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Bubble teas are generally of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas and milk
teas. However, some shops offer hybrid \"fruit milk teas\". Most milk teas
include powdered dairy or non-dairy creamers, but some shops also offer
fresh milk as an alternative. Other varieties are 100% crushed-fruit smoothies
with tapioca pearls and signature ice cream shakes made from local ice
cream sources. Many American bubble tea vendors sell \"milk smoothies\",
which are similar to bubble tea but do not contain any tea ingredients. Some
small cafés offer sweetener substitutes such as honey, agave, stevia, and
aspartame upon special request.
The oldest known bubble tea consisted of a mixture of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls (粉圓), condensed milk, and syrup (糖漿) or honey. Many variations were created, the most common of which is served cold rather than hot. The tea type is frequently replaced. First was bubble green tea, which uses jasmine-infused green tea (茉香綠茶) instead of black tea. Big tapioca pearls (波霸/黑珍珠) were adapted and quickly replaced the small pearls. Peach or plum flavoring appeared, then more fruit flavors were added until, in some variations, the tea was removed entirely in favor of real fruit. These fruit versions sometimes contain colored pearls (and/or \"jelly cubes\" as in the related drink taho), the color chosen to match whatever fruit juice is used. Flavors may be added in the form of powder, fruit juice, pulp, or syrup to hot black or green tea, which is then shaken in a cocktail shaker or mixed with ice in a blender. Cooked tapioca pearls and other mix-ins (such as honey, syrup, and sugar) are added at the end.
Today, one can find shops entirely devoted to bubble tea, similar to the juice bars of the early 1990s. Some cafés use plastic dome-shaped lids, while other bubble tea bars serve it using a machine to seal the top of the cup with plastic cellophane. This allows the tea to be shaken in the serving cup and makes it spill-free until one is ready to drink it. The cellophane is then pierced with an oversized straw large enough to allow the pearls to pass through.
Today, in Taiwan, it\'s more common for people to refer to the drink as \"pearl milk tea\" (zhen zhu). \"Pearl milk tea\" is also used by English speakers and overseas Chinese and Taiwanese speakers, but it is usually called bubble tea.