According to this article, the popular drink originates from the Chun Shui Tang tea house in Taichun, Taiwan, and a woman named Lin Hsiu Hui is generally accepted as the innovator behind the popular drink. Legend has it, Ms. Lin poured her tapioca dessert into her iced tea during a meeting in 1988.
The founder, Liu Han-Chieh, first came up with the idea of serving Chinese tea cold in the early 1980s after visiting Japan where he saw coffee served cold.And now it's everywhere! From Taiwan to the rest of the world. Hard to believe it all started on the whim of a bored product manager. The next time I'm sitting there at Fantasia in Cupertino, sipping on my pearl milk tea, I will think of you, Lin Hsiu Hui, and how you brought that tapioca joy to my life.
This propelled his fledgling chain into Taiwanese teahouse folklore.
Then, in 1988, his product development manager, Ms. Lin Hsiu Hui, was sitting in a staff meeting and had brought with her a typical Taiwanese dessert called fen yuan, a sweetened tapioca pudding. Just for fun she poured the tapioca balls into her Assam iced tea and drank it.
“Everyone at the meeting loved the drink and it quickly outsold all of our other iced teas within a couple of months -- even after 20 years on the menu, bubble tea makes up 80-90 percent of our sales and Taiwanese are proud of this home-grown drink,” says Lin.
Today, bubble tea shops occupy nearly every corner of Taiwan's streets. They spread to neighboring countries like Japan, South Korea and China and then to the rest of the world. Had Lin trademarked the product, they could have wound up multi-millionaires.