6 Facts About The History of Bubble Tea in Singapore

Bubble tea has come a long way in Singapore. From its humble beginnings at a single café in town, to its prevalence at the myriad of takeaway outlets we see today, bubble tea has undergone several ups and downs with its popularity as a beverage. While many regard it as a fad, others deem it to be a classic example of how a simple drink can continue to appeal to different taste preferences and be enjoyed by people across generations. Here are several historical aspects of how bubble tea has changed over the years in Singapore.

#1 From Cocktail Glasses to Plastic Takeouts

Bubble tea made its debut in Singapore when Bubble Tea Garden, a café or what was called “bubble tea hut”, opened at Marina Square in 1992. Back then, the beverage was a favourite among Chinese-speaking students who probably already knew about the origins of the drink from Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taiwan. Bubble tea was commonly served in rather fancifully-shaped cocktail glasses when customers dined in at eateries. Nowadays, people opt to purchase their bubble tea in disposable plastic cups from the ubiquitous takeout kiosks around Singapore. This has created tonnes of waste in the environment and only less than 20% of the cups disposed are really recycled. LiHo, a local brand name, started selling their bubble milk tea in plastic bags in 2019, probably in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic used and give the drink a local twist. Who knows, the next time bubble tea may be served in biodegradeable cups?

#2 A Different Competitive Arena Since 2001

The battlefield has changed over the years, with different challengers coming to and leaving Singapore. When the drink first became a phenomenal hit in 2001, the major chains included Cool Station, Quickly and Milk Girl Ice Cup. Perhaps the more memorable ones from the late 90s were Each-a-Cup and Sweet Talk, both of which still remain in town today. Even hawker centres started selling the drink, and because of the huge competition and price wars, the bubble burst among many customers by 2003. Still, many outlets persisted, and a decade after it first became immensely popular, the bubble floated back to the surface in 2011. There were 500 outlets retailing the chilled drink, including newer brands like Gong Cha and Koi. As of 2019, the arena is flooded with dozens of brands from Taiwan, China, Thailand and Korea. If you can recognize the above logos, chances are you have already tried a cuppa!

#3 Change Your Cup of Tea Whenever and Wherever

The original classic bubble tea is similar to the Teh in Singapore – Red or black tea with condensed milk and complete with tapioca pearls. However, when bubble tea first conquered Singapore in 1992, there were already several varieties to choose from, such as Pearl Red Bubble Tea, Yam Shake, Whisky Red Tea, and Honey Egg Yolk from Bubble Tea Garden. Subsequently, these exotic flavours were phased out when customers became more tea-centric. Besides black tea, Matcha or green tea, Oolong tea, Tie Guan Yin, Earl Grey tea, and even Cheese Tea (essentially green or black tea topped with foamy milk and cream cheese) were introduced to the market. Should you fancy a more pronounced tea flavour, you can always adjust the sugar level to a healthier percentage.

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