The Origin of Boba Milk Tea: Exploring China’s Rich Tea Culture

Discover the fascinating origins of milk tea and explore China’s rich tea culture. Journey through time as we uncover the deep-rooted traditions and historical significance of this popular beverage. From ancient China to the present day, milk tea has captivated taste buds around the world. Boba tea, also known as pearl milk tea, has emerged as a delightful variation, adding a unique twist to the traditional drink. Join us as we delve into the origin of milk tea, its connection to China’s tea heritage, and the rise of boba tea as a beloved beverage worldwide.

Inner Mongolia, the homeland of nomadic people, is also the birthplace of milk tea (Mongolian milk tea). For thousands of years, milk tea from the Mongolian Plateau and Central Asia has remained unchanged and continues to be a popular daily beverage and a must-have for hospitality. Other regions have their own variations of milk tea, such as the famous Masala chai in India, silky milk tea from Hong Kong, and pearl milk tea originating in Taiwan.

The Origin of Milk Tea: Exploring China's Rich Tea Culture

The true and authentic birthplace of milk tea is Mongolian milk tea. It has been passed down worldwide since the Yuan Dynasty and remains a staple beverage for daily consumption and hospitality. Other regions have developed different flavors of milk tea, such as the famous Masala chai with its unique blend of spices in India. In the pastoral areas, it is customary to have “three cups of tea a day, one meal.”

The Origin of Milk Tea: Exploring China's Rich Tea Culture

The Mongolian people enjoy salty milk tea, which not only quenches thirst but also accompanies their consumption of roasted barley. The remaining tea is kept warm on a low fire, ready to be enjoyed at any time. Typically, families only have one formal meal when they return home in the evening, but they cannot do without drinking salty milk tea three times a day.

The Origin of Milk Tea: Exploring China's Rich Tea Culture

Milk tea originated as a daily drink for northern nomadic tribes in China and has a history of at least a thousand years. It combines the nutritional benefits of both milk and tea. Since the Yuan Dynasty, it has gradually spread worldwide and has evolved into various flavors, including iced milk tea, hot milk tea, sweet milk tea, and salty milk tea.

Milk Tea Types & Where Boba Tea Originated

Currently, different types of milk tea are popular in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and the United Kingdom.

The original classification of milk tea includes:

  1. Grassland Milk Tea: Milk tea made by Mongolian and Kazakh nomadic tribes is collectively known as grassland milk tea. Mongolian milk tea and Xinjiang milk tea both fall under this category. Grassland milk tea is the origin of all milk teas, made by mixing brick tea with fresh milk and salt. In the cold climate of the northern grasslands, drinking hot salty milk tea helps to ward off the cold.
  2. Boba Tea: Originating in Taiwan, boba tea has gained popularity as a delightful variation of milk tea. This beloved beverage includes the addition of chewy tapioca pearls, also known as boba, giving it its distinctive name. These tapioca pearls are cooked until they achieve a dark, translucent appearance, reminiscent of tiny pearls. Boba tea offers a customizable experience with the option to add various toppings, allowing for a wide range of flavors and textures to suit individual preferences.
Boba tea of Chinese Taiwan

3. Hong Kong-style Milk Tea: Also known as “silk stocking milk tea,” it is made by blending black tea with condensed or evaporated milk and sugar. It has a high milk-to-tea ratio and is often served in large cups. Hong Kong-style milk tea is a popular beverage among the general public and is commonly consumed during breakfast or afternoon tea, and sometimes even during lunch or dinner.

4. Teh Tarik: In Malaysia and Singapore, “Teh Tarik” is a variation of milk tea similar to Hong Kong-style milk tea. However, it involves a special technique called “pulling tea.” After the tea is brewed, it is poured back and forth between two containers from a height, creating a frothy and creamy texture. This process is believed to enhance the richness and smoothness of the milk tea.

Milk tea has become a beloved beverage with diverse variations and cultural significance, originating from China’s rich heritage and spreading its influence globally.


From its humble beginnings in Inner Mongolia as Mongolian milk tea to its diverse variations like Hong Kong-style milk tea and Boba tea, milk tea has become a beloved beverage enjoyed by people worldwide. With a history dating back thousands of years, China stands as the birthplace of milk tea, which it originated as a daily drink for nomadic tribes. Its evolution and spread across different regions and cultures have given rise to unique flavors and brewing techniques. Today, milk tea continues to captivate tea enthusiasts and tea lovers alike, offering a delightful blend of tea’s rich aroma and milk’s creamy indulgence. Whether sipping a warm cup on a chilly day or relishing the sweet and chewy delights of Boba tea, milk tea remains a cherished part of China’s tea culture and a symbol of warm hospitality.

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