I love drinking bubble tea, especially in Indonesia, China, and in Japan where there are many famous bubble tea sellers, especially Chatime or KOI (there was one when I visited Indonesia).

enter image description here

enter image description here

However, I was surprised when I came to Japan first time years ago that I couldn't find any "bubble tea" or "bubble milk tea", instead I found "Tapioka juice/tea" (I laughed literally at the naming, well..:)). Because what I imagined of a 'Tapioka (in Indonesia it's called "Tepung Tapioka"') is a "tepung pati ubi kayu (starch flour made from the essence of manioc/cassava).

enter image description here

Explanation: A starch made by leaching and drying the root of the cassava plant; the source of tapioca; a staple food in the tropics.

Comparison in Japan: 【台北】モチモチ食感が堪らない”飲むスイーツ”タピオカティーの人気店5選

enter image description here


So, back to the question:

Why is a bubble tea called 'タピオカジュース' or 'タピオカティー 'in Japan?

What was/is the history behind the naming? (I suspect that it may be 和製英語)

  • 2
    Boba is made from tapioca after all... – jogloran Jul 8 '18 at 4:52
  • 2
    So you're asking why they use the word "tapioca" because you're asserting that there's no connection between bubble tea and tapioca? I would disagree that there's no connection. – Leebo Jul 8 '18 at 5:08
  • 2
    I almost want to think this question is a joke. "Why do they call the tea with tapioca "tapioca tea" when it's called "bubble tea" in my country?" ... -_-; – ericfromabeno Jul 8 '18 at 5:26
  • 2
    あの・・・ Why is タピオカティー called "babble tea" in your country? – Chocolate Jul 8 '18 at 13:17
  • I'm from Brazil, the actual source of the word "tapioca". Maybe what's not clear to @Flonne is that tapioca starch comes in multiple forms. It can be sold "dry" or "wet" (aka "tapioca gum"); and it can be fine-grained like flour or shaped in little balls (aka sagu), cooked as a dessert or added to ice cream, açaí cream, shaped like pancakes or made into pies etc. etc. All of those are generically called "tapioca". From a Brazilian point of view, bōbà pearls are just a Chinese version of sagu de tapioca that’s (as the name, 波霸, suggests) particularly big. – melissa_boiko Jul 9 '18 at 8:02

タピオカジュース or タピオカティー would be nothing if not 和製英語.

I am more familiar with it being called Pearl Milk Tea (パールミルクティー), as the tapioca balls resemble pearls.

As it didn't originate in an English-language dominant country, the naming conventions vary. You can call it 'boba', as is common in my home country (introduced through the Asian community), or whatever you like. One cannot deny though, that the main constant throughout would be the use of tapioca balls.

The word for bubble in Japanese (泡)is the same for foam. Aside from this naming possibly being confusing for the domestic market, the product has a longer history in Asia than it does anywhere else. So, maybe they should laugh when you call it 'bubble tea'?

  • 2
    Well, the name "bubble tea" refers to the foam produced by the milk, and not to the tapioka balls (originally it was even common to not have tapioka balls), so using 泡 would not really be more confusing than "bubble tea". In Mandarin, one of the names for it is 泡沫茶, which literally means "Tea with bubbles/foam on the top". I'm not a big fan of bubble tea myself, but I would simply guess that it's called Tapioka tea in Japan because they always have tapioka balls, which is one of the main distinctive factors in the product... – a20 Jul 8 '18 at 8:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.