Floating with mini globes of tapioca pearls, Bubble Tea isn’t your childhood version of tapioca pudding. It’s sweet, chewy, and hits the spot. If you have a sudden urge for Bubble Tea, and don’t feel like paying upwards of five dollars for one, then we’re here to help! The sweet beverage was born in the 1980s in Taiwan, but it didn’t pick up speed in the U.S. until the past decade or so. But you don’t have to travel all the way to Taiwan to enjoy bubble tea, because it can easily be made at home for a fraction of the price.
Sprinkled throughout Chinatowns on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., their brightly lit neon signs draw you in. These quirky tea shops sometimes even feature late night karaoke and game filled lounges. At first glance, the menus in bubble tea shops can be overwhelming, with some offering over 50 different types of flavors, along with a few serving variations as well, from iced to slushy.
We’re featuring the standard version that started it all—milk tea. It’s a blend of strong black tea, sweetened condensed milk (or just regular milk and sweetener), and tapioca pearls. The chewy black pearls—also known as boba or the bubbles—are the highlight of this drink and where bubble tea gets its characteristic name. Tapioca is naturally clear, but brown sugar is often added to make it black (the version we’re using). The play on textures can be surprising to the first-time bubble tea drinker, but that’s part of the fun. (Note: there are about 1001 different types of tapioca pearls out there, some take longer to cook, some are faster. We’re using a certain brand of “quick-cooking” pearls, which turn out quite well. There’s a link to them at the bottom of the post)
As you drink the boba, the wide straws pick up each chewy sphere of tapioca, plopping them into your mouth. You can leave them out and just drink the milk tea, but along with the boba, you would be leaving the charm behind as well. That’s what drinking bubble tea is all about. It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s an experience.
For the bubble tea aficionado, making this Taiwanese beverage at home is perfect for when the craving strikes, and it’s even gluten free. Tapioca pearls come in all different sizes, making for a bevy of tea drinking experiences. There are different types of straws intended for each size boba ranging from the traditional large pearls down to their mini cousins.
Once you’ve got this milk tea recipe under your belt, venture out into the colorful world of flavors like taro, passion fruit, and more! You can be a purist and just add fruit juices as an alternative to milk tea, or you can purchase any of the flavors in the form of flavored powders online or at Asian supermarkets. You might as well grab some of those jumbo straws as well, because there really isn’t any way else to enjoy them.
Homemade Bubble Milk Tea
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
For the tea
- 3 cups water
- 4 black tea bags (such as Lipton or Hong Kong style loose leaf tea)
- 4 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk or 1/2 cup regular milk
For the boba
- 4 cups water
- ½ cup dried tapioca pearls, quick cooking / 5 minute variety (purchase online or at Asian supermarkets)
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
Step 1: Make the tea
One of the main components to making milk tea, choosing what type of tea to use for your base is just as important as making the boba. If you have a healthy bubble tea addition, it may be best to make a larger batch of tea so that you have it ready for future batches.
- In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat once boiled.
- Steep bags of tea in the hot water for at least 15 minutes. Once steeped, remove tea bags and chill the tea in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Step 2: Make the simple syrup for soaking the boba
Bubble tea can have the reputation of being cloyingly sweet. To adjust the level of sugar, whether you prefer just a hint of sweetness or a more dessert-like drink, simple syrup allows you to make it perfect balance for you.
- In another small saucepan, boil 1 cup of water and both types of sugar until a syrup forms and the sugar is dissolved, about 2 – 3 minutes. Set aside for the boba.
- You can add a couple of tablespoons of the leftover simple syrup to sweeten the bubble tea as well.
Step 3: Cook the Tapioca Pearls
No one wants to bite into too-hard or too-mushy tapioca pearls. The black orbs found in bubble tea need to have just the right amount of chew to them.
- In a medium saucepan, bring at least 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the dried tapioca pearls and boil for 7 minutes or until cooked through. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 7 minutes.
- Drain the bubbles and pour them into a bowl. The texture of the bubbles should be soft on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside with some give.
- Add 1/2 cup of simple syrup to the drained cooked pearls and allow to soak for at least 15 minutes before using.
Assembly Step 1: Add cooked boba
Cooked tapioca pearls will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, but they’re really best when used within a few hours since they tend to harden as they sit. When making future cups of bubble tea, you can reheat the cold pearls in the microwave or on the stovetop
Divide the cooked tapioca pearls between 2 glasses, approximately 1/4 cup each. Make sure to drain off some of the soaking liquid so the drink isn’t too sweet.
Assembly Step 2: Mix the tea & serve
You don’t have to be a bartender to make bubble tea, but you may just feel like one when using a cocktail shaker to achieve the perfectly blended drink. Don’t have a cocktail shaker? Use a long-handled spoon for similar results.
- In a mixing glass, pour the chilled tea and sweetened condensed milk. Stir vigorously or shake to combine. If you’re using regular milk, add a few tablespoons of the sweet boba soaking liquid to taste.
- Pour the milky tea over the bubbles and serve with a big straw.
Want to change things up?
If you want to switch up the flavor of your bubble tea, there are several things you can do:
- Instead of using black tea, use another tea of your choice, such as green, oolong, or jasmine.
- For an “iced tea,” don’t add any milk.
- For a flavored tea, check out the wide variety of flavored powders like taro, almond, honeydew, passionfruit, and more. There are many online retailers who sell these powders, but we like these.
- Instead of tapioca pearls, add lychee jelly to the bottom of the glass.
Bubble Tea Resources: Where to Buy Everything You Need
Not everything you need to make bubble tea at home is easily available in local stores, but luckily, there are plenty of places online to purchase them! We’ve listed our favorites, and what we used in this recipe, below.
- Boba / Tapioca Pearls: Quick Cooking Tapioca Pearls
- Straws: Bubble Tea Straws
- Tea: Chinese Black Tea or Lipton Tea
- Flavored Powders and Miscellaneous Bubble Tea Supplies: Bobastore.com on Amazon and Nuts.com
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Do you have a favorite type of bubble tea? Share in the comments below!