui Tang.
Since its early beginnings in the 1980s, the trend of bubble tea has spread from Asia to America and Europe, and new companies are continually joining the bubble tea revolution.
With more than 200 flavor combinations and tens of thousands of drink customizations, bubble tea continues to grow exponentially. Health-conscious individuals appreciate the healthy options of low sugar, green tea, black tea and more. The green tea flavor alone is expected to grow by 8.2 percent by 2027.
The bubble tea trend continues to soar, gaining popularity across markets. In 2019, the bubble tea market's value was US$2.4 billion. By 2027, they predict it to be worth US4.3 billion dollars (footnote 2). Bubble tea companies are also making their way in New York, California and many other U.S. states. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find a bubble tea store – or more – in your local mall or shopping plaza. There are about 19 boba-serving stores in this half-a-mile block in Houston, as an example.
Top Bubble Tea Companies
North America has a growing Taiwanese-American population, especially in California and New York. In fact, California's Taiwanese population is 60,478 and New York's is at 25,573 and rising. One side of the continent typically calls it “Boba tea” and the other prefers the term “Bubble Tea.” The culture brings with it a fantastic tea creation and adaptation. For instance, Tiger Sugar in Taipei has added a richly addictive brown sugar boba tea.
Here are some of the companies leading the industry in bubble tea or boba tea.
Top 5 U.S. Tea Companies
1. Gong Cha – founded in Taiwan in 2006, it has about 20 cafes in California.
2. Kung Fu Tea – founded in Queens, New York in 2010, it’s one of America’s leading bubble tea companies with more than 250 locations. Also, the company is the founder of National Bubble Tea Day on April 30.
3. Sharetea – established in 1992 in Taipei, Taiwan, this company has more than 500 stores in 15 countries.
4. The Boba Guys – This franchise is based in California and is a very popular choice; currently, it has 18 locations in California alone.
5. Tapioca Express – originally established in 1999 In Alhambra, Calif., this bubble tea shop is the place to stop on your travels. They have 38 locations across the United States.
Top 10 Bubble Tea Companies in the World
1. Sharetea – established in 1992 in Taipei, Taiwan, this company has more than 500 stores in 15 countries.
2. Cha Time – founded in Taiwan in 2005, Cha Time expanded to Australia in 2009 and then branched out globally; it now has more than 2,500 locations in 38 countries.
3. CoCo Fresh – Coco Fresh is a global boba tea company founded in 1997 by Tommy Hung in Tamsui, Taiwan. The company has more than 4,500 locations across the globe and is still expanding.
4. Quickly – Quickly offers their tapioca milk tea to more than 2,000 different locations. The company is a brand name of Kuai Ke Li Enterprise Co LTD.
5. Ten Ren's Tea – a top retailer and tea manufacturer with more than 2,000 stores worldwide. The company was founded in 1953.
6. DaBoba – founded in Malaysia in 2018, they have over 43 locations in five countries, and plan to expand to 11 new countries soon.
7. Happy Lemon Bubble Tea – operating under parent company Yummy Town Holdings Corp., Happy Lemon has more than 1,500 stores worldwide. Founded in China in 2006, its products operate in public trade around the world.
8. Tiger Sugar – this is a newer company but it’s quickly on the rise since its start in just 2017 with more than 40 locations worldwide and growing.
9. Gong Cha – instituted in Taiwan in 2006, this company has quickly expanded in such a short amount of time, and it has over 1,500 cafes in 20 different countries.
10. YiFang Bubble Tea – originally from Taiwan, this chain has more than 1,200 stores across the globe and is thriving.
Still Not Familiar with Bubble Tea?
If you’re new to the tea industry and haven’t tried bubble tea yet, or if you haven’t explored the drink’s market opportunities, here are some insights on the popular beverage.
Bubble tea is an exciting blend of texture and flavor for the palate. It is a milk-based tea with chew tapioca pearls inside. You may also hear it referred to as “boba milk tea,” “bubble milk tea,” or “pearl milk tea.” With its origins from Taiwan, this fine beverage is popular worldwide, perhaps slightly more so in Southeast Asia. Some may serve the tea as a frozen blend, yet it is most popular in its original milky form with multiple flavor varieties.
Bubble tea is a refreshing beverage and an explosion of taste and texture. It first greets your taste buds with the silky smooth and sweet flavored tea, followed by delightful, chewy gumdrops of tapioca pearls.
The term bubble in bubble tea refers to the layer of foamy bubbles that form at the top of the tea after vigorously shaken. The boba refers to the pearly tapioca balls.
Before they put the pearls of boba in the tea, they prep them by boiling separately in water, with brown sugar. The slow cooking gives the pearls its soft texture and the brown sugar adds flavor and color.
The tea recipe itself varies by location and who is making it. Many make bubble tea with a milk tea or fruit tea base. Each shop makes its tea a little different, so the flavor and taste can vary by location. Some factors that would influence the taste would be how sweet a shop makes it. Boba tea in the United States, for instance, is often high in sugar, which gives it the sweet addictive taste consumers can't get enough of; though, the majority of tea shops allow adjustments to the sweetness level.
The key to flawless bubble tea is to obtain a precise balance of texture and consistency, with no lumps or hard little bits of ingredients in the tea. The perfect bubble tea is a science and art of each boba-rista.
A Bright Future for Bubble Tea
To say bubble tea is trending in the beverage industry is almost not enough. The craze is catching on like wildfire. Many companies are pioneering delicious bubble tea drinks across an extensive market, and they’re even penetrating the food industry. Whether you prefer to call it bubble tea or boba, the drink continues to thrill customers and their taste buds, and it’s a opportunity for many entrepreneurs and businesses across the tea industry.
Emily Le is the founder and CEO of GiftsFor, whose mission is to provide curated gift guides to help people find the perfect present for their family and friends. Her love of bubble tea and dream of sharing this delicious beverage lead her to partner in a co-ownership of a Sharetea. She has provided consulting for investors and future bubble shop owners to understand the operations and lend guidance on viability. Her store serves thousands of cups a month to a city of approximately 122,000 individuals, and she hopes to have everyone try boba at least once. Her goal is to make sure every customer’s extremely personalized drink order is correct every time. Her personalized list of boba favorites can be found here.