Bubble tea, or boba as it is sometimes called, is a unique and refreshing beverage. It originated in Taiwanese tea shops, which combined traditional milk tea with shaved ice and tapioca pearls. The result is half drink, half dessert; a sweet creamy tea infused with chewy “bubbles” of tapioca. Boba has long been popular overseas, with hundreds of varieties and flavors available. Now, it has caught on here, and bubble tea shops have started to crop up everywhere. However, it can be expensive to buy your tea at a shop. Plus, you can’t control what ingredients end up in your drink; while many shop-bought teas are yummy, they tend to be excessively high in sugar and fat. Making your own homemade bubble tea is a great solution – you can put whatever you like into your recipe, and it’s inexpensive to boot.
Homemade bubble tea is a fun kitchen project that doesn’t require a ton of extra ingredients. In fact, there’s a good chance you already have everything you need to make it. If you’re a bubble tea enthusiast, or looking to try out the boba phenomenon, whip some up yourself! Here’s what you need.
This might seem obvious, but the tea itself is the most important part of the drink. The tea you choose will greatly affect the overall taste of the final result. Usually, bubble tea is made using black tea. This imparts a rich flavor that will not be overwhelmed by the other ingredients. It also provides a nice caffeine hit – great for a mid-afternoon pick-me up! Black teas like earl grey, ceylon, and darjeeling are some of the most common teas used. Bubble tea can also be made with white or green teas.
Brew up a batch of tea any way you like. Bags, infusers, or cold brewing all work fine! You might prefer to make your tea a little stronger than usual, since it will be diluted by milk and ice. Once you have your tea made, let it cool in the fridge. You want it cold for boba!
Milk, Ice, and Sweetener
This is what lends bubble tea its addictive creaminess and sweet flavor. You can use any type of milk and any type of sweetener, but there are some that are more common than others. Traditionally, boba uses regular whole dairy milk or sweetened condensed milk. The high fat content makes the drink smooth and luscious. However, if you don’t want to use dairy, or want a reduced-fat version, there are plenty of plant-based options. One of the benefits of homemade bubble tea is that you can use whatever you like!
When it comes to non-dairy milk, creamier is better. Try oat, cashew, or macadamia nut milks. These blend well with tea and provide a similarly rich mouthfeel while remaining lower in fat than dairy milk.
Ice is another crucial component; it keeps the drink cool and refreshing. Traditionally, boba uses shaved ice, but any type will do.
For sweeteners, simple is best; simple syrup is the traditional sweetening agent used in bubble tea. To make it, simply dissolve 1/2 cup white sugar in 1/2 cup hot water and stir. Then, add the syrup to your tea to your liking. This will result in a taste that is the most similar to tea shop boba.
Alternative sweeteners include brown sugar, agave nectar, and stevia. Changing up your sweetener will change the overall taste of your bubble tea, so some experimentation might be necessary.
The typical ratio of tea to milk to sweetener to ice to tapioca pearls is 7-1-1-1-2. In other words, a standard serving might be 1 3/4 cups tea, 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup syrup, 1/4 cup ice, and 1/2 cup tapioca pearls. You can easily multiply this ratio to create large batches of boba!
It isn’t bubble tea without the bubbles! Adding these black pearls transforms simple milk tea into a fun and engaging drink experience. In tea shops, boba is served in plastic cups with wide straws. As you drink your tea through the straw, bubbles come up too – this results in a unique mouthful that is simultaneously sweet, creamy, and chewy. Boba straws can be obtained easily and inexpensively online. There are even reusable boba straws available, to cut back on plastic waste. If you plan on making homemade bubble tea regularly (and we bet you’ll want to) it might be a good idea to invest in some.
Here’s how to make your own tapioca pearls for your homemade bubble tea.
Ingredients – Makes 4 servings
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1. Add water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then, add half your brown sugar. Stir until it is incorporated and lightly bubbling.
2. Remove from heat and add half the tapioca starch. Mix thoroughly.
3. Once the first portion of starch is mixed, add the second portion and stir it in. It is important that the mixture is still somewhat hot during this process; return the pan to gentle heat if necessary.
4. Once the dough mixture has cooled slightly, transfer from pan to clean work surface. Sprinkle a little tapioca starch on the surface to prevent sticking. Knead and roll the dough into a sheet about half an inch thick.
5. Use a knife to cut the dough into half-inch by half-inch squares. Then, roll these into spheres. You may want to dust them with more tapioca starch, to prevent them sticking together. Set aside.
6. Now, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pearls and allow to cook for 6-8 minutes. Then, reduce heat and allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the pearls begin floating. As the pearls are cooking use another pot to bring half a cup of water to boil. Add half a cup of brown sugar, and stir until syrup consistency is achieved.
7. Once the pearls are floating, remove them from the hot water and immediately place them in ice-cold water. This will cause them to firm up to the desired consistency. After 1 minute or so in the cold bath, transfer pearls into the brown sugar syrup. Let them rest in the syrup for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and let cool.
Your pearls are done! Now it’s time to mix up some bubble tea.
It does make a difference what order you assemble your ingredients in. Start with your pearls and your sweetener at the bottom of a glass. Then, add on the ice. Then, the tea, and lastly, the milk! Once it’s together, give it a good stir. You’re ready to indulge in your fresh, home-made bubble tea!
Take your time and enjoy this beverage. It’s meant to be savored!