Learn everything there is to know about boba tea (bubble tea) and how to make it at home for a fraction of the cost of the boba milk tea shop! You’ll be a bubble tea barista in no time!
What is Boba Tea (珍珠奶茶)?
The classic boba tea, which is also called bubble tea, pearl tea, or tapioca tea, is a beverage consisting of iced black tea mixed with milk, sugar syrup, and served with small tapioca balls called ’pearls’.
Because of its popularity in the past few years, boba tea has become much more complex, with bubble tea shops offering many different types of boba drinks. There are many variations of the classic boba, some of them barely resembling the original beverage.
Where is Boba From?
Bubble tea was first concocted in a tea house in Taiwan, in the 1980s after Lin Hsi Hui, an employee of the establishment, decided to add the tapioca from her dessert into her iced tea. After enjoying the combination of tea and tapioca, Lin Hsi Hui continued to make it regularly. The owner of the tea house eventually added it to his menu after noticing how popular the drink became among his staff.
Boba (波霸) is a slang term that means breasts in Chinese. It is used to refer to the tapioca starch pearls because of their round shapes. However, these days the term boba can also be used in reference to the entire drink.
Since the Chinese word for tapioca pearls is pronounced boba, as the popularity spread to an international audience, the pronunciation morphed as it moved. Bubble tea becoming a popular moniker for boba tea as it moved around the globe and was anglicized by its new international drinkers.
Boba Tea Ingredients
While you can pick as many or as little ingredients from the list below, for most boba lovers, their beverage will include at least some tea, milk or non-dairy alternative, a flavored syrup, and a mix-in such as tapioca pearls.
- Tea: Earl grey tea, jasmine tea, oolong tea, white tea, and green tea, are available in most boba shops.
- Milk: Different type of milks such as non-dairy creamer, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, sweet condensed milk, and fresh milk, are also offered on the menu.
- Flavored syrup or powder: The main flavor of the drink, aside from the tea, comes from the flavored syrup or powder you will choose to add. There are so many different flavors to choose from that I cannot list them all. Flavors such as honeydew, green apple, passion fruit, mango, kiwi, lychee, peach, pineapple, taro, pudding, chocolate, caramel, and rose, are some of the more popular options.
- Tapioca pearls: The classic tapioca pearl is chewy (similar to the small tapioca pearls found in a tapioca pudding, but bigger) and doesn’t really have a taste. These chewy tapioca balls are still my favorite mix-in ingredient for boba tea.
- Tapioca Noodles: Tapioca noodles are typically white and have the same taste and texture as tapioca pearls. The difference is in the color and shape (small strips).
- Popping boba: Popping boba are pearls where the outer shell is made of seaweed extract and filled with fruity flavored juices like strawberry, lychee, and mango. Once sipped through a straw they pop into your mouth for a burst of flavor.
- Jellies: Chinese grass jelly or aloe vera jelly are two popular options.
- Fresh fruit: Finely chopped fresh fruits are delicious when added to boba tea, giving the beverage a refreshing taste.
- Pudding: Adding custard pudding to your boba tea will turn it into a delicious dessert. Flavors such as taro, coffee, chocolate, and plain custard, are popular choices.
- Red bean: Sweet red beans made from adzuki beans and sugar, similar to traditional Japanese anko.
- Sweet potato balls and taro balls: Sweet and chewy balls made either from sweet potatoes or taro.
- Cookies: Cookie crumbs like Oreos are used as a topping.
What is Tapioca?
Tapioca is a starch which is extracted from cassava.
Also called yuca, cassava root is a starchy carbohydrate – and when it is dried, that powdered extract is called tapioca.
After a manufacturing process where the tapioca is turned into a wet dough, gelatinized and dried – we get tapioca pearls.
How to Make Bubble Tea
While I love heading to a bubble tea shop in my neighborhood for a quick afternoon pick-me-up, making it at home is super easy!
- Make tea: Start by steeping 2 to 3 tea bags in a cup of boiling-hot water. Since the tea will be diluted by whatever you will be using for the milky element, the tea should be strong. Let it steep for 15 minutes or so before removing the bags.
- Boil the tapioca pearls: If you would like to make the tapioca pearls from scratch, please click here to learn how to make boba pearls. If you are using store bought tapioca pearls, you will need to boil them. Scroll down for more information on how to do this.
- Make the sugar syrup: Mix half part water and sugar into a small saucepan and turn the heat to low. Keep stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn the heat off and transfer the sugar syrup to a jar or bowl. Let it cool to room temperature before using.
- Combine the ingredients: Mix ¼ cup tapioca pearls with your steeped tea, 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk or dairy-free milk alternatives, a couple of tablespoons of sugar syrup and some ice cubes.
- Enjoy: Serve the boba in a tall cup and with some boba straws.
Using Bubble Tea Powder Mix
If you are using a pre-made boba powdered mix, most of your work is pretty much done before it even began!
Simply prepare your tapioca pearls (more on that in a sec), mix the bubble tea powder with water, add a few ice cubes and you’re good to go! Sip away at that lovely neon drink.
Btw… kids love bubble tea, so this might be the perfect kitchen project to include them in (as long as you handle the boiling water, hehe).
How to Cook Boba (Tapioca Pearls)
The first rule of thumb when preparing an ingredient like boba pearls is to simply follow the instructions on the package. Different manufacturers of tapioca pearls will have different cooking times for their product.
There are quick-cook pearls that tend to require just a couple of minutes in boiling water and a quick soak in cold water afterwards. And there are regular tapioca pearls that will likely take longer to cook.
