Some drink their tea, while others chew it. The masticators prefer something called boba tea (also known as bubble tea, pearl milk tea, or bubble milk tea), which has a reputation for being deliciously addictive.
Boba tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s. Milk tea was already popular on the island, as were tapioca balls and shaved, flavored ice. According to legend, a food stall proprietor came up with the idea of combining the ingredients, thus creating a creamy, fruity, caffeinated drink with chewy tapioca at the bottom. It spread to California on a wave of Asian immigration, and quickly became a sensation in America.
“We wanted to introduce people here to boba tea,” says Kannika Bessent, owner of Tako Boba Tea and Sushi Café on Tamiami Trail. “It’s perfect for the Naples weather since it’s cold and refreshing. Children love it because of the sweetness, and it’s a great match with a wide range of Asian food.”
Bessent offers nine varieties of boba in her restaurant to accompany a menu that includes sushi, Hawaiian poke bowls, and spicy dishes from her native Thailand. The majority are milk teas, and some are flavored with fruit syrups such as mango, and coconut. She boils the tapioca every morning, calibrating the cooking time to produce a consistency that is chewy but not tough. Almond milk is offered as an alternative, and customers can adjust the sweetness level to their liking.
How popular is it? “We average about 60 cups per day, between dine-in and takeout,” Bessent says. “We sell more boba tea than beer.”