I’ve picked up some of my favorite recipes while traveling. I tried strawberry gelato in Europe and had to try making it when I got home. I first encountered boba tea, also called bubble tea, last year while traveling and was immediately intrigued by the idea.
Despite what the bubbly name might imply, this isn’t sparkling tea. Bubble tea is a sweetened tea with lots of milk and large tapioca pearls (bubbles). It is typically served iced and requires an extra-wide straw so the tapioca pearls will fit through. Bubble tea originated in Taiwan and is also called boba.
I think I’m behind the curve on this one because bubble tea seems to have gained widespread popularity without me knowing about it! Once I’d tried it though, I started imagining all the possibilities of making it at home. I knew I had to give it a try.
What Are Tapioca Pearls Anyway?
Tapioca pearls are balls made from tapioca starch. Tapioca starch is a refined flour made from cassava root. I use cassava flour occasionally in grain-free baking or in recipes that call for “breading” a protein before frying or baking, such as my coconut shrimp with piña colada sauce.
Tapioca starch is similar to cassava flour but more refined. Cassava flour uses the whole cassava root, while tapioca starch does not. It’s like the difference between whole wheat bread and white bread or brown rice and white rice. The cassava flour has more fiber. For tapioca pearls though, you don’t want a fibrous texture, so tapioca flour is used.
Tapioca pearls by themselves don’t have a lot of flavor. They’re added to the tea strictly for texture. They’re kind of bouncy and slippery. It feels a little like drinking round gummies through a straw, but that’s part of the appeal.
Where to Buy Pearls and What Kind
I buy my tapioca pearls online. They’re sold dry and uncooked in bags. It’s super easy to cook them. Just boil the dry pearls in water until they are soft. There should be instructions on the package. It is possible to make them from scratch, but in my opinion, this is one that I prefer to buy versus make.
The most commonly used tapioca pearls are black. The idea is that the black makes them more visible in the drink. However, there are more and more options becoming available. Here are a few options that I’ve tried:
- A kit with regular black pearls and reusable stainless steel straws
- White tapioca pearls with added collagen for protein
- All-natural plain tapioca pearls
How to Make Bubble Tea at Home
When I first tried bubble tea, I didn’t ask too many questions. I didn’t really want to know what was in it and just wanted to enjoy trying it. But when I got home, I decided to do some research.
Unsurprisingly, I found out that often the ingredients contain hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners. And so much sugar! There wasn’t even a place near where I live to buy boba tea, even if I wanted to.
Curious about what my kids would think of it, I started experimenting with making my own. After some trial and error, I figured out how to make a healthier version at home. My kids are still divided on the texture, with three of them loving it and three of them declaring it feels like eating boogers. Regardless, it was a fun experiment.
Basic ingredients you’ll need:
- Tea: Black tea is the original, but any kind of tea, matcha, or even juice works. Since boba tea is served iced, you’ll need to brew your tea and then let it chill before proceeding.
- To save time, Pique tea is a great way to cold brew the tea and have it ready to go in seconds (plus, their teas are awesome).
- Milk: Or cream. Any kind you like. Taro milk is becoming a popular option.
- Sweetener: Optional, but any kind and quantity you’d like; honey, maple syrup, simple syrup, stevia, etc.
- Tapioca pearls
There are dozens of ways to customize to your preferences, which makes it a lot of fun! One of my kids’ favorites was a strawberry version that didn’t even contain tea. I just pureed strawberries with milk and a little honey and added the pearls.
Note: Tapioca pearls do not maintain their texture well once cooked. You can make the tea in advance and chill it, but wait to make the tapioca pearls until you are ready to use them.
Here’s the basic recipe:
Bubble Tea Recipe
Brew the tea
- Brew the tea.
- Chill until cold.
Make the tapioca pearls
- Follow the instructions on the package to make the pearls.
- Mix the cooked pearls with enough of the sweetener you are using to coat them. This helps preserve the texture.
Assemble the drinks
- Mix together the cooled tea, sweetener of choice, and milk in a large glass.
- Divide the cooked tapioca pearls evenly between two additional glasses.
- Add ice.
- Pour half of the sweetened milk tea mixture over the ice in each glass.
- Add boba straws and serve immediately.
Check out this article for more detailed info on where bubble tea came from.
Have you ever made bubble tea? What’s your favorite flavor?