The second rule of thumb when cooking tapioca pearls is that they typically float to the top of the cooking liquid when they are ready. So whether they require 2 minutes or 2 hours to cook, keep an eye on them and taste-test them when they start to float.
The third rule is that, once cooked, you should rinse or soak them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Also, if you’re making your iced drink right away, you don’t want hot boba pearls warming up the overall temperature of your drink.
So the short version of cooking tapioca pearls is:
- Read and follow the instructions on the package (note whether you have quick cooking boba or regular boba).
- Keep an eye on them. When they start to float, they’re almost done. Taste them and pull when you’re satisfied.
- Rinse them in cold water once they are finished cooking. That way you won’t heat your cold drink up with hot tapioca pearls.
Is Bubble Tea Healthy?
It’s pretty common to think of tea as healthy, but boba tea is often loaded with sugar, which takes out the healthy element. The amount of sugar and sweetness can drastically rise if you are using a bubble tea powder mix, add some popping boba, pudding, sweetened condensed milk, and top it all with cookie crumbs. Suddenly, your cup of iced tea contains the same amount of sugar and calories as the chocolate cake your friend is eating next to you!
Now, while there are ways to mitigate the calories from sugar, such as ordering a boba with just tea, soy milk, and some fresh fruit, I’d say that trying too hard to make a healthy bubble tea is kind of missing the point.
Bubble tea is a sweet indulgence – a treat that you can sip and savor on occasion. Much like a dessert or the periodic soda, it’s meant to be more of a quenching extravagance than anything consumed on the regular.
So really savor and enjoy your bubble tea when you drink it!
Delicious Asian recipes to nibble on while drinking bubble tea:
- Chicken banh mi sandwich
- Shrimp bun cha
- Onigiri おにぎり Japanese rice balls
- Vegetable egg rolls
- Vegetable bao buns
- 25 Asian Side Dishes
- The best vegan Chinese recipes
- 43 easy Japanese recipes you can make at home
- 30 delicious protein rich tofu recipes
- 27 Delicious and easy Korean recipes
Did you like this what is boba post? Did you make the recipe and are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!Print
Easy Boba Tea Recipe
Learn how to make bubble tea at home that is fruity and milky perfection – just like your favorite boba milk tea shop!
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 1 drink 1x
- Category: Drinks
- Method: Mixed
- Cuisine: Taiwanese
If you’re making homemade bubble tea:
- 2 tea bags of your choice – such as black tea, lapsang souchong, Ceylon or green tea
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/4 cup tapioca pearls
- 2–3 tablespoons soy milk or unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tablespoons – or more – simple syrup (recipe below), stevia or honey
- Ice cubes
If you’re using a bubble tea powder mix:
- 3 tablespoons bubble tea powder mix (I’m using honeydew melon flavor)
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup tapioca pearls
- Ice cubes
Homemade Bubble Tea
To make the tea:
- Steep 2 to 3 tea bags in 1 cup of boiling-hot water for about 15 minutes. Remove the tea bag and let the tea cool to room temperature.
- Make the tapioca pearls (refer to the instructions below for regular and quick-cook tapioca pearls).
- Make the sugar syrup by mixing ½ cup water and 1/2 cup sugar into a small saucepan. Cook on low and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and let the syrup cool to room temperature.
- It’s time to assemble the bubble tea! Add the the tapioca pearls to a tall glass and add a few ice cubes. Pour the tea into the glass and a 2 to 3 tablespoons of milk. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar syrup (or more, depending on how sweet you like your bubble tea) and serve.
Regular tapioca pearls
Bring 2 cups of water to boil and add the tapioca pearls. Stir and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until pearls float to the top. Drain and rinse the pearls under cold water. Transfer to a large glass (the one you will be drinking from) and set aside.
Quick 5-minute tapioca pearls
Bring 2 cups of water to boil and add the tapioca pearls. Stir and wait until the tapioca pearls float to the surface. Cover and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Drain and soak in cold water for 20 seconds. Transfer to a large glass (the one you will be drinking from) and set aside.
Pre-made Bubble Tea Powder Mix
- Cook the tapioca pearls by following the steps above.
- Mix 3 tablespoons bubble tea powder mix with water.
- Add tapioca pearls to a tall glass along with a few ice cubes and pour in the tea mixture. Stir and serve.
Note: add more bubble tea powder mix if you prefer a sweeter taste.
Tapioca pearls are best eaten the day they are boiled for their fresh chewy texture. While you can refrigerate them for later use in a pinch, they tend to harden quickly.
- Serving Size: 1 drink
- Calories: 218
- Fat: 0.5g
- Saturated Fat: 0g
- Unsaturated Fat: 0.1g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 53.4g
- Fiber: 0.3g
- Protein: 0.4g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
Keywords: pearl tea, tapioca tea
Just a funny tidbit I thought you might appreciate. “Boba” is not chinese for tapioca pearl at all. Rather, it is a slang term for them that refers to their bouncy texture as being similar to breasts. It’s a little like saying “breast milk tea.” So yeah, Americans are all running around talking about breasts without knowing it. The original Taiwanese name is Zhen zhu nai cha.
That is indeed really funny Lydia! I would like a bubble tea with extra breast milk please, lol! 😉
I really love this recipe and thanks for all the helpful tips
How can I add different flavors? Like mango? Can I add juice?
Hi! You could buy a different flavor of bubble tea powder or yes, pour a little mango juice mixed with some iced black tea would also be yummy 🙂