Week Five: (My) Australian exoticism of Bubble Tea

In section two of Ellis’ paper, he describes the process of an individual collecting information for an autoethnography as ‘studying a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture (1.)’ How am I to embark on exploring a sect of foreign culture, with practises that speak not only to the activity, but also the people and the culture from it was created?

‘Bubble Tea, or boba tea, contain tea of some kind, flavors or milk, as well as sugar (optional). Toppings, such as chewy tapioca balls (also known as pearls, or boba), popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, agar jelly, and puddings are often added. (2)’

A sect of Asian culture that has often eluded, confused and intrigued me has been the various Bubble Tea houses, with locations all over Sydney, and one or two in Wollongong. I have not once in my nice, whitewashed life ever tasted, let alone set foot in one of these houses. Whilst much of Asian cuisine has made their way into western culture and become normalised, including many variants of herbal green tea, it seems to me that various fast foods and snacks, mostly consumed by the young Asian population of Australia has not been as widely received as traditional cuisine.

I went, as I’m sure any self respecting young auto ethnographer would, to the cultural gem that is Buzzfeed Australia (3,) to try and gain an impression of the standard Australian opinion of Bubble tea. With your standard assortment of dull gifs and memes, the article explains just how wide the variation of Taiwanese bubble teas can be, using a combination of jellies, tapioca pods, powdered creamer and mousse to flavour their drinks. It’s also gluten free.

The article however, did not mention ‘why’ it wasn’t as popular as other modern Asian cuisines. Whether this is due to the cultural barriers, or simply due to it being plain ‘weird’ in the eyes of Australia, bubble tea houses seem an interesting sect of Asian culture to explore, and experience, from a set of totally fresh eyes. I plan to go to two or three different bubble tea houses, armed with pen, paper and camera and soak up the atmosphere, whilst consuming one of these seemingly exotic drinks.

Through this process I hope that I can discover not only the taste of jellied tea, but also how contemporary Asian food culture has made a life for itself in Australia; and possibly why it is not as widely accepted by myself and my Australian peers. It is relevant however, as our Asian population (and influence) grows and brings with it many seemingly strange and exotic forms of culture.

(DISCLAIMER: there’s a big chance I am guilty myself of painting bubble tea as oriental, and myself contributing to the dialogue of othering. But I believe one has to start with what they know, and acknowledge it. Depending on the success of this autoethnography, I could have a very profound epiphany about Asian youth culture; but we will have to see.)


  1. Ellis C, Adams T E, Bochner A P (2010.) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview.’ Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1
  2. Wikapedia (2018.) ‘Bubble Tea,’ Wikapedia.org/en
    Accessed: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_tea
  3. Cooke E (2016.) ’19 Things You Need To Know About Bubble Tea’ Buzzfeed, Oct 15, 2016.
    Accessed: buzzfeed.com/emmacooke24/heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-bubble-tea

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