Over the past few years boba tea, also known as bubble tea or pearl milk tea, has rocketed into the global marketplace. Its popularity even garnered the attention of a large corporate doughnut chain who is proposing to add, and is testing, it as a new menu item here in the USA.
So … What is Bubble Tea?
Bubble Tea is named for the “boba” or tapioca pearls that gather after shaken in the bottom of a cold tea or juice drink. It can be a little confusing since “boba” can refer to the actual tapioca (cassava starch) pearls as well as the entire drink made with these balls.
A basic cold drink recipe consists of black tea, milk, ice and tapioca pearls (aka boba). It is shaken, as if making a James Bond martini, and served with a large straw, which allows you to access the boba at the bottom of the cup. The bouncy, chewy consistency of the tapioca pearls is a favorite in Taiwan, and it makes bubble tea both a drink and a snack at the same time!
While this craze started in Taiwan, it built steam throughout Asia and Europe, and is now exploding onto the American culinary landscape.
Bubble Tea or Boba?
This depends on where you are from in the US. The East Coast favors the term bubble tea, while those from the West prefer to use the term boba.
Making your own Bubble Tea
Bubble tea recipes are many and varied – there is no one definitive recipe.
Base: The tea base used most often is a black or green tea, although you can also use many different oolong teas as well as herbal teas. We recommend a strong black tea for best results such as English Breakfast Blended Black Tea, Dunmore East Blend or American Breakfast Blended Tea, which are all well suited for the addition of milk and sugar.
Milk options: Whole, skim, or nondairy substitutes (like almond, cashew or coconut), all work well in boba drinks. A topping that some people like to add to their bubble tea is whipped foam or cream. Again, there are many varied options such as: heavy cream, whipped cream cheese, sea salt heavy cream and more.
Sweetener: The sweetener chosen depends on the method of preparation. Honey or regular sugar can be used it they are mixed in with the tea when hot (so they will dissolve). Often recipes call for simple syrup, so people can add the sweetener themselves later and adjust it to their own tastes.
Tapioca Pearls (boba): We used the Wufu Yuan Black Sugar Flavor Tapioca Pearls but there are many other options available.
Bubble tea using our Black iced teabags (left) and our Dragonfruit Fusion Iced teabags.
1. Make tea
Bring 2 3/4 cups of water (filtered is best) to a boil on the stovetop or in electric kettle to 208°F. (If using a green or oolong tea, don’t boil the water. Instead follow the instructions for brewing temperatures for those teas.)
Steep 1 tablespoon of black tea (or tea of your choice) in 2 1/2 cups of hot water for 5 minutes. Strain out the tea leaves and let cool.
Make Ahead Tip: The tea and simple syrup can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Note: Your tea can be stored for 3-4 days and the syrup for 1-2 weeks.
2. Make Simple Syrup
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, gently heat 1/2 cups sugar in 1/2 cups of water. Stir until dissolved and set aside.
3. Make tapioca pearls (boba) – must be made fresh as they do not keep well
Follow directions on package -for example: Boil water and add tapioca balls. Set heat to medium. Once the pearls begin to float to the surface (this takes a couple minutes) cover the pot and continue cooking on medium heat for 15 minutes (or more). Stir occasionally to prevent the boba from sticking together. When cooked, drain, then mix the pearls with a little simple syrup.
Let cool slightly as the boba should still be warm when adding to the drink.
4. If desired you can make a cream froth.
Lightly whip heavy cream and a touch of sugar using a hand held milk frother and whip for 10 seconds. The cream should be slightly thickened but still able to be poured (not like whipped cream).
5. Assemble drink
Start by spooning sweetened tapioca balls, carefully as they may still be hot, into an 18 ounce glass. In a shaker glass: Add ice, cooled black tea, milk and sweetener and shake vigorously. Pour over the tapioca pearls leaving room for the frothy cream topping (if desired). Add a wide straw to stir and drink.
Want to explore more about Bubble Tea?
Boba Explained: A Taxonomy of Taipei’s Bubble Tea: Click here for a sipper’s guide to the bouncy, chewy treat Taiwan has exported to the world
We hope you enjoy the delicious world of Bubble Tea. Let us know your favorite combinations!