Bengaluru Loves Its Bubble Tea And Business Is Poppin'

What makes bubble tea so addictive and why can't we get enough of it? Let's find out.

Published On Apr 30, 2024 | Updated On Apr 30, 2024


Lan Thai, which at one point used to be a little eatery inside 5th Avenue Mall on Brigade Road in Bengaluru, used to serve up a mean Thai meal. At the same time, they used to serve two kinds of bubble tea – either green or milk. And that’s it. It was real tea, no added flavours, served chilled with black marble-like tapioca pearls at the bottom. There weren’t that many bubble tea outlets back in 2012 or so, which is when Lan Thai was born. 
The Brigade Road outlet is now closed and the restaurant has a new address in Sanjay Nagar with the same two bubble tea options on the menu.  

In Indiranagar, Thai House, which has a seriously elaborate menu, serves just Pearl Milk Tea, aka bubble aka boba tea. And it’s delicious. And then there’s Burma Burma Burma with its fascinating bubble tea menu. From the OG tea to Taro Latte, Brown Sugar, Berry Matcha, Lotus Biscoff to non-dairy versions such as Citrus Hibiscus, Yuzu Lemonade – you'd need an extra moment or two to decide, not to mention the innovative add-ons including cheese foam, coconut jelly, blackgrass jelly and vanilla custard. 

Yuzu Bubble Tea at Burma Burma

Bengaluru-based Lucky Chan, a chain of Asian restaurants spearheaded by Amit Ahuja, has equally intriguing B-teas on offer. Apart from the classic version which they call the Thai Chai, you'll also get Bourbon Peanut Butter and Dark Oreo bubble teas. While the former comes with classic boba aka tapioca pearls, the latter has chocolate flavoured popping boba. 

The bubble tea game in Bengaluru is surely buzzing. From cloud kitchens serving all kinds of varieties to what one can call an ‘experience outlet’, these flavoured teas are popping all over the city, pun totally intended. 
From milk and black to flavoured (with little real tea in it) teas, with added tapioca pearls or fruit jelly or fruit-flavoured popping boba, you’d be overwhelmed at the sheer variety and volume of bubble aka boba tea that one can find in the city. 

In fact, bubble tea the world over is a trend that has zero intentions of fading. In fact, you can now buy a DIY kit online – and the options are staggering — and make your own boba at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of local stores are doing just that. 

It all began in the late 1940s in Taiwan when a bartender, Chang Fan Shu, created the ‘shou yao’ tea, which translates to ‘shaken by hand’, by shaking the tea in a cocktail shaker to give it a foamy or bubbly layer on top. Served cold, it was apparently considered to be a luxury for most Taiwanese till the economy of the country turned for the better in the 80s.  

Another story states that in 1986, an entrepreneur by the name of Tu Zonghe, owner of Hanlin Tea Room in Tainan, added white tapioca pearls in tea and ‘invented’ the world’s first bubble tea. And then there’s the Liu Hanjie, owner of the Chun Shui Tang tea house. According to hearsay, Hajie observed how cold coffee was served in Japan and was inspired to make bubble tea. Did the saga end there? Of course not. The claim for the ‘inventor status’ went to court and brewed for 10 years when in 2019 it was finally declared that anyone who can make it owns it. 

Taiwanese immigrants took the boba tea to the United States around the late 1900s, but according to an article published by the University of Michigan’s Michigan Journal of Economics, it was the 2013 viral “Bobalife” song on YouTube that pushed boba into the American mainstream. According to the article, second-generation immigrant tea shops, such as Brown Sugar and Tiger Sugar, later emerged, reshaping perceptions by emphasising quality and reflecting the evolving Chinese-American community’s aspirations and growth. 

According to a report by Fortune Business Insights, the global bubble tea market size was valued at USD 2.46 billion in 2023 and is projected to grow from USD 2.63 billion in 2024 to USD 4.78 billion by 203. Yeah, let that sink in. 

Back in Bengaluru, have you been to Kongsi Tea Bar, which serves ‘true’ Thai bubble tea? The range of bubble teas here are not only imaginative but pretty neat when it comes to their flavours. The Taiwanese Bubble Tea with Brown Sugar and the classic Thai Milk Tea are recommended. 

Onezo, an original Taiwanese bubble tea brand, has recently ventured into the city with three outlets. Brought into India by PassionPropel Foods, Onezo’s agenda is simple: serve boba/bubble tea the real way and to popular the culture of cold teas. Not only do they make the tapioca pearls on site and every day – in fact, if you visit their Koramangala outlet, you might even get to see how the pearls are made – they also have ensured that the usage of additives such as syrups, artificial flavours are at a minimum. The brand sources its tea from Indian estates and ensures that there is no compromise when it comes to quality.

“Our bubble tea is what one can call ‘handcrafted’; we make everything from scratch or as much as possible and you can also customise your bubble tea here. Of course when it comes to all-natural and handmade, there is a certain amount of wastage one needs to take into consideration, but we do our best to minimise it,” says Priyanka Bardhan, one of three founders of PassionPropel Foods. “We wanted to bring the real Taiwanese bubble tea to India and ensure that everything you have here is as authentic as it can get,” she adds. And while Onezo will surely expand to other cities in good time, their plan is to add four more in Bengaluru itself in 2024. 

Boba Bhai, which calls itself the first ‘Indian bubble tea’ brand is proof that the beverage is here to stay. The company which recently received a funding of INR 12.5 crore, is only about seven months old and already operates 25 outlets across cities including Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai and all the outlets are company owned. 

Bubble tea and burgers at Boba Bhai

Founded by Dhruv Kohli, this brand intends to bring the taste of India in its bubble teas. “I grew up overseas, spending a lot of time in Australia and the UK and every 500 metres I’d see a boba shop and wanted to bring it to India. But Boba Bhai is all about the Indian palate so we have Indianised bubble tea,” Kohli says. “What we are trying to do is give people an alternative to aerated beverages and also introducing flavours that Indians can relate to easily, not that we don’t have the more globally popular varieties,” he adds. 

Boba Bhai serves milk and soda-based bubble teas. So, while you’ll get your Taro Matcha, you’ll also find Jamun Kala Khatta and Guava Chilli boba teas and even a Filter Kaapi (how’s that bubble tea, though?) Using tea extracts from Darjeeling and Assam – “we didn’t want to use Jasmine and green tea” – Boba Bhai is up against flavoured sodas and milkshakes in India and isn’t backing down. 

At the time I sat down to write this piece, without any bubble tea handy unfortunately, I did a quick check of brands in the city, all selling boba tea and came up with at least 12 independent outlets, not including cloud kitchens, and the number is only going up. 

Photo: Lucky Chan; Featured Brands